WFilm founder, Scarlett Shepard, had the opportunity to speak with Emmy-nominated filmmaker and Webby Award Founder, Tiffany Shlain, about the 2nd annual 50/50 Day — a global conversation about how to get to gender parity — set to launch on April 26, 2018.
Scarlett: I am really curious about the 50/50 date. It’s coming up, and so I want to learn more about this big day!
Tiffany: It started when we made a film for Refinery29 called 50/50: Rethinking the Past, Present, and Future of Women in Power. It was a 20-minute film that looked at the 10,000-year history of women and power, and what it’s going to take to get to a more 50/50 world. The film premiered at TED Women 2 weeks before the presidential election, and we all thought we were going to get our first woman president. Then the election happened and we were like “Oh my gosh, are we going backwards here?” At my film studio, we’ve done this other global day called Character Day where we use a film as a huge global event. People watch the same film all around the world, and we make a discussion kit and have speakers. It’s a new way to make a global conversation around film.
We’ve done that for around 5 years, and the 4th annual Character Day had over 133,000 events. So we thought, “Let’s do the morning after the election, and let’s do a 50/50 day where we let people show the film 50/50 and we talk about what it’s going to take to get to 50/50.” So we made discussion kits. We had speakers, everyone from the first woman president of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, to Ava Duvernay to just amazing speakers across the board, and there were 11,000 events last year.
This year we are making a new film, a short 4-minute film called “What If,” and it’s launching this pledge tool so people can make pledges to get to a 50/50 world. We are already at 32,000 events, and it happens on April 26th everywhere from corporations to companies to schools and universities. Hunter College in NY is doing a big event with the ERA coalition that Patricia Arquette is speaking at. WeWork is doing them in their offices, Participant Media is premiering their new Ruth Bader Ginsberg film for their 50/50 day, so people are doing all these types of things. Sundance is curating two films for the day also, and it’s going to be amazing!
Scarlett: So can anyone get involved? Can I just sign up?
Tiffany: Yep it’s free and it takes two minutes to sign up. You can sign up as an individual at your house, or you can sign up as your company. Just go to 50-50day.org
Scarlett: I’m excited about 50/50 Day. I’m curious, when did you discover filmmaking? That it wasn’t just a hobby – that you actually were going to do this full time?
Tiffany: I wasn’t supposed to be a filmmaker. I was supposed to be a doctor. My family went to the movies every Sunday night, so it was a really beautiful ritual in my family. It was where we talked about the meaning of life and watched movies. We’d go to Chinese food and dissect the movie. But I was supposed to be a doctor. I went to UC Berkeley, and I took my first history of film class and I was absolutely hooked. I was like “Oh my gosh if I can share ideas in this way…” I was already really into computers at that point. I worked in technology a lot to pay for my films, and then I started the Webby Awards. Then, I wanted to go back to filmmaking combined with the power of the web to really make social change. And so that happens all over the world in 32,000 events on 50/50 Day.
Scarlett: When you think about filmmaking and you think about all of the things you’ve created like 50/50 day and all of the great documentary films you’ve done, who is the most inspiring and influential person to you in terms of filmmakers?
Tiffany: I love Agnes Varda, I love that she’s continuing to live such a creative life in her 80’s and I’ve always admired her joie de vivre on living. I also admire Francis Ford Coppola and his family values. Him being a filmmaker and not going to LA, and creating his own life. His whole family are all collaborators and I really love that. And I loved Freida, I thought that was a brilliant movie. I loved Fellini when I was in college. Bergman’s Persona, and I loved Harold and Maude and I loved Peter Greenaway. I love different films for different reasons – I’m like “Oh I love the set of that, or I love the emotional curve of that, or I love the humor of that” and for filmmakers, “I love the way they live their life as a filmmaker.”
Scarlett: I’m gonna ask you a big question, and there are so many different answers, and so many ways and approaches. Why do you think representation matters in the film industry, and why is it so important?
Tiffany: Because we’ve been seeing films for so long that are just from one perspective. What is it – 82% of films are made by white men, so that means that you are looking at the world through white men’s eyes. There’s so much diversity of perspective and that’s so interesting. It should reflect our population – the stories we see should mirror the diversity of our population. I’m working on this film right now called “What If” and it asks what would the world look like if the people who made our media – that is television, news, magazines – what if those people mirrored our population, which is 40% people of color, 50% women, with speaking roles and directing roles. Not stereotypes, but really with the complexity of all of the different people who live in this country. Same with politically and people who run different countries. It gives you new insights into the world and gives you a new perspective because it’s not your own perspective. And when you get more diverse people together you’re going to bring in new ideas, so I’m a fan of new ideas in any shape that comes in.
Scarlett: It’s a short film and will premiere right before 50/50 Day on Tuesday, 4/24. What I like about 50/50 day, just looking at the website, it has so many ways to talk about equality. It is the span of business and film, and it has all different types of people from artists to business professionals to leaders talking about ways that they are making a difference, and why inclusion and equality is so important. That’s what I like – it wasn’t just one type, but there are so many ways to talk about the issues.
Tiffany: The goal of 50/50 day is to put all the issues on the table. If you look at the 50/50 poster (see photo below) there are 25 interconnected circles. They are all integral to moving this issue forward.
Scarlett: Yeah that’s what I love about it. So again, if anyone wants to participate they can sign up?
Tiffany: Yeah at 50-50day.org, and even if you’re an individual sign up and you’ll be the first to get information about our speakers and all of the exciting stuff we are announcing this week.
Scarlett: I’m ready to sign up!