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WOMEN AT SXSW 2018: Progress is being made but we are a long ways off.


What are the trends at SXSW 2018?

The annual SXSW festival that features film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences kicked off Friday in Austin, TX. Like most festivals, at SXSW you can start spotting trends. What are businesses talking about? What films and television shows will be coming out this spring/summer? Who and what is everyone talking about?

At SXSW 2018, Cryptocurrency is unavoidable. So is Donald Trump and Russia. Both Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the stage to throw shade at the current Administration. Sanders reserved most of his ire for Trump who he says “lies all the time,” and is “working day and night to try to divide us up based on the color of our skin or where we are from.”  While Schwarzenegger went so far to joke on the new Terminator film, “It shows you how big Trump is. We wrote him in. The Terminator travels to 2019 to get Trump out of prison.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan read hate tweets he receives on a daily basis, mostly due to his Islamic heritage. In what might be one of the most memorable moments at SXSW 2018, the Mayor addressed Islamophobia by asking, “what happens when young boys and girls from minority background see this kind of thing on their timelines or experience it themselves?” Khan called out platforms like Twitter and Facebook for their proliferation of hate speech. Should tech companies be held accountable?

Elon Musk crashing HBO’s Westworld panel and later pledging to reach Mars by 2019 was indeed a highlight. He even joked about becoming emperor of Mars. Even he had to address the elephant in the room, Trump. He proposes a government of Mars where people are voting on laws and not people to represent them.

You cannot go far without seeing a panel on how to speak to, market to, connect with and understand Generation Z. Each time the Parkland, Florida students who started a movement and will be leading a March on Washington, March for Our Lives, were referenced to show how progressive and strong-minded this young generation is (when they are not on their phones). The SXSW 2018 community is in awe of the tenacity of these brave students. [Check out our post on advice a Virginia Tech survivor gave to Parkland Students]

One topic that remains unavoidable, and rightfully so, throughout the festival is the #TimesUp movement. It is not an underlining theme it is the theme. The Time’s Up movement began as a movement against sexual harassment and was founded by Hollywood celebrities in response to Harvey Weinstein and #Metoo. But it has taken on a whole other meaning. Women deserve not just a seat at the table but many seats at the table. Women deserve an equal amount of seats at the table as that of men.

In her keynote, Melinda Gates said women’s rights movement is ‘causing a reckoning.’ “The status quote is holding all of us back,” she told a packed conference, “we absolutely know there are more women in the workforce, but whether the workplace has changed for women? I will say marginally.” She spoke at length of a boys club and how it is easier for businesses to invest in men than of women. And that needs to change.

Across town, the women in hollywood saw a bit more change than Melinda Gates. Speakers at the “Informal & Candid Conversation with Female Leaders in Television” discussed very openly what it is like for women in Hollywood.  The panel included: Sarah Aubrey, EVP of TNT Original Programming, Janine Sherman Barrois, Executive Producer, Warner Brothers, Actress Dakota Fanning, Tonya Lewis Lee, Producer and Co-Founder, Tonik Productions, Amy Powell, President, Paramount Television, Susan Rovner, EVP Creative Affairs & Co-Pres of Warner Horizon, and Actress Karrueche Tran They all agreed progress has been made since the Times Up movement. They joked that there is not more hugging in Hollywood.

In many ways Times Up hit Hollywood harder and quicker than New York or Silicon Valley where Melinda Gates says she is only seeing marginal change. It was unavoidable.


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During the panel, Sarah Aubrey discussed how inspired she is by the young millennial women she works with who refuse to put up with being talked down to or having to endure sexual innuendos by their male colleagues. Instead of ignoring, Aubrey said, they are speaking up and saying, ‘you can’t say that to me.’

The other panelists agreed. Millennials and Generation Z are leading the tectonic shift we are seeing. And as Millennials are inspiring their predecessors, they also know that without them and all the women before them that broke those barriers and glass ceilings, they wouldn’t be in the position to be so forceful. During the panel, Karrueche Tran thanked women before her for instilling in her that she is worthy, that all women are worthy. And you have to remind yourself that you are worthy every day.

We have written about it before but perhaps the most critical point for the panel and any panel on the subject of women or minorities was stated by Paramount Television CEO Amy Powell when she said, “If the writers aren’t diverse than what’s reflected on the screen isn’t representative of what’s actually going on.”

Change needs to happen at the top. Women deserve an equal amount of seats at the table. Their voices deserve to be heard. Bravo to SXSW for continuing this conversation and allowing for candid conversation where all voices can and should be heard.