The range of women’s voices was almost dizzying at the Power Women Summit, a day and half-long confab attended by about 1,500 people featuring well-known names in the industry like Rita Wilson, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Salke and Nancy Josephson and those striving to be heard, like Cori Bush. She is a Democratic congressional candidate running for a seat in Missouri who was featured in the recent documentary “Knock Down the House.”
The confab, with the theme of “Toward 50/50,” took place October 24 and 25 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica and was presented by WrapWomen Foundation, a nonprofit created in the wake of the #MeToo movement to seek more equity for women in entertainment, media and technology and to provide a platform to promote gender equality through live events like the conference.
As the sun set over the nearly century-old Moreton Bay Fig Tree in the courtyard of the Miramar, Chrissy Metz kicked off the proceedings by performing the powerful ballad “I’m Standing With You” with its songwriter Diane Warren accompanying her on guitar, along with a girls choir.
After the performance, Metz, who stars as Kate Pearson in “This Is Us,” sat down with The Wrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman and talked about her experiences regarding being pressured to lose weight.
“Some days I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely eating my feelings.’ And then some days I’m like, ‘Yeah, when my heart is full, I’m not hungry.’ Right, so there’s those kinds of thoughts, like, ‘Oh, what is the psychology behind it?’ So, I don’t know,” she said. “Do I want to take care of my body and live a healthy life? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it at an unconventional size.”
The bravery of women who have come forward in the past two years with their stories of being subjected to sexual misconduct, assault, retribution and even rape was highlighted in a session that paid tribute to those who have accused R&B singer R. Kelly.
Lisa Van Allen, Lizzette Martinez, Kitti Jones, Jerhonda Pace, Faith Rodgers and Asante McGee spoke about breaking their silence in the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” — and the repercussions from it.
“Everybody has an opinion on what a victim should look like, what a victim should do, what a victim should dress like, if a victim should wear makeup,” said Rodgers, who is a participant in the ongoing court cases against Kelly. “When the documentary first came out I spent a lot of time trying to prove or have people co-sign my story and now I’m past that point,” she said.
Also participating in the session were actress and Harvey Weinstein accuser Mira Sorvino and artist and Bill Cosby survivor Lili Bernard, both of whom spoke about their own struggles coming forward with accusations against powerful men who held sway over their careers.
In an authoritative keynote address, actress and producer Eva Longoria called upon the industry to overcome its unconscious bias against people of color that she says virtually erases stories of Latinas.
“This goes beyond underrepresentation. When you aren’t on screen in the media, you are being erased. You don’t exist. And the stories from Hollywood don’t come close to representing the complexity of our community,” she said. “This is a problem — the demographics of America are changing and it’s changing in a very Latin way, and this cultural shift is freaking people out.”
Longoria said people in the room had contributed to negative portrayals and images in the media.
“People of color are depicted in very narrow ways on screen and unconscious bias comes from those repeated images that come across as a threat. So when you see young black men in movies that are deemed dangerous, or you see young Latino men in movies who are deemed sketchy, you begin to form an opinion, especially when you don’t have interaction with these communities,” she said. “It’s those repeated images that normalize the words ‘criminal,’ ‘illegal,’ ‘dangerous,’ which in turn become synonymous with the broader term ‘Latino.’”
Yet she injected a bit of humor into the situation. “Hollywood has a tendency to pat itself on the back every time they have the smallest gain of diversity, they’re like, ‘We had TWO women direct a movie!’” Longoria said. “Even that word, ‘diversity,’ is so hip. It falls out of every executive’s mouth. … We should see how many times that word comes up at this summit — we should make it a drinking game!”
We can’t attest to whether there were in fact any drinking games at the cocktail parties that were part of the conference, but there was more serious discussion on topics including social media and social change, the challenges faced by female filmmakers and politicians, redefining corporate culture and fighting for equal pay.
Other speakers at the summit included Nicole Richie, Gigi Gorgeous, Rachel Zoe, Sophia Bush, Erin Andrews, Tony Gonzalez, Gina Torres, Stephanie Beatriz, Diane Guerrero and Jenna Dewan.
A marketplace set up for the confab featured jewelry, clothing, artwork and books from female artisans, entrepreneurs and authors. LinkedIn provided consultations on profiles on its site, as well as photo booths for headshots. A number of attendees found that a powerful enough reason to wait in long lines.