A man dressed as a security guard stands in a room in an art museum. A young woman is arm-in-arm with him and listens to him speak.
Mitchell Hébert as Henry and Kathryn Tkel as Madeline in the world-premiere of The Guard, by Jessica Dickey. Production plays at Ford’s Theatre Sept. 25 to Oct. 18, 2015. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Gender Equality in the Entertainment Industry: Reflections from a Women’s Voices Theater Festival Panel

4 min read

Ford’s Theatre is participating in the Washington region’s 2015 Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The festival, with its focus on gender parity in theatre, aligns well with many discussions happening across the country regarding the lack of women’s voices in roles of power and influence in a variety of industries. On Oct. 5, Ford’s Theatre hosted a panel discussion with three female panelists who discussed their unique role as leaders in the entertainment industry.

Led by Michel Martin, weekend host of NPR’s All Things Considered, ABC Entertainment’s Executive Vice President of Current Series Programming Vickie Dummer, and independent film maker Leah Meyerhoff, the panel touched on the challenges faced by women in entertainment and how Dummer, Meyerhoff and Martin have thrived in their chosen industries.

The conversation covered personal and professional influences in the lives of Dummer and Meyerhoff. Dummer explained how she began as a vocal performer, but deviated from that career at the age of 29 to become an assistant in Hollywood. She emphasized that the entertainment industry is an apprentice industry, meaning that one must work their way up the professional ladder to be taken seriously. Meyerhoff agreed. Her interest in film first started at Brown University where she connected her love of film with her desire to enact social change. From there, Meyerhoff produced her first feature length film I Believe in Unicorns, released earlier this year at SXSW to high critical acclaim.

Though Meyerhoff and Dummer work in different sectors of the entertainment industry, they have both faced similar adversities as women. We know that the entertainment industry is dominated by men and that women usually find themselves struggling for equal pay before leadership positions are even open to them. All three on the panel, Martin included, reflected on instances where they faced scrutiny simply because of their gender. Meyerhoff shared that many female writers and directors are told that stories with male protagonists sell better than female storylines. Similarly, Dummer reflected that while female executives and writers are becoming more prominent, the rate of change leading to equal representation in positions of power is slow.

Dummer has, however, noticed a change in those making executive network decisions. Writers, directors and executives are starting to authentically represent their own diverse perspectives in their work. No longer are all shows produced through the lens of white, male writers, directors and hosts – and viewers have taken notice.

As consumers of media, how can we advocate for diverse stories?

Culture consumers have the power to influence what they see on T.V., in film and what they hear in radio programming by “voting with their remote and dollar,” as Dummer put it. Ratings and viewership drive funding and advertising for movies and shows. The panelists encouraged the audience to continue to watch and listen to shows that reflect diversity to effect change in the entertainment industry. The greater the number of viewers who respond by tuning in to diverse programming or attending work that is written, produced, directed and performed by women and minorities, the greater the demand for similar programming to be green-lighted in the future.

This discussion brought up many issues of which I was previously unaware. I have my favorite T.V. shows and movies that I make an effort to actually see in theaters instead of streaming online, but I was more naive of the issues facing women who attempt to affect change within the entertainment industry. As a passive consumer of media, I never bothered to see if a show was written by a man, woman, person of color, etc.

The panel opened my eyes to the impact that gender, identity, and race have on the entertainment industry and what we, as consumers, see and hear. I also found it fascinating to learn how consumer decisions drive the type of programming broadcasted on the big and small screen. I now understand media in different ways thanks to the candor of Martin, Meyerhoff and Dummer.

As hosts of the panel discussion, Ford’s Theatre live-tweeted the event.

Kelsey S. Johnston is a Ford’s Theatre Marketing and Communications Intern and graduate student at the George Washington University, where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Museum Studies. She is passionate about the use of new media and digital technology within museums as a means to educate and communicate with visitors, both in person and online. Originally from Pennsylvania, and a GW alumna, Johnston is a Lincoln enthusiast and also an avid runner.

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Kelsey S. Johnston is a Ford’s Theatre Marketing and Communications Intern

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