I graduated from college in 1982 with a degree in liberal arts. My father didn’t want me to go to college because he didn’t think I would be able to use my degree when I got married. I never walked down the aisle, and I never used my degree because, as it turns out a liberal arts degree is completely useless (no matter what anyone tells you). Instead, I packed up my 1972 Volkswagon bug and headed to California to make it big in moving pictures.
If the decision to get a liberal arts degree was misguided, pursuing a career in Hollywood, writing screenplays about amazing women doing remarkable things, on my own terms was downright pathological. I actually thought that if I wrote scripts about women, with strong female leads, every actress in Hollywood would beat a path to my door. Between the fact that its next to impossible to get a script to anyone in Hollywood unless you are already part of the Hollywood elite, and the fact that I wasn’t a very good writer (at the time, anyway) my tenure in Hollywood came to an inglorious end when I set my belongings on the curb, packed a moving van, and headed north to Utah to pursue a much more successful career as an artist.
Twenty years later, I am back in the Hollywood game. Things are worse now than they were thirty years ago. Women make up over half the film going audience, yet are represented both in front of and behind the scenes at less than 15% of their male counterparts. A movement is underway to change all of that, but it seems the constant lament the lack of good roles for women is a bit precious considering the fact that the Meryl Streep funded Writers Lab for female screenwriters over 40 brought in 3500 submissions.
3500 screenplays. By women, about women.
But there aren’t enough women writing screenplays and not enough women to direct them, right?
Well, Melissa Silverstein and Kathryn Kolbert are working to change all of that. They are the co-founders of The Athena Festival, a four day celebration of women in film, a highlight of which is the Athena List. The Athena List is to women screenwriters what the Black List is to the rest of male dominated Hollywood; the best unproduced screenplays about women, by women that should be movies yet, but aren’t.
I recently won a coveted spot on The Athena List with RIDE THE WIND; The Bessie Stringfield Story, about the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. RIDE THE WIND has an award winning producer (Cheryl L. Bedford), and a director (Craig Ross Jr) and is currently making its way through the Hollywood labyrinth. With any luck, we will get Lupita Nyong’o to star.
LUCKY 13, about the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and the crucial role they played in training male combat pilots how to fly the B26 Marauder before the D-Day Invasion of Normandy is a finalist in the Nashville Film Festival, and PEARL HART, THE BANDIT GIRL, about the only known female stagecoach robber in American history, placed in the top 15 percent of nearly 8900 screenplays submitted to the Nicholl Fellowships last year.
Hollywood is a tough business and I am not picking out my Oscar dress just yet. But amazing scripts about remarkable women DO exist. And thankfully, I am a MUCH better writer now than I was then. Maybe this time I will make it big in moving pictures. And so will a lot of other women.