Misty Copeland Inspires Again

Naturally, human beings are sensitive to criticism. Our initial reaction when someone is less than complimentary is to get defensive and/or hide away, none of which helps us grow or deal with the issue.

This week, my favorite dancer and all round inspirational human being, Misty Copeland was a study in class, grace and self reflection as she dealt with an online troll who criticized a recent performance of Swan Lake. Rather than clap back, she acknowledged the criticism, posted about it publicly and used it as opportunity to not only reflect on her mission and strengths but also areas of potential growth. I've shared part of statement below.

"I’m happy this has been shared because I will forever be a work in progress and will never stop learning. I learn from seeing myself on film and rarely get to. So thank you. I will always reiterate that I am by no means the best in ballet. I understand my position and what I represent. I know that I’m in a very unique position and have been given a rare platform. All I’ve ever wanted is to bring ballet to more people and to help to diversify it."

"A ballerina's career is not, nor should be defined by how many fouettés she executes. I’m happy to have this dialogue because it’s something I believe in whole heartedly. The history of ballet and it’s origin of pure freedom and expression is what we need to hold onto. Not to come into the theatre as a critic armed with judgement."

So much to be inspired by.

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Women In Entertainment - 10 Things You Can Do To Drive Change

Last week, leading executives and creatives from across the music, television and film industries came together for a high level dinner to share solutions for how we truly move the needle for women in entertainment in 2018. Led by guest speakers Keri Putnam CEO of the Sundance Institute, director Alma Har’el and manager/activist Ty Stiklorius, we left the room armed with actionable ideas for how we continue to drive forward momentum. After a year of marching, speaking out and making our voices heard, we are more than ready to make good on that promise of action. Everyone can be a part of the solution. Here are ten things you can do to make a difference.

1. Take the pledge. Make a personal commitment to create a diverse workforce within your department and company, or on your productions. And set measurable goals.

2. Build data, source data and utilize data to help make the case for equal hiring practices and diverse content creation. We want to see our own stories.

3. Be mindful and intentional about expanding your professional network. How are you ensuring that you're connecting to and meeting with people across race, gender and socio-economic class?

4. Utilize existing models that drive inclusivity such as Dr Stacy Smith’s inclusion riders and Alma Har'el’s Free the Bid.

5. Call out bias and bad behavior when you see it. We have to bring these issues out into the open and hold companies to account.

6. Mentor and sponsor women. Don’t just give advice and guidance, pick up the phone, make introductions, go to bat for people.

7. Use the notion of ‘shining’ to amplify other women’s ideas.

8. We need more women financially investing in other women. How do we make the case to a wider network of high net worth women that investing in diverse content makes good business sense?

9. Use your privilege. If you’re in a position of power or influence, use it to support those with less.

10. If you can't make the system work for you, build your own systems. Lets use entrepreneurship as a tool by which to lead by example. 

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Audrey Buchanan, Ty Stiklorius, Dee Poku, Laura Rister, Tory Tunnell

 Tasya van Ree, Antoinette Clarke, Dee Poku, Tricia Clarke Stone

Tasya van Ree, Antoinette Clarke, Dee Poku, Tricia Clarke Stone

Less Empowerment, More Power For Women

em.pow.er                                                                                           

make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights

The week of March 8th is always my busiest of the year. Why? Because it's the week of International Women's Day. The one period when all the world's attention is focused on women, our rights, our achievements and our economic development. The emphasis during this time is usually on how we adjust existing systems to ensure women are given equal opportunities. So I prepared myself for the obligatory round of panels and receptions filled with the same rhetoric, knowing that progress would proceed at its usual glacial pace. 

But this year felt different. Women are done with being 'empowered'. We want real power. We're already strong and confident.  We already have a voice and we plan to use it. And there's no better way of sticking two fingers up at the patriarchy than by starting our own businesses and driving our own movements. Gratifyingly, many of the conversations this year were about women breaking the rules and building their own systems, especially via entrepreneurship. Women who build businesses do a huge amount to change the world for us all, and have an incredible amount to teach the world about how both companies and economies should be run. 

 At Theory's Be Heard event. L to R. Dee Poku, Amanda Hesser, Susan Lyne, Shan-Lyn Ma

At Theory's Be Heard event. L to R. Dee Poku, Amanda Hesser, Susan Lyne, Shan-Lyn Ma

 At Berlin Cameron's Girl Brands Do It Better. L to R. Dee Poku, Meg He, Polly Rodriguez, Kristy Wallace, Jennifer DaSilva, Lindsay Stein

At Berlin Cameron's Girl Brands Do It Better. L to R. Dee Poku, Meg He, Polly Rodriguez, Kristy Wallace, Jennifer DaSilva, Lindsay Stein

Black Women Are The Future Of Tech

Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America. We are severely underfunded, underestimated and under resourced yet we still generate $52.6 billion in revenue. That’s why it was so good to be at the Black Women Talk Tech conference, which was filled with smart, creative ambitious tech entrepreneurs, eager to connect with fellow founders and support and uplift one another.

Speakers included Jean Brownhill from Sweeten, Tonya Lewis Lee and Rich Dennis founder of Sundial Brands, who recently acquired Essence Magazine.  Dennis' advice to the audience: "Surround yourself with people who support what you're doing. There are more people for you than against you. Find your people."

I found my people.

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Back row: Kobi Wu Passmore, Tanya von Court, Asmau Ahmed, Danielle Kayembe, Viola Lewellyn

Front row: Candice Matthews, Dee Poku, Bea Arthur

The Warrior Women Of Wakanda Are The Heroines We Need

There are many things to love about the movie Black Panther but one reason this film is so revolutionary is it's female characters. Lupita Nyong'o plays a humanitarian spy, Letitia Wright is a technical wizard and Danai Gurira kicks butt as a ferocious warrior. These powerful, talented black women aren't just there in of service of the men, to play the girlfriend or serve as the moral conscience of the male lead. Their roles are highly independent as well as being integral to the plot. The characters they play are strong and capable, and respected for their skill and intellect. They’re proud and opinionated black women revered for their wit, prowess and sportsmanship.

Compare this to recent statistics. Women make up just a third of speaking roles in movies and 76% of all female characters are white. We are rarely central to the plot and non white characters are often written as racial stereotypes. A Geena Davis study found that 80% of movie characters with STEM jobs were male.

Movies such as Women Woman, Girls Trip, Hidden Figures and now Black Panther are disproving outdated theories of what audiences want to see. The myth of the fanboy is over. Male directors take note.

 Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o  

Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o  

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Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright

How To Raise a Feminist Son

We are desperately trying to right the wrongs of the past but for those of us with young sons, there’s an opportunity and indeed a responsibility to ensure we're raising a generation that knows better. These ideas are from a great New York Times article along similar lines.


Teach him that he has a full range of emotions not just angry but - I’m scared, my feelings are hurt or, I need help.

Put good men in the space of your son. Give him strong female role models, too

Allow him to follow his interests, traditional or not

Teach him to cook, clean and look after himself

Teach him to take care of others

Encourage friendships with girls

Teach respect and consent

Expect more. ‘Boys will be boys’ is not an excuse for bad behavior. 

Never use ‘like a girl’ as an insult

Read a lot, including about girls and women

Celebrate boyhood

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Stacey Abrams is poised to make history

It was such an honor to co-host this event for the amazing Stacey Abrams. As the leading candidate for Governor of Georgia, she is set to make history as America’s first ever black female governor. Meeting her reminded me of Oprah Winfrey's recent Golden Globes speech where she referenced all the little black girls watching who'd be uplifted by her success. Well Stacey Abrams will do the same for a whole new generation of girls who will believe that one day, they too could be in positions of power. Learn more about Stacey and donate to her campaign here.

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Protect Roe v Wade

1973. Today marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting a woman’s right to choose.  This right continues to be threatened by the current administration and we must defend the ability of all women to have access to quality, affordable reproductive health services. 

At the Women's March this weekend, I wore this t-shirt, a collaboration between Kulestripes and Prinkshop to signal my reliance as a mother, on the ability to control when and how I have children.  All proceeds to the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

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Intersectional Feminism And The Women's March

At last night’s panel for the launch of the new Women's March book, Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World, former Teen Vogue Editor in Chief Elaine Welteroth said something that really resonated. That when Philando Castile was killed she felt isolated in her grief when she went to work the next day. I would like to think that the Women’s March changed that. That people and the conversation have evolved.

The march was a pivotal moment for so many. For some it was their first introduction to activism, for others it was a wake up call. For those already doing the work, it brought welcome new awareness and attention to their movements. But what I’m grateful for is that it drove home the true value and need for intersectional feminism. As co-chair Linda Sarsour put it during the panel discussion: “It wasn’t about this narrow white liberal feminist lens of what women’s issues are. We dictated what women’s issues are - they include immigration, gun violence against people of color, the environment, poverty. To quote Audre Lorde, ‘There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.”

The book is filled with photographs and essays that demonstrate the breadth and impact of the march and the influence it had on all of our lives. It is dedicated to the "women, documented and undocumented: the daughters, the mothers, the caregivers, the workers, the trans warriors, the witches, the artists, the refugees, the leaders.  Buy a copy!

 Elaine Welteroth, Cassady Finlay, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Paola Mendoza, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez

Elaine Welteroth, Cassady Finlay, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Paola Mendoza, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez

 Cassady Finlay,  Linda Sarsour, Elaine Welteroth, Cleo Wade, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Paola Mendoza, Cindy Leive

Cassady Finlay,  Linda Sarsour, Elaine Welteroth, Cleo Wade, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Paola Mendoza, Cindy Leive

Empowerment. Be Anything Or Be Realistic?

Here's a question I grapple with every day in relation to raising my son, and, the messaging I send out to the young women on my platforms. Do I tell them they can do and be anything or do I warn them about the harsh realities of the world?  I was raced with the former 'be anything' messaging and I don't believe I would have been able to navigate the world as I have, feeling it was against me. I have friends who were raised that way and it made them hesitant, nervous, defensive. And sometimes you need a bit of naïveté to push past that. You'll deal with the obstacles as and when they arrive, hopefully surrounded by the right mentors and support structure.

Happy New Year!

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I added my name to the TIMESUP Letter of Solidarity

300 leading women across the entertainment industry just launched a wide reaching campaign to combat sexual harassment and support disenfranchised women on the receiving end of unwanted advances. Entitled TIMESUP, the initiative does three key things:

  • Provides a $13 million legal defense fund to help women in blue-collar jobs and farm work
  • Drafts of legislation to punish companies that tolerate sexual harassment and to discourage nondisclosure agreements in such cases.
  • Pushes to reach gender parity in Hollywood studios and talent agencies; and a call for women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes to wear black as a sign of protest and solidarity.

This is an important step in the right direction, particularly in its support of women without the power or platform to stand up to abuse. The campaign was launched via a full page open letter in the New York Times. I just added my name to the Letter of Solidarity and donated to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.  It feels like a powerful way to start the year.

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The Woman Behind Star Wars' Increased Diversity

I finally saw The Last Jedi last night and it was well worth the wait. So thrilling and fun with thoughtful, compelling storylines. And, best of all, so rich in diversity.  And that's thanks in no small part to Kiri Hart, head of the Lucasfilm story group. Formed by Kathleen Kennedy in 2012, the group has overseen an increase in strong, diverse leading and supporting roles within the franchise. In a recent New York Times interview, Hart said: "The characters that end up on screen are there because there is a groundswell of energy around this idea of creating a more honest reflection of the world around us.” So true. And given Star Wars' massive influence and reach, the impact of Hart's input cannot be underestimated. 

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Kelly Marie Tran, John Boyega/Credit: Lucasfilm

The Woman We All Go To For Self Care

Self care is a much bandied about word. But as every day brings fresh political insanity, the only way to keep focused is to stay emotionally and physically centered. Enter wellness and lifestyle guru Latham Thomas, who has been such a positive grounding influence in my life and the lives of so many. I plan to spend the holidays thinking about how best to apply the principles of her beautiful new book, "Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning the Queen Within", to my own life.  #MamaGlow #selfcare #wcw

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And The Word Of The Year Is Feminism

Merriam Webster just announced that feminism is its word of the year. It was the most looked up term on its online dictionary, generating 70% more searches than 2016. In the year of the Women's March, Wonder Woman and the #MeToo movement, it's no surprise that interest in the word spiked. Women are speaking up and speaking out in greater numbers than ever in a quest to create equity for all.

We are still hugely marginalized across all areas of society - socially and economically - making up pitiful percentages of leadership positions, receiving less pay than our male counterparts and on the receiving end of constant harassment. Globally, we're seeing an increased use of systematic rape as a weapon of war in modern conflicts. 

The Webster dictionary defines feminism as "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" and as the "organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests." After a year where many of society ills and injustices against the female population were laid bare for all to see, lets hope 2018 marks the beginning of real and lasting change

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Why You Need To Manage Your Personal Brand

I've spent most of my career in the film business and care so passionately about the advancement of women filmmakers, so it was a thrill to be asked to host a workshop on personal branding and mission statements for the women selected to join the Sundance Institute fellowship program. 

Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands and establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual. It's how you’re perceived. Everyone has a unique personal brand, whether they know it or not. And ideally you control it - it's the image you project to the world that aligns with your mission.

The world likes to put people in boxes and project ideas onto us, so if you don't have a strong sense of self, then you're just a passive bystander in your own career.

 Katie Doering, Lauren Wolkstein, Su Kim, Lana Wilson, Dee Poku, Yoruba Richen, Sabrina Gordon, Elisabeth Holm

Katie Doering, Lauren Wolkstein, Su Kim, Lana Wilson, Dee Poku, Yoruba Richen, Sabrina Gordon, Elisabeth Holm

Glamour's Women of the Year

Every year Glamour Magazine's Cindi Leive brings together the most inspiring change-makers, to shine a light on the important work they do to move the needle on key issues for women and for all marginalized communities. For her last awards as Editor in Chief of the magazine, Cindi assembled a veritable roll call of the most powerful activists, artists and advocates of our time. They included Maxine Waters, Solange, astronaut Peggy Whitson, Sarah Weddington (Roe v Wade), Ruby Bridges, Samantha Bee, Zendaya, Anita Hill, Chimamanda Adichie, Serena Williams, and the list goes on. The event reaffirmed my faith in the power of the women's movement and that women will be the ones to lead us forward to a better future. The future is female!

 Cindi Leive, Dee Poku

Cindi Leive, Dee Poku

 Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman

 Solange

Solange

The Women's Convention Gave Me Life

The movement created by the Women's March organizers continues to go from strength to strength. Last weekend I spoke at their first convention in Detroit, which brought together 4000 women from across the country to discuss everything from running for office to immigration reform. I personally spoke on three panels - exploring the role of cultural influencers which featured Ibtihaj Muhammed, Piper Perabo, Yandy Smith and Jackie Cruz;  the status of women in film with Alia Shawkat, Piper Perabo, Sarah Sophie Flicker and Amber Tamblyn and and the importance of entrepreneurship with Piera Gelardi, Jennifer DaSilva, Tracy Reese and Arian Simone

Being at the convention was like being with family.  I was so inspired and moved by all the women I met and their powerful stories. From the mothers who travelled in from Flint to learn how to best to use their voices as activists, to the budding young filmmaker being sexually harassed by a supposed mentor, everyone was there to share, support and learn. A huge thank you to all the amazing speakers and participants who shared such great wisdom.

 Yandy Smith, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Piper Perabo, Dee Poku, Jackie Cruz

Yandy Smith, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Piper Perabo, Dee Poku, Jackie Cruz

 Piper Perabo, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Dee Poku, Amber Tamblyn, Alia Shawkat

Piper Perabo, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Dee Poku, Amber Tamblyn, Alia Shawkat

No Such Thing As A Mommy Goddess

I didn't feel like the greatest of mothers this morning. Sebastian was digging his heels in because we didn't have his favorite cereal and he wanted me to play lego. He's barely seen me over the last month so he's acting up. Meanwhile I had to ensure he was at school on time and get to a breakfast meeting so I had to half pull/carry him out the door. You need endless patience to be a good parent, and this morning I just didn't have the energy to sit and reason and explain. To find that patience you have to make time for self care. You have to be rested and nourished. And right now I'm neither. So yes, let's break the myth of the mommy goddess. Thank you Time Magazine for this story.

 

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