IndieWire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.
A working actress since the early ’70s, Kamala Lopez has appeared in films like “Born in East L.A.,” “I Heart Huckabees” and “Any Day Now,” as well as a lengthy list of televisions shows, from “Miami Vice” to “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Resurrection Blvd.” Not content with the roles offered to actresses in Hollywood, Lopez began making her own films, and thereby her own opportunities.
With her latest, “Equal Means Equal,” this ambitious filmmaker aims to make new opportunities for women across America, changing the trajectory of her career in the process. Diving into ten topics of gender inequality — from rape culture to the Pay Gap to pregnancy discrimination — the daring documentary connects the dots to reveal a shocking source to all of the above: the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Lopez’s doc is an unflinching call to arms, demanding Americans wake up to the injustices that gravely impact the lives of women every day. And it urges public pressure to put the ERA back on our government’s priorities.
IndieWire spoke with the impassioned Lopez about her career path, “Equal Means Equal,” and the shocking truths she learned making this devastating doc.
I started acting when I was seven years old. So I’ve been acting my entire life, and I continue to act. And that’s essentially my main, bread-winning job, which is kind of amusing considering it’s not a very stable field economically. But that is how I have always supported myself.
One of the interesting things about women in Hollywood is that we rarely get to the opportunity to have a budget that is commensurate with the budget of male directors or male producers. It’s difficult because you find yourself being judged at a certain level by an audience, or even by the industry, when your resources are so, so, so dramatically restricted compared to the people that you’re being put up against.
“Equal Means Equal” is a long-germinating project. It’s been well over seven years since I started the film in 2009. It’s been a very long, and arduous road that is finally and very happily over. It really is a comprehensive look at where American women find themselves across about ten different subject areas, culled down from over two-dozen initially.
I didn’t set out to make the cinematic equivalent of “War and Peace,” it just sort of worked out that way, because what I would not allow to happen was to let anyone go to this film and say, “This isn’t comprehensive. You’re not taking this into account.” I didn’t want there to be any room for any sort of argument on the factual points that I’m bringing to the fore. I think it’s very important that we all get on the same page.
This is not my opinion. This is not some sort of fad. This is not some sort of feminist agenda. These are simply facts. And they are presented together in a way that you can see the overall pattern that’s created and that is discriminating against women on a massive scale.
I started with 26 different areas that I thought women were experiencing either some kind of negative outcome, or overt discrimination, or violence. And I would look at that particular area. Our first cut of the film was seven and half hours long. And we went into topics that to this day I’m very heartbroken that had to be left to another time, issues of the situation of Native American women on reservations for instance. Issues of undocumented women and the grey area in the laws and the fact that neither government will take responsibility for these women, leaves them at tremendous peril, and egregious, horrendous things happen to them daily.
These kinds of stories — and there were really multiple ones of them — they had to be foregone in order to achieve the overall goal of the film, which is to point out to people how in these very, very basic areas that affect millions and millions and millions of women–like the Gender Pay Gap, like pregnancy discrimination, like sexual assault, like the judicial system. In every single one of these areas, the laws that most of us believe will be there to protect us should we have a problem are either not there, they are ineffective, or they actually end up having the opposite effect than the intention of the law.
Over the course of these years, we honed further and further down until it was the point of a spear. And that’s the goal. We need the point of a spear to get these situations handled. Until women have equal rights under our foundational document (meaning passing of ERA), we cannot really clean this situation up, because we’ve got a rot in the foundation. And you can’t move forward from that. So no matter how many of these wonderful new statutes and laws the parties make a big hullabaloo about, the fact of the matter is that these laws can be changed depending on who the political flavor of the month is. And the reality is that women’s human and civil rights cannot be held hostage to a shifting political landscape. They must be protected under our very basic laws, as they are in 180 countries all over the world. It’s not really a big deal, it shouldn’t be a problem to say that women should be treated equally under the law. I don’t accept it as a big deal anymore.
The problem now is that we’ve reached the breaking point. The society cannot stand these systems that were created in a different time period where you didn’t have 47% of the American paid work force being female, where you didn’t have 75% of schoolchildren having working mothers and no childcare. We didn’t have these situations. So the systems are groaning and creaking and breaking all over the place, and no one wants to take a look at a major underlying problem, and stop putting band-aids on gunshot wounds.
We’ve got to look at the system. We’ve got to look at the intuitions and the laws and the systems as archaic — which they are — and bring them up to speed so that they reflect the society that we’re actually living in. Because right now, all of the burden of that inequity and injustice falls on our backs! And we cannot shoulder it any longer. And we won’t.
96% of American men and women believe that they are equal. And 80% of them believe it’s in the Constitution already. So you’ve got a major perception problem. I think it’s really dangerous civil rights violation to have the majority of the population believing something that is so absolutely not the truth.
Who pays? We (women) pay. Then what happens? We look at it, and we go, “It must be my fault. It’s got to be me, because everyone else is empowered and doing great, and has the boyfriend, the great job, the great haircut, and here I am struggling to put food on the table for my kids. It’s got to be my fault.” And that is the Gaslighting of the generation. That is unacceptable to me. Because we have enough problems without the blaming of ourselves for a system that’s designed to keep up down, and that’s making it almost impossible for us to survive. We don’t need to take that on as our fault on top of it. That’s what the film demonstrates, is that it’s not our fault. It’s not at all our fault.
I think we’ve got to get braver. It’s unfortunate because I’ll tell ya’, I spent eight years looking at the violence that affects women whether or not they stand up for themselves. And yet I will say stand up for yourself. Stand up not just for yourself, but for the woman that is getting beat. Stand up for the person at work that’s being harassed. Stand up. Speak out. Demand your rights! You’re paying your taxes. You’re going to these schools. You’ve got these student loans. How is it possible that it’s going to take you another decade to pay off your loans than your male friends you went to college with? That’s not okay. We don’t accept. We do not accept. We can’t accept that 2% of rapists will ever see a day in prison. That’s just basically saying, “Hey, do you like casinos? Well, you got about those odds getting caught so you may as well just take that girl if you want her.” That is what we say when we only prosecute 2% of rapists.
The website at the end of the film will lead you to a series of actions that you can take to start to move the needle on the public perception that women’s equality already exists, and start to put a little bit of pressure on these legislators to pull the Equal Rights Amendment out of committee for the first time in 30-something years, and put it on the floor for a vote so that we can get this ball rolling. That is what the point of the movie is. There will be links to what you can do, literally, practically, pragmatically, to get this done. We just have to make a stink, because we’ve heard over and over again “Nobody cares, nobody cares.” And I defy these legislators to prove that to me. What I say is, “Nobody knows.”
“Equal Means Equal” will screen in special theaters and auditoriums across the country in honor of Women’s Equality Day on August 26. The film will be available on iTunes and VOD on September 6.