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Female Filmmakers at Emerson Work to End Bias

By Marni Zipper ’19

The Visual Media Arts (VMA) major is the largest major on campus. There’s a running joke amongst students that everyone you meet at Emerson is a VMA major. VMA is the umbrella term that covers a plethora of focuses, including studio television production, directing, writing for film and television, and lighting and sound design… just to name a few.

The most notable detail about this major is not just how mighty it is or the various paths one can take within it, but the impressive number of women at Emerson pursuing the major. These students are working to change the gender bias that is rampant in the male-dominated entertainment and film industry by devoting their time and effort to it right here. Women at Emerson are writing and producing their own shows, heading up the College’s TV network—the Emerson Channel—and speaking out about representation.

Studio Television Production major and Director of Production at the Emerson Channel, Emily Stikeman ‘18, says, “Being the Director of Production has been an amazing learning experience and has taught me so much about being a leader.”

Stikeman says that although television is still very male-centric, she feels that by earning a senior staff position, she is in some way helping to end a bias. She says the senior staff at the Emerson Channel went from being predominantly male to now more than half female. The channel also has a female advisor who has worked in the industry for decades. Stikeman adds, “We have also made a push this semester for crews to hire people from different backgrounds and experiences. Especially in the past few months, we’ve seen a major improvement in female representation on the Channel and have some shows that have almost entirely female crews.”

Students film Good Morning Emerson, a biweekly news talk show on The Emerson Channel.

Stikeman says that while there are still some difficulties to overcome, she feels that having more female representation on the Channel is a victory that people have noticed.

The VMA department’s Programming Director and Bright Lights Film Series curator, Anna Feder, works extensively to ensure that women are well-represented in the film industry. Feder states that it’s important to have women represented in all “ecosystems” of the industry. “This means not only having women in front of and behind the camera, but also seeing female film critics and female film exhibition curators,” she says.

Feder is also in her third semester of teaching an experiential learning course in film exhibition, and she has had predominantly female students taking the course. Feder says that she aims to train students to understand that having female representation in film critique and film exhibition allows for more support of strong female characters, female actors, directors, and producers, as well as more diverse stories being shared onscreen.

The Emerson student organization POWER (Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform) pushes for diversity and cultural competency in every classroom and makes sure that socio-political issues are being discussed. POWER’s mission states that they “challenge Emerson College to recognize the impact it’s having on the future media makers of the world, and to ensure students are graduating with values and practices that align with the progressive social justice mission of the College.”

Rraine Hanson, Media Production ‘18, says, “I have had positive experiences throughout my time as a VMA major. As someone who was first exposed to the art of filmmaking in college, I was grateful to learn as much as I could from all of Emerson’s advanced resources.” Hanson feels like she has witnessed some monumental changes in the department during her time here. Hanson discussed POWER’s impactful work, noting that “POWER has been doing a lot to address racial issues in the [VMA] program as well.”

Many female students acknowledge the positive change they’ve seen come from VMA. Emma Weeks, Media Studies ‘18, said of her experiences, “I feel like in the department, in terms of the professors and faculty, there is no difference between [the treatment of] female and male students, which is wonderful. In the classes I’ve taken, I’m taken just as seriously as my male counterparts. It’s really nice because the professors are so aware of the bias landscape in the industry [and] in Hollywood and really do their best to address that early on in the Emerson education.” 

Marni Zipper is a Marketing Communications major in Emerson’s class of 2019. Her professional goal is to combine her marketing skills with her passion for women’s rights advocacy. “I’d like to create marketing content and strategies based around equality and justice for all girls and women,” she says. 

Photos: Derek Palmer