Meet Gail Mooney, Producer and Director of Like a Woman
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]W[/dropcap]e at Feminist Wednesday know first-hand the serious diversity issues plaguing the film industry; only 15 percent of directors and 29 percent of writers are women, and a whopping 89 percent of all directors are white. By and large, white men run the industry but thankfully, there are people out there working tirelessly to change that narrative. We’re doing it through our sister production, Dream, Girl, and this week we chatted with another badass lady shaking up the industry, Gail Mooney. Gail tells us about her latest projects and what it’s like to be a woman paving her way in a male-dominated industry.
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Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] am a photographer and filmmaker. I am a partner of Kelly/Mooney Productions, a visual communications company, founded in 1977 and based in the NYC metro area. Clients have included: National Geographic, Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure, Kiwanis, American Express and other Fortune 500 companies. My latest film was a feature length documentary, Opening Our Eyes, a joint project with my daughter, Erin Kelly. We circled the globe in 2010, seeking and telling the stories of 9 ordinary individuals on 6 continents who are making our world a better place– one person at a time.
I am a born storyteller. I love “the story” and the art of telling it; my true passion is to use my craft to create awareness and effect change. I capture "the story" with still images and/or motion to make people “feel” or move them to action. I’m not afraid to take chances or challenge myself in pursuit of the story. I’m an artist, an activist, and a believer in creating positive change and making a difference. I am fulfilled when I am able to use my skills to inspire others. I think it’s an incredible time to be a photographer and a filmmaker, and I am grateful to live in an era rich with possibilities.[divider type="short" spacing="10"] How does feminism play a part in what you do?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]o me, feminism means being an advocate for equal opportunity regardless of gender, race, nationality, or age. When women are allowed the opportunities and access that enable them to follow their passions or purpose, they bring value to all humanity. They become role models and empower other women to pursue their dreams by setting the example that anything is possible.
I graduated high school in 1969 and experienced the feminist movement of the 1970's. It was transformative. During that time period, I saw profound changes that opened up many doors for me that had been closed to women prior to that. I feel incredibly indebted and grateful to every woman who stood up against the obstacles that prevented them from realizing their dreams. I feel fortunate to have been part of that movement.
I am bewildered as to why so many young women (and men) misinterpret what a feminist is. It's not about women vs men, it's about being allowed to participate and contribute their gifts and skills for the betterment of all.
[divider type="short" spacing="10"] I know you really pioneered as a woman in photography in the '70s and now in the film world -- can you tell us a little about your personal experiences working in male dominated industries?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] started my business in 1977 after graduating from Brooks Institute of Photography where I was the only woman in my class. I've spent a lifetime in a male dominated profession. The photography profession has changed dramatically in terms of the gender gap since that time, and I suspect women make up 50% of its demographic. When I started to venture into filmmaking, I was thrust back into the minority.
There still needs to be movement in the "movie industry" as far as equity. I have been denied assignments and other opportunities simply because I was a woman. As I age, I am finding that the only thing harder than being a woman in a male dominated profession, is being an "older woman" in that profession. Many times, discrimination was disguised yet it still had it's negative effect. I rarely wanted to be looked at as a "female" photographer, I simply wanted to be seen as a photographer– leaving gender out of it. At times, the discrimination was obvious, for example: I was on assignment for a national magazine, shooting a story about a very old men's club. I was given access to photograph them and what they were involved in but when it came time for lunch, they were quite gracious and invited me, then promptly set up a table in another room because I wasn't allowed to dine with them. Those are the times that I was reminded that discrimination was alive and well, and quite honestly, it surprised me every time. I usually felt I had to do more than expected, simply to level the playing field and compete with men. Rather than let it defeat me or victimize me, it encouraged me to push myself harder. Ultimately that pushed me to raise my own bar.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
What advice would you have for a woman who wants to work in film? Or any male-dominated industry?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] would tell them to be the best they can be. Embrace what makes them unique. Be proactive– not reactive. Be tenacious and don't let the roadblocks keep you from your purpose. We are only on this planet for a short time– make the most of it. Change minds by being the best you can be. I would give that advice to anyone regardless of their gender. The world will be a better place if we don't let resistance stop us from reaching our goals.
[divider type="short" spacing="10"] Any plugs or upcoming initiatives you want our readers to know about?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]M[/dropcap]y latest project, Like A Woman, is about women who are working in traditionally male dominated professions. I want to shine a light on these women who are breaking barriers in professions that had once been closed to them. The best way to effect change is to create awareness, start the conversation, and empower others to move forward. I'm a true believer that anything is possible, and will always embrace a life that is open to possibilities rather than defeated by road blocks. If you want something, go for it. As my dad always told me when I tried talking myself out of trying, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" I never came up with an answer that was all that bad.
One final anecdote that became a defining moment in my life– prior to attending Brooks, I had literally hitchhiked around the world as a solo female, 19 years old. Aside from the European countries I visited, I had traveled (solo) through countries like Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan. I took snapshots along the way and when I returned, I knew I wanted to pursue a lifestyle that would give me access to travel, adventure, and exploration– so I became a photographer and enrolled in Brooks. Brooks was geared toward having a career in commercial photography (studio work, still life, etc). I wanted to work for magazines but at the time, the publishing world was going through turmoil, magazines were folding, and I was discouraged from pursuing my dream. I created a portfolio of commercial work that was proficient but didn't show my heart. I went to see a legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel, and when he finished looking through my portfolio, he tossed it back at me and told me it was garbage. Then he asked me what I wanted to do, and I proceeded to tell him about my desire to work for magazines but that I had been discouraged from pursuing a dead end. Then he asked me how old I was. I replied, "25 years old." He looked me straight in the face and said, "You're 25 and you're already making compromises?" I have held onto that moment and every time I start to get sidetracked from my purpose– it reminds me that I shouldn't let others keep me from my purpose.