For Women Creators, You Can’t Own What You Don’t Value

The Documentary

This weekend, something happened that made me consider my purpose at Cuebey. By some miracle, I managed to squeeze in a couple of kid-free, uninterrupted hours to watch a wonderful documentary on Amazon called Half the Picture.  It was an incredibly eye-opening look into the discrimination and challenges that women filmmakers face in Hollywood. 

Somehow, for women filmmakers, opportunity did not follow success.  Silence did.  And it continues to.

Half the Picture consisted mainly of interviews with a number of women directors who had been working in Hollywood for decades.   Like anyone with a pulse, I was aware of the discrimination women in Hollywood face, but hearing them tell their own stories was somehow still shocking.  It was wonderful to hear how each of them came to directing. But, on the other hand, it was maddening to hear about not just the denial of opportunities to them, but the frequent lack of reasoning behind it.  For example, I was not aware that the director of Wayne’s World, the ‘90s slacker comedy, was a woman.  That was cool to find out.  But I was stunned that, following the film’s success, the studio, unceremoniously, and without reason simply replaced the director with a man.  No reason. No explanation. They just took a woman’s successful work away from her and decided to hand it over to a man.  

Similarly, after the first Twilight film proved that the series held significant money-making power, the studio quietly replaced the first film’s female director with a man for the remainder of the series.  And stories like these just popped up over and over.  Somehow, for women filmmakers, opportunity did not follow success.  Silence did.  And it continues to.

This dynamic made me think about something that women simply don’t discuss often enough.  And that is ownership.  For all the opportunities that have been denied to women, the one thing that can’t be denied are things we create for and own ourselves.  For example, so many women in Hollywood are starting to create and produce their own projects, thus asserting more control. 

There can be no ownership where there is no value. 

Here’s an example.  Ava Duvernay, one of the filmmakers interviewed in the documentary, has, among other things, created a television series for the OWN Network called Queen Sugar.  If you haven’t seen Queen Sugar, you should definitely give it a watch.  It is fantastic.  Anyway, for that series, she exclusively hires women directors.  And because the 3 executive producers are women, women own a substantial portion of the production companies that produce the series, and of course, a woman owns the network (Oprah Winfrey, herself), they are in near total control over every detail, including the hiring of women all throughout the production.  And that’s a beautiful thing. Ownership is the one thing that cannot be taken away from us.  What we own is ours, forever. But there is a catch. There can be no ownership where there is no value.  It doesn’t matter what we own if it’s not worth anything.  It’s important to always remember that.

There can be on ownership where there is no value

I consistently remind people that the legal system does not place a value on your intellectual property unless and until you do. 

As an intellectual property attorney, there is one thing I always tell people.  I consistently remind people that the legal system does not place a value on your intellectual property unless and until you do.  Here’s an example.  Let’s say that I invented the world’s greatest mouse trap.  It can hunt and catch mice with 100% effectiveness. It could be housed on a little robotic car that drives the mice far away from my house to release them into the wild and find its way back home to catch more sneaky mice.  It could be absolutely brilliant, humane, and generally awesome.  But, here’s the important part.  If I never patent my invention or place a monetary value on it by selling it, my neighbor can steal my design and make a fortune on it.  There is nothing I could do to stop them or to assert my rights.  I don’t have any.  I didn’t place a value on my own creation.  And there’s more.  

Even if I do own a patent for my invention, the courts will not seek out infringers and sue them for me.  I have to file suit on my own behalf.  I have to assert my own legal rights. As creators, noone is there to protect the value of our work.  Even in the strictest legal sense, that responsibility rests with the creator herself. Never forget that.

I have seen so many women create so many things of value and then freely abandon their creations to the Internet.  The passive recognition of ‘likes’ and ‘views’ is so hollow when you consider the value that is being thrown away.  So, what’s my point?  My point is that value is everything. Without it, we can own nothing, and we concede all control.  It’s important to keep that in mind as we navigate these waters for what we do and how we generate income.  There is a lot of work to be done on issues of gender parity and getting what we’re worth.  But the first step is to boldly take credit for what is ours and place value on it.  Our very right to ownership depends on it.

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