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On March 24, 2021, New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) presented the panel discussion “Representation Matters: Ensuring Inclusive Leadership in Politics and the Media.”  Originally planned to be hosted at the United Nations in March 2020 as part of the Commission on the Status Women Forum, the event was postponed and viewed online this year. 

Thanks to the vision of NYWIFT’s executive director Cynthia Lopez, and NDI’s senior associate & director for Gender, Women and Democracy Sondra Pepera, we  organized this incredible panel to discuss the importance of representation and strategies for equity at the intersection of politics and media.

One of the highlights for me was getting to hear from H.E. Hanna Tetteh, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union who left us with some closing thoughts: 

“Media needs to help the public believe that women are where they belong. Lupita Nyong’o said, “No matter where you are, your dreams are valid.” 

Own your ambition.  Men have been doing that for centuries.”

This partnership holds special significance for me because my first job out of college was with NDI, where I helped organize workshops for women in politics in Argentina and Jordan all the way back in the 90s. 

Being virtual made it a truly a global presentation – from 4 different time zones.  Our participants were in Los Angeles, New York City, Stockholm and Addis Ababa and our audience tuned in around the world.  You can read more and watch the recording of the event at the link below.

Clockwise from top left: Journalist and Moderator Natasha Del Toro, Birgitta Ohlsson (Director of Political Parties at the National Democratic Institute and former Swedish MP), H.E Hanna Tetteh (UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union), Tanya Saracho (playwright and television writer), and Sheila Nevins (Executive Producer at MTV Networks).
Up and at ’em at 6am when the panel spans 4 time zones: California, New York, Sweden and Ethiopia!
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Ballerinas Kennedy George and Ava Holloway at the base of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, VA. June 5, 2020. Julia Rendleman/Reuters

What a year we’ve had.  And what a time we have in front of us.  Covid-19 is a seismic event that revealed cracks in the foundation of American society: from massive income and wealth gap, to the failings of a healthcare system that is tied to employment.  Equally significant is the momentum of the social justice movement Black Lives Matter that sparked nationwide protests against hundreds of years of racial inequity, brutality and injustice.

When our world opens up again, we should ask ourselves: what kind of society do we want to live in?  And how do we give meaning to the crisis that we’ve survived and are still enduring?

I recently read an opinion piece by columnist Leonard Pitts Jr who spent last year reading works by women.  He noted that “my bias deprived me of whole vistas of discovery.”

“This past year, has served as a reminder to never be too smug about one’s own enlightenment. Because enlightenment is not a place one reaches but a process always ongoing. And it requires not just a willingness to acknowledge that one harbors biases but also a recognition that they will not go away on their own. One has to make them go away. And then one has to get up the next day and do it again.” Leonard Pitts Jr 

In an effort to confront my own bias, over the past few years I’ve made a conscious effort to read more authors from backgrounds that are different from mine, with an emphasis on black authors. And in doing so I rediscovered some old favorites and was shaken to the core by new authors and stories.

Here are some recent reads that really affected me: Read More

Northern California Coast, 2020. Photo: Busy K

Checking in, everyone.  How are we doing? I hope you all are safe and healthy. Isolation takes its toll, and I hope you are being kind to yourselves.

When everything shut down in March, I was working on a travel series for Disney+ called Parenting Without Borders.  As the showrunner and director, I had assembled the most incredible team, and together we had developed a great series that the EPs and the network loved.  I had wonderful partners at Disney who wholeheartedly supported our creative ideas.  I also had the tremendous support and institutional knowledge of Boardwalk Pictures, which does such incredible international production with Chef’s Table and Street Food.  This was going to be a beautiful, poignant series about how culture influences parenting around the world.

I think back to those days in February and March when we were conducting daily risk assessments. Because of a lack of coherent information about coronavirus from the Feds and CDC, we had to glean the risks from our own resources, the news and from our international contacts on the ground. The world started to shrink before our eyes as countries around the globe turned into hotspots, and suddenly, the coronavirus was here in the United States. Read More

Corey Williams is the kind of person who makes you want to root for him. Sincere, honest and open, he’s a hard worker and a man of few words.  And 20 years ago he was sent to death row after a house party ended in the murder of a pizza delivery man.  Corey was a mere child of 16, a victim of poverty and intellectually disabled.  He was living in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, notorious for its tough-on-crime approach to justice where African American teens were labeled “super predators.”  In short, Corey never had a chance.  And yet, details of the case didn’t add up. Read More

Last week, I spoke to NYWIFT members about the state of the industry from my perspective as showrunner and director of a travel documentary series for Disney+.  Production everywhere has “paused” for the time being.  I talk about what that means for the immediate future and how we producers can approach the unknown. Read More

Thank you NYWIFT for profiling me in the new column “What’s in Your Toolkit?”  Entertainment publicist Margarita Sophia Cortes asked me…

What is the one thing you can’t live without in production?

I LOVE a wipe board.  Worlds are created on wipe boards. Recently I went to a meeting at Viacom, and the conference room had an entire wipe board wall. My fingers nearly tingled as we covered it in color-coded ideas by the end of the brainstorm session. Read More

2019 PitchNY- Sponsored by Governor’s Office of Motion Picture & Television Development, Tribeca Film Institute and NBCUniversal

Thank you to the Governor’s Office of Motion Picture & Television Development and NBCUniversal in collaboration with Tribeca Film Institute, for inviting me to participate in PitchNY, the most recent state initiative to promote the inclusion of diverse voices across the entertainment industry and to connect entertainment industry leaders with a rising generation of diverse content creators. Read More

Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Summer 2019. Photo by Busy K.

I can’t believe that we are approaching the end of the summer.  Where did the time go???  My summer was filled with researching upcoming projects which took me to the countryside in California, the capes of Massachusetts, science archives of Florida, and back to both kitchens and writing rooms in NYC.  I look forward to sharing more in the year ahead.

In the meantime, I enjoyed participating in NYWIFT’s podcast “Women Crush Wednesdays” this month talking about the 2019 Summit: Inclusion, Equality and Safety that was hosted at the Ford Foundation for Social Justice in June. It was a lot of fun to talk with co-hosts Margarita Cortes and Katie Chambers.

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NYWIFT Presents “2019 NYWIFT Summit: Inclusion, Equality and Safety” at the Ford Foundation for Social Justice

Sexual Harassment Panel: Jericka Duncan, Correspondent, CBS News; Amber Tamblyn, Author, Actress, Director, TIME’S UP founder; and Leslie Silva, Actress, Photographer, TIME’S UP founder. (Not pictured: Sharyn Tejani, Director, TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund)

For the past few months, I’ve been working with NYWIFT to organize our first annual Summit for Inclusion, Equality and Safety.  Check out the press release about the June 27th event below! (all photos by John Dallas Phelps) Read More

Death Row Stories explores the fallibility of the ultimate criminal penalty, capital punishment. Told by current and former death row inmates, each episode of Death Row Stories seeks to unravel the truth behind a different capital murder case and poses tough questions about the U.S. capital punishment system. Sundays at 8pm, ET/PT on HLN.  My episode “Body of Evidence” premieres June 30.

I directed two episodes of the series for Jigsaw Productions. This was my first foray into the true crime genre, which I’ve been following as a growing phenomenon over the past few years.  Studies show that women consume the most media about true crime.  There are many theories about why: whether it’s escapism or it’s a way to interact with our worst fears, many people are looking for reasons to why bad things happen. Death Row Stories premiered in 2014, and has since been at the forefront of true crime’s popularity exploring capital punishment in a way that’s more palatable for people who might not think they’re interested in social justice issues.

On the set of “Death Row Stories” for CNN.

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