500 Women Scientists Film Night sparks discussion and action

By Emily Eisenhauer

At the end of 2016, after witnessing a crescendo of attacks on science and rhetoric with misogynistic, racist, and homophobic undertones, 500 Women Scientists was formed. Its mission is to increase scientific literacy through public engagement, advocate for science and equity, and provide self-identifying women with the tools and support they need to reach their full potential. The organization grew and spread quickly, allowing members to connect on both local and global issues through “pods” all over the country and the world. The DC pod has participated in the marches for women, climate justice, racial justice, and science and has hosted learning and action events such as anti-harassment training, a wiki edit-a-thon on women scientists, and mentoring girls of color in STEM.

As part of our strategy to increase our awareness about intersectional issues, we decided to host a movie night and discussion on supporting leadership by women of color.  Our first task was to find a venue that would be willing to host us. We were lucky enough to team up with Suns Cinema – a small, independent movie theater in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of DC. The owner was receptive to our idea of hosting a movie night and discussion, which made it easy because they already had experience with getting films from a distributor as well as the necessary audio-visual equipment for projecting the film.

We brainstormed a short list of films and decided to put a poll in our email newsletter to let members vote on which film they wanted to see. The winner was Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai which is a tremendously inspiring documentary about the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and her campaigns for environmental protection, women’s rights and human rights in Kenya. We invited Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, for a conversation after the film. An expert on environmental health, Tamara is a leader with DC EcoWomen and was able to share her own experiences of empowering people and making connections between the environment and people’s health and well-being – similar to the strategies used by Wangari Maathi. With 500 WS and DC EcoWomen both promoting the event, we are proud to say that this event quickly sold out!

Audience members discuss the film with Tamara Toles O’Laughlin (left) and Emily Eisenhauer.

Films are powerful ways to tell stories and connect with people and issues different from our own experience. By creating space for discussion after the film, attendees had the chance to connect with others in attendance and process as a group what the film meant to them. We even had a member who was inspired to follow Wangari Maathi’s example and take initiative on getting our group more involved in speaking to our own policy makers! So even though it took a little extra effort to pull offanew type of event, it was well worth it.

There were a few key reasons the movie night worked for our group. We were able to draw from the connections our members had with the greater DC community such as: we approached the owner of a small movie theater and asked if they would want to join in this effort, we chose an older film that had less expensive rights fees, created partnerships with other DC organizations with complementary missions and different members than 500 Women Scientists to promote ticket sales, and we partnered with a local women scientist group for our panel speaker.

Emily Eisenhauer is a sociologist who works on environmental issues.  You can reach the DC pod of 500 Women Scientists at: 500womenscientistsdc@gmail.com. Please click here to become a member or a leader. Follow them on Twitter  and/or like on Facebook.