At the inaugural L.A. Promise Fund Hello Future Summit at Microsoft Theater, filmmaker and first lady of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom shared the journey that led her to her award-winning documentary Miss Representation with more than 5,000 high school girls.
Newsom, who served as the inaugural event’s keynote speaker, opened up about her time as an actress, years in the industry she said were spent “being underestimated or being typecast as the dumb blonde or the trophy wife.” She said that being valued for her youth, appearance and sexuality as a young actress in Hollywood prompted her switch in trajectory. She said that she felt compelled to “re-write this story and disrupt this limited and damaging box that we were putting our women and girls into,” and encouraged her audience to do the same.
“[Our story] depends on who is piloting the plane…. I want you to get into the cockpit and know you belong there,” she said. “There’s something wrong with this status quo, and it is up to us to change it.”
The first lady of California’s address set the tone for a morning of inspiring, uplifting and informing the next generation of filmmakers, directors, CEOs, actors, innovators, engineers and creators. The summit featured a lineup of panels focused on several fields, including technology, politics and content creation.
L.A. Promise Fund president and CEO Veronica Melvin told The Hollywood Reporter that she thinks recruiting executives, stars and creators to speak to the Los Angeles girls about hot topics like diversity, pay disparity and feminism could leave a lasting impression on them. Panelists included Mitu founder Beatriz Acevedo, Sal Khan, Katy Brown and politicians Cori Bush and Amy Vilela, subjects of the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House.
“We know that high-profile individuals and celebrities talking about this makes a difference for girls who are so impressionable by high-profile public individuals,” she told THR. “The girls get to experience and envision themselves as future scientists, engineers and CEOs.”
Following the first lady of California’s speech was a discussion about women in politics with Bush and Vilela, hosted by Stranger Thing’s Francesca Reale and Special’s Punam Patel.
Bush, who tried her hand at local politics following the Ferguson, Miss., protests in 2014, said her father inspired her to push for change in her community. “He’s been in politics for a long time and he just showed me how to be on the ground with the community and just by meeting with one person, you can change that person’s life.”
The Missouri politician said that she felt it was necessary for the summit’s young audience to understand that neither fame, a recognizable name nor title is necessary to make waves in society. She also told THR that her audience needs to know that collaboration and making connections with each other are imperative to creating filling positions of power with individuals more representative of the general population.
“The ones that are the power players that need to be the ones who grab the next group and give them a seat at the table, or make them a table,” she said. “Those people in power need to make way and bring people like us to the table.”
Vilela, who campaigned in Nevada’s 4th district, said that empowering women and women of color to push for more representation means redefining what it means to be a woman. “We cannot be afraid of failure, we’re moving the conversation, we’re moving the initiative. We can’t be afraid of being emotional…as women, we have to say, ‘You’re not going to dictate how we have to be in order to get our goals.’”
After the panels, the summit came to a close with a live performance by Daya, who sang her hits “Sit Still, Look Pretty,” “Insomnia” and “Hide Away.” Coming up in the music industry, the singer told THR, she looked up to women like Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, who, she said, championed authenticity and used her voices for good.
The singer said that she enjoyed looking out at the audience and seeing the young girls dancing to her music and that she wishes to inspire them as the aforementioned artists inspired her.
“It’s crazy to look out in a room and see potential and see the future, see all of these girls ready to make it happen,” she said.