#AskHerMore Founder On Oscars: "We're Demanding Better Representation for All"

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Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Jennifer Siebel Newsom talks Oscars diversity and why there's never been a better time to #AskHerMore.

We are just three days out from awards season's golden child: the Oscars.

In addition to the 24 gilded statues to be handed out, there will also be fantastic food, insanely pricey swag bags and a red carpet parade of actresses in drop-dead looks put together with the help of stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists and manicurists collectively known as glam squads. 

But though the Oscars prep process is fascinating, we are reminded by The Representation Project's #AskHerMore campaign that actresses are more than the dresses they wear and the shade of Chanel Rouge lipstick on their lips. 

Ahead of Sunday's show, Pret-a-Reporter spoke with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, founder of the campaign and filmmaker behind Miss Representation, to talk about the future of #AskHerMore in this feminist moment and the role of the organization's new ambassadors (Sally Field, Rosario Dawson and others) in the movement.

Does The Representation Project have any plans for the Oscars? Or to continue to push the #AskHerMore campaign this Sunday?

Yes! The Representation Project is keeping up the pressure at the Oscars by live-tweeting the red carpet with #AskHerMore. And we're not stopping there — we're demanding better representation for all during the award ceremony as well.

This year, we're celebrating the fact that the Academy Awards features non-white nominees in every acting category for the first time in a decade. Additionally, Joi McMillon, the co-editor of Moonlight is the first African-American woman ever to be nominated for film editing. Barry Jenkins is only the fourth black filmmaker nominated for Oscar best director and could become the first to win with Moonlight.

While this represents major progress, we still have a long way to go. Since the Awards started in 1929, only 6.7 percent of acting nominations have gone to “non-white actors.” This year, women make up only 20 percent of the nominees, with no women directors or cinematographers and only one woman writer nominated. We can and must do better.

Will any of the ambassadors be attending the Oscars?

I am not certain, but the Ambassador program is about challenging and overcoming stereotypes year-round. A lot of attention will be on the entertainment industry this weekend with the Oscars, and so it's exciting to see the people in front of and behind the camera use their platform to advocate for social justice.

Feminism has re-entered the greater public consciousness in the past few months. Did you think it was a good time to restart the conversation with the ambassador program because of this?

Yes, it does feel like an important moment to launch our Ambassador program. Now more than ever, it is important that all people, especially those with large microphones, use their voices for change. And with the Women's March last month and our work over the last five years, we are seeing more women (and men) step into their power as advocates, consumers and leaders. As I explored in my first film, Miss Representation, the media often portrays women with limiting narratives that devalue our whole human potential; women hold 85 percent of the purchasing power in this country but are consistently sold products that limit us to our youth, beauty and sexuality instead of our capacity to lead.

The status quo is unacceptable — with consequences that play out far beyond the media we see on our screens. A study came out just the other week that showed that by 6 years old, girls already don’t think that they are as smart as boys. Meanwhile, women continue to reach a plateau of 19 percent representation in leadership positions across all industries, and as we all know very well — we have never had a female president.

So you can see that these issues are critical and urgent. That’s why I am so excited to be part of the larger equality movement that is taking action and changing the status quo. And we’re seeing results. Thanks to a groundswell of support, #AskHerMore has become the norm on the red carpet. The feminist critique of Super Bowl ads with #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike was so strong as to completely transform the tenor of advertising in just a few years. We’re dismantling and disrupting the narrative that tells us that to be a woman is to be inferior or less than. And we are continuing to demand better representation in all industries — government, sports, entertainment and beyond. Humans create culture so we know that we can re-create it to better represent our values.