What Story Lives in You?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 18th, 2018.

Every year around this time, I pound the vitamins, enable my email’s auto reply, and mentally prepare myself for the fact that I won’t be getting a good night’s sleep for the next two weeks. I do this because every year, the last two weeks of January are completely taken over by the Sundance Film Festival. From opening night to the closing awards show and party, Sundance is 11 days of films, events, panels, and parties, and this year will be no different. Or maybe it will be?

This is the first Sundance in a post-Harvey Weinstein era. This is the first Sundance since the sexual harassment and abuse scandal that has rocked Hollywood since last fall, and this is the first Sundance since the tide of change has swept through the entire industry. This is a topic that will be sure to dominate conversations, panels, and Q&As, and on Saturday, January 20th, a Respect Rally will be held in Park City to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Women’s Marches and last year’s March on Main (disclosure: I am a sponsor of the Respect Rally). It has also resulted in changes such as a very visible and thoughtful policy around code of conduct. The Sundance Institute is proudly partnering with the Utah Attorney General’s office to provide a 24 hotline to report code violations.

The theme of Sundance this year is the relationship between the storyteller and the audience. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that stories matter now more than ever, but even more important than the story is that the story gets heard and absorbed. Or in this case, seen. Women and men have been telling their stories of abuse and misconduct for decades, but often through secret channels and whisper networks out of fear of retribution. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault are sadly nothing new, but what’s changed in the past several months is that people are finally ready to listen to these stories, to believe these stories, and finally, FINALLY, we are ready to do something about them. Stories matter, but so does the audience and how these stories are received, and I look forward to delving deeper into this issue over the coming days of the festival and beyond.

The destiny of the world is determined less by battles lost and won than by the stories we come to love and believe in. – H. Goddard.

Now on to the festival…

This year’s festival is featuring 238 works altogether, including 122 feature films and 69 short films. Altogether, the Sundance Institute received over 13,000 submissions for the 2018 festival, and I can’t wait to see what made the cut. In addition to these films, an entirely new category is debuting for indie episodic work, which is a testament to the growing presence of this medium. While this content has previously been screened at Sundance as featured programming, episodic work is now being recognized as the force it truly is with its own section within the festival. Sundance is also debuting two new awards, including the Festival Favorite to be determined by audience ballot across all screenings of all feature films, and the NEXT Innovator Award that will be presented by RuPaul. There’s also a brand new theatre, incredible works and technology to discover in the New Frontier VR and AR section, and with over 46 countries represented, this year’s festival is truly an international affair.

It is also a year of increased representation for women. Earlier this month at the Golden Globes, Natalie Portman made a point of recognizing that yet again the nominees for Best Director were all male, despite the fact that Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird won one of the top awards of the night as the Best Comedy or Musical. In a far cry from Hollywood, where only 4% of the directors of the top grossing films of the past 11 years were women, 42% of all features and shorts that are to be screened at Sundance this year are directed by women (37% of features and 51% of shorts). This represents a 4% increase in female directors of features over 2017, and a 3% overall increase in female directors. One can only hope that those numbers will continue to go up in the years to come.

As I look over my schedule for the next 11 days, I can’t help but feel equal parts exhilarated and exhausted, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can follow the conversation online with #Sundance2018 and follow my adventures at @JackiZehner on Twitter. Below are a list of some of the films I’ll be seeing over the coming days, with descriptions pulled from the festival program. New this year are Meet the Artist videos on many of the pages, but you can also find them on Youtube HERE. If you’re in Park City happy festing! And if not, I’ll be back after the festival is over with my best of the fest of films to look out for in cinemas in the coming months.

Blindspotting – Collin is trying to make it through his final days of probation for an infamous arrest he can’t wait to put behind him. Always by his side is his fast-talking childhood bestie, Miles, who has a knack for finding trouble. They grew up together in the notoriously rough Oakland, a.k.a. “The Town,” which has become the new trendy place to live in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. But when Collin’s chance for a fresh start is interrupted by a life-changing missed curfew, his friendship with Miles is forced out of its comfortable buddy-comedy existence, and the Bay boys are set on a spiraling collision course with each other. Exploding with energy, style, and raw emotion, Blindspotting unravels today’s intersection of race and class with urgent and poetic justice. This is the opening night film tonight!

Private Life – Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) have been repeatedly trying to get pregnant, undergoing multiple fertility treatments while also exploring adoption and other options. As they hit obstacles and face up to the reality of their chances, their strained marriage seems to be further than ever from completing the elusive path to parenthood.

Monsters and Men – One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice?

Juliet, Naked – Annie is stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan—an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. Duncan is far more devoted to his music idol than to Annie. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, it leads to a life-changing encounter between Annie and the elusive rocker himself.

Eighth Grade – Eighth-grader Kayla Day always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She makes YouTube videos aimed at other adolescents dealing with similar issues—feelings of isolation, anxiety, and invisibility—but after so easily summoning this wisdom and confidence when addressing her (barely existent) audience, Kayla finds it paralyzingly difficult to apply in real situations. In the final week of a thus-far-disastrous school year—and with high school looming on the horizon—Kayla struggles to bridge the gap between how she perceives herself and who she believes she should be.

The Tale – Jennifer, a globetrotting journalist and professor, lives an enviable life with her boyfriend in New York City. That is, until her mother finds a story Jennifer wrote at age 13 depicting a “special” relationship with two adult coaches. Reading the yellowed pages of “The Tale,” Jennifer discovers the coded details she composed 40 years earlier are quite unlike her recollection. Deeply shaken yet determined to square her version of events with the truth, Jennifer sets out to find her two coaches. Returning to the Carolina horse farm where so much transpired, Jennifer’s gangly yet tenacious seventh-grade self reawakens, and the loving stories she told herself for decades begin to unravel.

Leave No Trace – For years Will and his teenage daughter, Tom, have lived off the grid, blissfully undetected by authorities in a vast nature reserve on the edge of Portland, Oregon. When a chance encounter blows their cover, they’re removed from their camp and put into the charge of social services. Struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a perilous journey back to the wilderness, where they are finally forced to confront conflicting desires—a longing for community versus a fierce need to live apart.

I Think We’re Alone Now – Del (Peter Dinklage) is alone in the world. Literally. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in a small, empty town, methodically going from house to house, collecting batteries and other useful items, and burying the dead. He dines alone, reads, watches movies, and shelves books in the local library he’s made his home. He’s content in his solitude—until he discovers Grace (Elle Fanning), an interloper on his quiet earth. Her history and motives are obscure, and worse yet, she wants to stay.

Inventing Tomorrow – Indonesia, India, Mexico, Hawaii, and many other countries, communities, and islands are rife with the ravages of environmental degradation. But hope comes with a surprising—and touching—group of young people. Meet six brilliant high school students as they prepare for the world’s largest high school science competition: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Inspired by the issues and problems they’ve witnessed in their own communities, these teens propose big ideas and ingenious solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. With unfettered minds and ambition, they descend upon Los Angeles to participate in ISEF and meet thousands of their peers from all over the world. Soon, a sense of global community forms, focused on making the world a better place.

Come Sunday – Every Sunday, Bishop Carlton Pearson—evangelical megastar, brilliant orator, and television host with millions of followers—preaches the fundamentalist gospel to six thousand supplicants at his Higher Dimensions Church. He’s the pride and joy of his spiritual father, Oral Roberts, and the toast of Tulsa. One day, rattled by an uncle’s suicide and distraught by reports of the Rwandan Genocide, Pearson receives an epiphany. Suddenly it’s crystal clear—God loves all humankind; everyone is already saved, whether Christian or not; and there is no hell. But these ideas are heretical, violating sacrosanct doctrines.

Monster – Steve Harmon, a bright, sensitive 17-year-old, stands trial for acting as a lookout during the lethal armed robbery of a Harlem bodega. Before his arrest, he was an honors student and aspiring filmmaker taking street-level snapshots and on-the-fly footage of neighborhood life. Now, Steve is seen as just another young black criminal, assumed guilty and labeled a monster. But Steve and his lawyer declare his innocence and attempt to defy the odds in a bid to win his freedom.

Beirut – Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a top U.S. diplomat, left Lebanon in the 1970s after a tragic incident. Ten years later, the CIA calls him back to a war-torn Beirut with a mission only he can accomplish. Meanwhile, a CIA field agent who is working undercover at the American embassy is tasked with keeping Skiles alive and ensuring that the mission is a success. Without knowing who is on his side and with lives on the line, Skiles must outmaneuver everyone to expose the truth.

Burden – Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a taciturn repo man rising through the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in small-town South Carolina, 1996. Orphaned as a child, he is fiercely loyal to local Klan leader and toxic father figure Tom Griffin (a terrifying Tom Wilkinson). But Burden has a change of heart when he falls for Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who stirs his social conscience. His violent break from the Klan sends him into the open arms of Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), an idealistic African American preacher, who offers him safety and a shot at redemption.

Damsel – It’s a classic tale of the Old West: Samuel Alabaster is a man searching for his true love. Parson Henry is another, much drunker man, searching for a new start. Penelope is a woman who has found her own path. And Rufus Cornell is just a mean bastard with a taste for buckskin. There’s rotgut, rawhide, rootin’, tootin’, and hootin’. Plus, a little tiny horse.

A Kid Like Jake – Loving parents Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons) are faced with the daunting task of applying to private kindergartens in NYC for their 4-year-old, Jake. Competing in this cutthroat environment means focusing on what is most unique about a child, forcing Alex and Greg to consider Jake’s love of dresses, fairy tales, and princesses. These qualities never seemed unusual before, but when Jake begins to act out in preschool, Alex and Greg—suddenly at odds—must find a way to support Jake’s identity without losing each other in the process.

Sorry to Bother You – Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a 30-something black telemarketer with self-esteem issues, discovers a magical selling power living inside of him. Suddenly he’s rising up the ranks to the elite team of his company, which sells heinous products and services. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

Three Identical Strangers – New York, 1980: Three complete strangers—Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman—make the astounding discovery that they are identical triplets. Separated at birth, adopted, and raised by three different families, the 19-year-olds are reunited by chance. Their story sets the tabloids on fire, and the triplets suddenly become famous around the world.

What They Had – During a bout of dementia, Ruth (Blythe Danner) gets out of bed at night and wanders off into a blizzard. Ruth’s brief disappearance triggers the homecoming of her daughter Bridget (Hilary Swank) and teenage granddaughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). The episode also renews lifelong tensions between stubborn patriarch Burt (Robert Forster) and estranged son Nicky (Michael Shannon). As they all debate placing Ruth into a memory-care facility, family ties begin to fray, rekindling a rivalry between the adult siblings.

Generation Wealth – Over the past 25 years, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary photography and film projects have explored youth culture, gender, body image, and affluence. In this fascinating meld of career retrospective and film essay, Greenfield offers a meditation on her extensive body of work, structuring it through the lens of materialism and its increasing sway on culture and society in America and throughout the world. Underscoring the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, her portraits reveal a focus on cultivating image over substance, where subjects unable to attain actual wealth instead settle for its trappings, no matter their ability to pay for it. I know Lauren personally and she is an incredible person and filmmaker. Amongst her many film credits she also did the game changing video, LIKE A GIRL.

NANCY – Nancy is a 35-year-old temp living with her mom and cat in a modest home in a modest town. She is also an aspiring writer whose submissions are consistently rejected by the likes of the Atlantic and the Paris Review. To make up for these failures and the invisibility she feels, Nancy spins elaborate lies and hoaxes under pseudonyms on the internet. When she encounters a couple whose 5-year-old daughter went missing 30 years ago, fact and fiction begin to blur in Nancy’s mind, and she becomes increasingly convinced these strangers are her real parents.

Loveling – Irene is raising four rambunctious sons in a home that is physically crumbling but warm and happy. As Irene simultaneously shelters her sister Sonia (who just left a volatile marriage), supports her own husband through a financial crisis, and plans her own long-awaited high school graduation, Irene’s eldest son, Fernando, suddenly announces he has been recruited by a professional handball team in Germany and will be leaving in just three weeks. Consummate caretaker Irene prickles at the idea of emancipating the 16-year-old so he can travel and live alone, and she becomes increasingly anxious about what her future holds.

Seeing Allred – As described in the film guide, to some, Gloria Allred is a money-grubbing, shrill feminist prone to tawdry theatrics; to others she’s the most effective and fearless women’s rights attorney in America. In this intimate, warts-and-all documentary, one thing is certain: Allred’s 40-year devotion to asserting, protecting, and expanding the rights of women is unwavering and her influence unassailable. She is also scheduled to speak at the the rally.

Lizzie – 1892: Headstrong Lizzie Borden lives with her wealthy father, stepmother, and sister in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie lovingly tends to her pet pigeons and is occasionally allowed out of her dimly lit, foreboding house, but otherwise lives under strict rules set by her domineering father. When her family hires live-in maid Bridget, an uneducated Irish immigrant, the two find kindred spirits in one another. Their friendship begins with covert communication and companionship that blossoms into an intimate relationship. Meanwhile, tension builds in the Borden household, and Lizzie’s claustrophobic existence becomes increasingly more oppressive and abusive, leading to its inevitable breaking point.

Hearts Beat Loud – As single dad Frank (Nick Offerman) prepares to send hardworking daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) off to UCLA pre-med, he also reluctantly realizes he has to accept that his own record-store business is failing. Hoping to stay connected with his daughter through their shared love of music, he urges her to turn their weekly “jam sesh” into an actual band. Channeling Sam’s resistance into a band name, they unexpectedly find We’re Not a Band’s first song turning into a minor Spotify hit, and they use their songwriting efforts to work through their feelings about the life changes each of them faces.

The Long Dumb Road – Not far down the highway from his childhood home in Texas, Nathan’s car breaks down on the drive to his freshman year of art school in Los Angeles. Richard, a local mechanic, agrees to fix the car as long as Nathan helps Richard escape his bastard of a boss. On the way out of town, Richard pounds a road beer or three, sparks a joint, and begins to question why young Nathan is lacking a clear philosophy about the rest of his life. As they venture on, these two strangers will battle through bar fights, heartache, and many more unfortunate detours to make it to their next destinations in life. This is a film that I am personally invested in through the film Fund Gamechanger.

On Her Shoulders – Mobbed by iPhone cameras and pushy reporters, 23-year-old Nadia Murad leads a harrowing but vital crusade: to find the most influential platforms in the world and speak out on behalf of the embattled Yazidi community who face mass extermination by ISIS militants. Having narrowly escaped with her own life, Nadia must now relentlessly recount on radio shows, at rallies, and even on the floor of the United Nation’s general assembly her ordeal as a Yazidi sex slave and witness to her family’s brutal killings. Though excruciating, she forces herself to revisit these realities again and again. For without her testimony, the genocide happening right in front of the world’s eyes might go completely unnoticed.

The Golden Moment

As published in LinkedIn Influencers on January 8th, 2018.

Hollywood is a big business. Film, television, content creation, and distribution are all big business. We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars. The Golden Globes is the annual kick off to awards season, where Hollywood repeatedly celebrates the best of the year, and make no mistake, it is a big deal. I, like many others, was watching last night with curiosity and hope that it would be different this year. That the personal would turn political. And not in a little way, but in a big way. I was not disappointed.

Before going into some of the highlights of the evening, imagine this. Imagine the biggest event possible in YOUR industry. Imagine all of the CEOs of all the major companies are present, imagine the best performers in each of those companies are also present, and imagine a room that is full of people deemed to be the most powerful in the entire industry. I will do it for my old industry; finance.

Front row would be the CEOS of all the major financial institutions; men like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, and Michael Corbat of Citigroup. And of course the hedge fund managers would be there; Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, Emmanual Roman of Pimco, and Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group. And finally, we would have to imagine that women and people of color where there too. In large numbers. Let’s imagine all the categories; Woman bond trade of the year. Male bond trader of the year. Best overall hedge fund manager. Best overall firm. You get the picture. And imagine that on this night, presenter after presenter, award winner after award winner, took a moment, or in last night’s case, many moments, to speak about the desperate need for the industry to change. Imagine that time and time again the culture of exclusion and harassment was acknowledged, and then it was demanded that this was the moment for it all to change. That is how big last night was for the entertainment industry.

“Good evening ladies and remaining gentlemen.”

The evening kicked off with Seth Meyers acknowledging the events of the past several months in his opening line. In a nearly note perfect opening monologue, he set the stage for what ultimately became a simultaneously powerful and entertaining evening, all while acknowledging the difficult balancing act the evening would, and rightly should be. But most importantly, he proved that the night would not be one where people would skirt around the problem, but rather that they were going to face it head on. People like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Woody Allen were all name checked, and it was made perfectly clear that they no longer had a place at the table.

This continued with the award winners. Nicole Kidman won the first award of the night for her role in HBO’s Big Little Lies, which she also produced, and she used to her time at the podium to herald her female co-stars, pay tribute to her mom, and give a nod to the power of women. And it went on from there. Laura DernElisabeth MossAllison Janney, and Frances McDormand all used their time at the microphone to denounce a culture and society that marginalizes groups of people, and history was made when Sterling K. Brown became the first black man to win the Best Actor in a TV Drama award. He acknowledged creator Dan Fogelman in his acceptance speech, thanking him for writing a role that could only be played by a black man, and for allowing him to be recognized and seen as he is. It was a powerful night all around.

This trend was continued in the non-acting categories, as time and time again, films and television shows that celebrate women, empowerment, and complex female characters were rewarded. From films like Lady BirdI, Tonya, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and series like The Handmaid’s TaleBig Little Lies, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won the major awards of the night, the theme of the evening was very much that women’s stories are important, profitable, and here to stay.

But it wasn’t just the winners. Presenters throughout the night used their time on stage to joke about, yes, but also to bring attention to the many issues of inequality that still plague the entertainment industry. From the wage gap (Jessica Chastain), to the lack of female directors (Natalie Portman with one of the best zingers of the night), the women of Hollywood made it very clear that the culture of discrimination no longer has any place in this industry. In particular, my heart did a little happy dance when Thelma and Louise themselves, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, took to the stage to present, and they did not disappoint.

There are so many things to talk about from last night, from the sea of all black as both women and men eschewed the usual rainbow explosion that is often Golden Globe fashion, and instead wore black in solidarity with the victims of sexual harassment and abuse, to several of Hollywood’s biggest stars bringing well known activists as their guests, including Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. More importantly, many speakers, presenters, and award winners took the time to acknowledge that this is not just a problem that plagues Hollywood. This is a problem that spans all industries and cultures, and it is time for this problem to end. Earlier this year, a new initiative that was inspired by #MeToo was announced called Times Up. This initiative is a call to action to end the culture of shame and silence across all industries, and is an advocacy group calling for the end of sexual harassment and abuse. Finally, The Times Up Legal Defense Fund will provide financial assistance to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment and/or abuse in the workplace. To visit their GoFundMe page, please click HERE.

But even with all of the above, last night truly belonged to one woman. Oprah. In receiving the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille award, the first black woman to do so, Oprah delivered a fiery and impassioned speech that some have interpreted as her opening bid for the White House in 2020. It was a beautiful, big, and bold, and I simply cannot do it justice. Please take a moment and watch it below.

Wow. Can we all just agree that Oprah should be President of the World?

In my end of year post, I wrote about a power shift. I wrote about the crumbling of the patriarchal matrix that is the world we live in today, and last night on the Golden Globes, we witnessed that happening in front of our eyes. This shift is about power with, not power over. It is about the idea of the we being bigger than the me. It is about talent, about inclusion, about fairness, about justice, and it is about respect. And if you are not happy about all that happened last night, if you are not feeling joyful and hopeful and excited that change is finally happening, then perhaps this quote applies to you. “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Well, to quote Oprah, “A new day is on the horizon”, and for once, it doesn’t feel like the dawning of this new day is an unattainable goal. It is within sight, and it is glorious to behold.

Big thanks to Laura Moore for partnering with me on this piece.

2017 – What do you Believe? The Year of Wonder Woman

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 31st, 2017.

Yes, yes. I know. I know I promised that I was done writing about Wonder Woman. I promised no more articles until the sequel. But the thing is, I recently saw Justice League and fell in love with Wonder Woman all over again. Which means I had to of course watch Wonder Woman again as soon as I got home, because let’s face it, that movie is awesome. So here I am, once again writing about Wonder Woman, which is exactly where I was 12 months ago. I ended the year with an article titled “2017. The Year of Wonder Women“, in which I outlined how I was hopeful that the coming year would be a notable one for women and women’s leadership. And it has been, just not in the ways we might have anticipated.

So with 2017 now coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months, and I am going to use the narrative of the Wonder Woman movie to help me do just that. As I watched Wonder Woman for about the tenth time last night, I was struck by just how timely this film truly is; as if it was written solely as a reflection of the events of this past year. Impossible of course, seeing as the script was written long before 2017 even began, but it is remarkable nonetheless. Below are some of my favourite lines and moments, and what they mean to me as I look back on the year that was with Wonder Woman leading the way.

First and foremost, 2017 was a year that women truly rose up, individually and collectively, to step into their power and use their voices. From the Women’s Marches around the country that started the year, to the #MeToo movement of the past couple of months, to FEMINISM becoming the word of the year, this year truly was a tipping point for women standing up, stepping forward, and speaking out. I’ve already written about the almost indescribably powerful experience that was the solidarity of the women’s march in January, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever truly come down from that high, but there were those who in the immediate aftermath of the marches questioned whether or not that event would yield any long term change. Thankfully, those naysayers have been proven wrong. At least so far. Time and time again this past year, concerned citizens, but especially women, have shown up and stepped up.

A few examples. On March 8th, women around the world went on strike as part of a protest against pay discrimination and gender based violence. In January, hundreds of thousands of people, but in particular female lawyers, showed up at airports across the US to protest the President’s travel ban. All year long women’s organizations across the country have seen spikes in donations and members, and groups such as EMILY’s Listand She Should Run have reported record numbers of women showing an interest in running for elected office. There have been many articles written pondering the reasons for the burst of energy and commitment towards women’s rights, and while many focus on the political change in this country, which of course is probably likely, I also like to think that the reason is much bigger than that. It is the confluence of many factors and I really do believe that having Wonder Woman on the big screen helped.

I thought about these possible reasons while watching the training sequence in the beginning of the film, when Antiope is urging Diana to be better, to fight harder, and to stop doubting herself and her strength.

“You keep doubting yourself…You are stronger than you believe…You have greater powers than you know…You expect the battle to be fair. A battle will never be fair.

That is a lot to unpack, word by word, line by line. First, let’s go with that big word – doubt: a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction. This was a year when there seemed to be more than our usual share of doubt floating around. From the narrative created around ‘fake news’, to the whys of mass killings, to the confrontations with white supremacists, to masses of women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. Questions like Who do you stand with? What do you stand for? Who do you believe? were front and center. Upon reflection, this was a year where I felt called to step into my core beliefs and values in ways I had not been previously. I felt called to know my truth and to speak my truth, but to balance both with humility and curiosity. This was brought to life so beautifully in the Wonder Woman screenplay, as one of Diana’s favorite questions seemed to be, “Why?” She showed up asking questions before jumping to action and to judgement.

Onto the next part of the quote about strength and power. This has been the core message of every speech I have given over the past decade. My talks are most often to women’s groups, and I usually talk about my own story from small town girl, to competitive bodybuilding, to Goldman Sachs trader, and finally, to philanthropic movement builder. It is a journey about stepping into my power to be an agent of positive change for women in leadership and more generally for gender equality. I invite women to use their “power tools”, which include their voice, their platform, their skills, their networks, and their financial resources (giving dollars, purchasing power, and investment capital) in alignment with their core beliefs and values. I share my core belief that women’s rights are human rights, and using our resources to support human rights is something we all can and should do.

And yet, we don’t. I don’t. I still don’t even come close to fully activating my power. I had dinner in early December with an amazing group of women in New York City. It was post-Wharton’s gender impact investing conference where I left feeling pretty fired up about the potential to align investment capital with women’s empowerment. The dinner was hosted by an amazing woman who had started a firm in this area, and the table was filled with other well known and powerful women. We were asked to share our stories with a question around where we were now with respect to women’s inclusion and leadership, and more importantly, what might be holding positive change at bay? Most of the gathered women felt hopeful and activated, and yet there was also a sense that this was a moment that might pass and that the backlash from #MeToo might be too strong. When it was my turn, I said something I had never said out loud before. That if my power, defined as power to, not power over, was on a scale of 1 to 10, I was only operating at about a 2 or a 3 right now. There were gasps. I was considered a powerful person in the room so how could this be? What did I mean?

Well, it’s complicated, and an article in and of itself, as there are many threads to the answer. First, it is a time thing. I often try to do too much for too many, and often in a reactive and not a proactive way, which means I don’t have the time needed to really focus on my big ideas. And I have some big ones. That being said, my big ideas scare me. I have known what it feels like to be 24/7 committed to building something, making something happen, and I am at a point in my life now where I do want more freedom to not work all the time. And then there is this.

Again, back to a scene in the movie where Antiope really challenges Diana while her mother is watching. Antiope comes at Diana fiercely, with all her force, and it is at this moment that Diana crosses her arms, directs her energy back at Antiope, and blows her back, causing her to fly into the air and crash down. This is the first time she gets a sense of her potential power, and while it scares the shit out of her a little, it also is an ‘ah ha’ kind of moment. I love the look on her face, so if you missed it the first time around, go back and re-watch the video above. Her expression is fantastic.

What I found so interesting about this scene is that it shows the other Amazons shunning her to some degree. Maybe the filmmaker Patty Jenkins was making a point that this is what women do to other extremely powerful women. Let alone what the forces of patriarchy do. (Please Ms. Jenkins, if you read this, I’d love to know) This is part of the reason why I answered 2 to 3 on my scale. This might sound a little weird, but I am afraid of scaring people off or turning people off. Relationships mean the world to me and, AND, I want to be effective. Over the years I have often been told that I am “a very strong personality”, that I “overwhelm people”, and in not so many ways asked to “tone it down a little”. I am also trying to be very aware of my privilege, and not making that the basis of my power. It is a balancing act that I feel all the time.

There is also the thing about being nice. At another recent dinner with a friend, we got talking about her daughter, a 15 year old, who was being bullied. My friend said that she made a point of talking to her daughter about the difference between being nice and being kind, and about how the latter is so much more important than the former. I had never thought about it like that, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. As girls, as women, we are so often told to be nice, play nice, act nice. It is time to end the nice. Not end the kind, just the nice.

This is something that women, individually and collectively, have to come to terms with if we ever, ever, ever want to have anything close to gender equality in our world. We cannot be ambivalent about our power. We have to activate it, use it, leverage it, both collectively and individually. To be clear I am talking about power to, not power over. I am not talking about power as it supports a narrative of rugged individualism, competition, and winner takes all. I am talking about power anchored in the we, anchored in the collective good, anchored in community, anchored in fundamental beliefs around human rights, and anchored in kind. It is time, about time, beyond time, to create a whole new narrative about power in our world, and Diana has shown us what that might look like.

And the other thing. The patriarchy. Again I am going to add a definition to be super clear what I am taking about. “In sociologypatriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authoritysocial privilege and control of property.” It is a social system. I think about it like The Matrix, another one of my favorite films. We all live in a world that has been constructed around rules, laws, belief systems, and norms. Some of them make sense, and some of them don’t. Just because something exists does not make it right. This was the year when the patriarchal matrix we live in began to show some big cracks.

Think about how this was brought to life in Wonder Woman. It is when Diana stepped into her power that the world of men broke through. Until that moment the Amazons were quite literally living in a bubble. We get the foreshadowing comment right before by Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, when she says “What have I done?” after she witnesses her daughter’s burst of power. They were safe on the island, isolated from the war that was ravaging the earth, until one of them stepped closer to her full potential. At my dream dinner with Ms. Jenkins and the writers of the screenplay, I would go deeper into the meaning behind this scene as well. Clearly there is a message in there about not only having a female superhero step in to save the world, but how women coming into their power, motivated by different beliefs, would be met with backlash. In the film Ares, the God of War, has corrupted men’s hearts, and it was the power of love that would ultimately set them free. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The last part of that quote. About expecting battles to be fair. This comes up a lot in my family as one of my daughter’s core thinking talents is fairness (if you want to understand what I mean my thinking talents, get this amazing book). It drives her absolutely bananas when hard work and doing the ‘right thing’ is not rewarded. One of the key things we have had to message to her over the years is to always work hard and do the right thing anyway. Will it be rewarded or acknowledged every time? No. But it is more likely to be, and regardless of recognition, at the end of the day, at the end of every day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you were that day. Expecting fairness is not the same thing as hoping for it, working for it, and creating the conditions for it. If you walk through the world expecting fairness, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. And yet we have to do everything we can in this world to create fairness. For me, that is what #MeToo is all about. That is the goal. No one should have to endure harassment and discrimination in the workplace, or anywhere. We should all be shocked, disgusted, and called to end what has become normalized in our culture.

It was hugely significant that earlier this month it was announced that TIME magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017’s Person of the Year. Reading the accompanying article was an incredibly sobering and emotional experience for me. The backgrounds of the storytellers could not be more different, but that very fact only served to reveal just how shockingly widespread and prevalent the issue of harassment and sexual assault is in today’s culture. This is an issue that has been festering for decades, and while it should be noted that many brave people have spoken out in the past, 2017 was truly the year that the dams finally burst. Emboldened by the solidarity of #MeToo, brave women and men everywhere are standing up and speaking truth to power. They are allowing the truth to come out, and finally, FINALLY, people are believing them.

One of my favorite aspects of Wonder Woman’s character is that her most well known weapon is the lasso of truth, because make no mistake, the truth is a powerful weapon. Can you imagine what might have happened if we had a lasso of truth at our disposal this past year? It would have been of great use in Washington, DC in particular. This was a year when we seemed trapped in endless cycles of accusations, denials, and efforts to fact find. We are still there. I find it somewhat ironic that the creator of the character of Wonder Woman, together with his wife, developed the first ever lie detector test, hence the lasso. If you have not yet seen the film Professor Marston and the Wonder Womenalso released this year, I would highly recommend it. And just because I am throwing the kitchen sink in to this very long end of year post, if you have not yet watched the Netflix series Black Mirror, not only should you, but you may come to believe, as I now do, that we may not be that far off to having an app for that.

Which brings me to my favourite moment in Wonder Woman. Indeed, a lot of people’s favourite moment.

Gives me chills every time. In the face of the hellscape that was the trenches of World War I, and after being told that there’s nothing that can be done to help the people around her, that you can’t save everyone, Diana decides that these people, the ones right in front of her, are worth saving, and if no one else will do it, then she will. “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Such a powerful statement, and something to which we should all aspire. As Steve Trevor later confesses, “My father told me once, ‘If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing.” It’s that simple. Flying men in capes are never going to change this world. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to do our part to make this a world a better place, and we can’t sit back and assume that someone else is going to fight the battles for us. Believe me, I wish there was an island full of Amazons who could just fix the world, but the fact is that’s on us. “It is our sacred duty to defend the world”, and we all have our part to play. “I can save today. You can save the world.”

As I sit here, working on this article, my daughter is sitting across from me working on her college admission essays. In many of them she is asked questions like what makes her special? How does she hope to use her education in the future? Who does she most admire? How does she think she can make the world better? These are questions we should all answer for ourselves. A part of me hates the “you can change the world” narrative that we serve up to our children, but the other part of me loves it. The part that hates it feels like we are putting too much pressure on our children too early. The part of me that loves it knows that it can be the millions of small acts of kindness that make all the difference. What I would change is the word ‘you’ to ‘we’. We can change the world. We can. We. The world is the aggregation of all that we believe, all that we hold dear, and all that we do individually and collectively. If you have seen the masses of Wonder Woman paraphernalia on the store shelves this holiday season you will have seen the core message of the film that is blazoned across a lot of it, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

There are so many great lines in this movie, but this is one of my favorite: “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” Ultimately, Diana chooses to lead with love, and I wish, more than anything, that we would all heed her example.

I used to want to save the world, to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world.

This past year has been filled with highs and lows, but as far as I’m concerned, the potential for change has never been higher. So as we head into the new year, let’s keep moving forward, together, with Diana as our guide. Let 2018 be your year of somethings, not nothings. Let this coming year be the year of letting the truth come forward. Let this be a year of stepping in to your power, power to, not power over. But above all else, let’s choose love.

Happy New Year.

To access the Wonder Woman screenplay click here.

Wonder Woman by the Numbers:

16 years in development

$103 million opening weekend

92% on Rotten Tomatoes

$412 million domestic gross

$821 million overall gross

#1 Superhero Origin story by gross

#1 DC Extended Universe film by gross and critical reception

Top grossing film directed by a woman

#1 Movie of Summer 2017 by domestic gross

#5 Superhero film of all time by domestic gross