"Today is a day of celebration. Look around you… we are a sisterhood, we are immensely strong, and we are everywhere, doing everything," said Janet Yang, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as she welcomed guests to this year's Academy Women's Luncheon.
In partnership with CHANEL, the 2nd annual Academy Women's Luncheon was held on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and brought together women from all facets of the filmmaking community, including Patty Jenkins, Eva Longoria, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Lupita Nyong'o, Kristen Stewart, Laura Karpman, and Michelle Satter, among others. The event celebrates the Gold Fellowship for Women, the Academy's program to support emerging women filmmakers.
"The Gold Fellowship committee is made up of all women members from different branches to get a full array of context and guidance. I think that makes it very, very special," Yang told A.frame at the luncheon. "And our members are so generous in contributing their time. I have met many past fellows and their lives have been changed by the kind of mentorship and the networking opportunities that they have."
"We all need mentors," she continued. "I've been mentored [and] my mentors have done so much for me, and now, I try to mentor others. We are a ladder to help people elevate and accelerate their progress. There isn't full equity yet, and so we like to give women a special boost."
The Gold Fellowship for Women is a one-year program that combines direct support, personalized mentorship and access to once-in-a-lifetime networking opportunities for emerging women filmmakers to further their pursuits in the field. Four-time Oscar nominee and former Academy governor Annette Bening introduced this year's U.S. recipient, Erica Eng.
"It's crucial that we continue to support one another, and that is why programs like the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women are so important — because it's through fostering the next generation of talent that our industry continues to thrive," Bening said. "By elevating new voices and ideas, our collective work can progress."
Eng is a fifth-generation Chinese American director native to Oakland and based in Los Angeles. Her award-winning 2021 short film, Americanized, screened at a number of prestigious film festivals, and her latest short film, The Ghost, premiered on Disney+ as part of Disney's Launchpad shorts incubator program.
"My dreams have been so big since I was a kid growing up in Oakland. And my goals have always felt so far away," Eng said onstage. "My journey has been sprinkled with a lot of noes, mixed with enough yeses to keep me going. But if there is one thing my family has taught me, it’s resilience — and a whole lot of stubbornness."
She continued, "Being a director is not just a career for me; it’s a lifestyle, it's who I am. I make films because I truly have a burning desire to make you feel. And I want to show you the world as I experience it. So, I would like to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am that you see me."
America Ferrera closed out this year's luncheon with a powerful keynote address. "Everyone here knows that every victory for women on screen is a testament to countless hours of battle," she began. "Endless creative and financial negotiations that determine whether our stories get told authentically and successfully."
"I want to say thank you to every one of you in this room who shows up every day in countless ways — writing, directing, producing, managing, agenting, financing and advocating — so that the work of women filmmakers gets made and shared with the world," Ferrera told the guests in attendance.
During her speech, Ferrera spoke about the importance of fellowship and community in helping women achieve full equity in Hollywood. "Our grandmothers and great grandmothers dreamed of rooms like this. Women from different backgrounds telling stories, celebrating each other, even as we stand together to demand more space, more resources, and more opportunity. Community is not something that we can or should take for granted. And I would like us to consider that growing and strengthening this community might be the key to moving this industry forward."
Ferrera admitted that she didn't always feel like she "had community in this business." As a daughter of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera said her "assignment was to assimilate, to excel, and to succeed." "And that meant leaving behind my roots, leaving behind my heritage to try to fit in," she explained, "and despite my best efforts, I would always remain 'other' to some around me."
"It was made very clear to me my differences kept me on a separate path from my peers, even though our dreams were the same. After all, there was no successful actress that I could look to that was like me. I was brown, short, overweight, poor, I had no connections to this business and no money to pay for acting classes. I had no community huddled around me, supporting my dreams," Ferrera reflected.
"What I learned today that I didn’t know when I was a kid, was that none of us needs to do it alone," she concluded. "I know that together we can grow all of our possibilities and strengthen a global community of women storytellers, artists and truth-tellers, that we need today more than ever before."