By Margarita Sophia Cortes
Last month in New York City, Women’s eNews held their annual 21 Leaders for the 21st Century and it was a night of celebration for a diverse group of honorees, all fearless leaders who are committed to advancing gender equality throughout the world.
Women’s eNews is an award-winning nonprofit news service covering issues of particular concern to women and providing women’s perspectives on public policy. Their annual gala was held on May 6th at NYC’s 101 Club. Here is the full list of honorees.
One of the 2019 honorees included our very own NYWIFT Executive Director, Cynthia Lopez, whose extensive leadership roles have spanned two decades.
“Women have repeatedly earned their rightful place in our society, government, media and the economy. Their recent electoral victories in Congress serve as an inspiration to women in all areas of the film and television industry who are standing up for gender equity, equal pay, and safer work environments. I am primed for the challenges that lay ahead of us, while also galvanized by the secured victories, and look forward to developing new initiatives in support of women working in media.”
– Cynthia Lopez
During the evening, each honoree was asked the same question: “How can women change the world?” Each response was filled with emotion, inspiration and determination. We would like to share with you Cynthia Lopez’s insightful response:
Question: How can women change the world?
Cynthia Lopez: By never forgetting the past, the political gains won and accepting the precarious position of not exactly knowing what path lies ahead. When I was a child my mother took me to my first live performance and it was about Harriet Tubman– Underground Railroad. I was so upset at her – “I wanted to see the show girls,” I said. She laughed, and said, “there will be enough time for that but for now it is important you understand what the women in history have done to afford you a space today.” By the end of the play I cried with fear at how brave Harriet Tubman was and how she risked her own life to fight for the freedom of others.
Later I learned about Luisa Capetillo, the first Puerto Rican woman who was imprisoned three times before women in Puerto Rico were allowed to wear pants. She then went on to fight for more important causes including labor rights. I met Grace Lee Boggs and she had the strength of a hawk battling high-end winds in a relentless pursuit to fight against political injustice.
Recently, I watched a film titled Warrior Women, which taught me about Madonna Thunder Hawk, a Native American woman who was short on cash and food for her own family but instead of focusing on her limitations she built a community school where everyone learned about Native American history and traditional culture from their elders. They cooked together and shared the little bits of foods to educate and nourish the entire community.
Women can change the world by learning from the mistakes and the successes of these women. Harriet Tubman, Luisa Capetillo, Grace Lee Boggs, and Madonna Thunderhawk used the power of their convictions as a political sword and changed the world one decision at a time.
Today, how can women change the world? By ensuring that we show love to our daughters, to our sisters, co-workers, our allies and sometimes even our enemies. We must ensure that women’s stories are shared, passed down and discussed in detail so the next generation of girls understands what our ancestors have done to create a space and the political rights that we deserve.
A special heartfelt thank you to Loreen Arbus, Abby Disney, Lori Sokol, James Grant and the entire team at Women’s eNews for this incredible distinction. — Cynthia Lopez
Welcome to NYWIFT, Toby Perl Freilich! Toby is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and writer, focusing on cultural reporting. Her work explores all sorts of perspectives, from senators to artists, spanning across the world. She co-produced and co-directed Moynihan, a film about the late New York senator, policy expert, and public intellectual. She also directed, produced, and wrote Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment, about one of the world's longest running and most successful experiments in radical, secular communal living. Right now, she is producing and directing I Make Maintenance Art: The Work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles about the pioneering ecofeminist and the first Artist in Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation. Read about Toby’s inspiring past and future projects here!READ MORE
Finding your tribe is one of life’s greatest pleasures—and losing it is one of the greatest sorrows. In NYWIFT Member Amy Nicholson’s beautifully observed film Happy Campers, working-class Americans gather every summer at a seaside trailer park in Chincoteague, Virginia, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a scrappy, no-frills vacationland, and each other’s company. When a developer buys the land and reimagines the property, the inhabitants of this shabby Shangri-La wistfully eke out the joys of one last summer together as a melancholic twilight hangs in the air. Happy Campers just made its world premiere at DOC NYC, where it received a Special Mention for the Grand Jury Prize. Amy spoke to us about her unique process making this film, biggest challenges and triumphs, and the commodification of some of life’s simplest pleasures.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Melisa Ramos! Melisa is a filmmaker and professor from Puerto Rico, bringing 14 years of post-production and motion graphics experience to New York. Her first production, Puerto Rican Voices, a docu-series about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Following Puerto Rican Voices, Melisa continued to share Puerto Rican and Latin American stories. In 2020, she directed and produced From Performers to Spectators, a doc-series showcasing New York City performers during lockdown. She is currently in production on Hoop Warrior, her first feature film. Read all about Melisa’s journey as an editor and artist here!READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Aisha Amin! Aisha is an NYC-based writer and director. As a director, her work expands across narrative, documentary, and experimental forms to tell authentic stories built from real experiences. Her past film projects have explored and highlighted overlooked communities particularly in New York City, including formerly incarcerated mothers and communities struggling with the presence of gentrification in their neighborhoods. Amongst her directing, Aisha is an emerging screenwriting and was selected to participate in Cine Qua Non’s 2022 Screenwriting Lab. She is a 2022 recipient of NYFA’s Tomorrowland Grant and a 2021 recipient of the NYFA Women's Fund grant. She was a recipient of the 2019-2020 Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center where she directed two short documentaries. She is also a recipient of The Shed's Open Call Fellowship where she expanded her film practice to installation art. Aisha spoke to us about her favorite styles of storytelling, the intersection of narrative and documentary, and her latest projects.READ MORE