The documentary EQUAL MEANS EQUAL was a logical outgrowth of filmmaker Kamala Lopez’ ERA Education Project, the organization she founded in 2009 when Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Congress) asked for her help to raise awareness about the lack of legal equality for women under the U.S. Constitution.
At the ERA Education Project, she created multi-media PSAs, video FAQs, social media campaigns, educational videos & sites, piloted curriculum and travelled around the country speaking to groups as well as students in colleges and high schools about the need for equality for women under federal law.
The more Lopez delved into the subject matter, the more she realized that a full length documentary or even a series of programs would be necessary to adequately examine a deeply flawed system that was over two hundred years old and widely accepted as immutable.
In 2011, with the encouragement of Molly Tsongas and Robin Raj of Citizen Group, and support from director/producer Paul Dektor, Lopez began to formulate a plan for her film. It was clear that documentary films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Sicko and Food, Inc. provided a lightening rod for creating an international conversation and call-to-action on important issues and women’s equality certainly fit the bill.
The original concept for EQUAL MEANS EQUAL was for Lopez to travel across the country on a bus, organizing marches in each stop that would end with a speech about how equal rights would affect the particular public she was speaking to. She planned to blog and do outreach while travelling and do local press before each march. The goal was to complete the journey at the same time as the 2012 Presidential elections. Despite initial conversations with Rock the Vote, funding for this was unattainable and she began to hear that the issue was long dead and buried – no one cared about the Equal Rights Amendment anymore.
Convinced that it wasn’t a lack of concern but a lack of education that was at the heart of the matter, Lopez began to film her speaking engagements at conferences and events for the ERA Education Project and organize shoots at major events in the present day women’s movement with a small amount of funding from family and friends.
In early 2012 Lopez and her writing partner, EQUAL MEANS EQUAL producer Gini Sikes, traveled to Washington D.C. for the 40th anniversary of the Equal Rights Amendment. There the skeleton crew filmed legislators, advocates and pillars of the feminist movement, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, NOW President Terry O’Neill, Feminist Majority founder Ellie Smeal, Senator Robert Menendez and Lisa Maatz, Lead Policy Advisor for the American Association of University Women.
Later in the year they returned to D.C. to cover the grassroots ERA rally, “We Are Woman,” where Lopez interviewed feminist journalist Soraya Chemaly, Mormon feminists for ERA, Reverend Charles McKenzie of the Rainbow Coalition and dozens of American women about the challenges they face on the ground, and explored with them how the passage of a Constitutional Equal Rights Amendment might address their struggles.
To secure funding to continue filming, Lopez began building a list of allies: women’s organizations, the film community, colleagues and friends. To broaden her personal address book of 6,000 people, from June through September 2013, she enlisted volunteers and friends to reach out to the 350 largest women’s organizations in the country and establish relationships prior to launching a Kickstarter campaign.
In June 2013, Lopez and Sikes began looking through news footage to supplement and support the footage they already shot in order to create a scripted teaser trailer to lay out the film’s premise.
Lopez’s Yale classmate Jeff Mueller helped them to budget the documentary. Although it came in at almost a million, they ended up setting $87,011 as their Kickstarter goal, while continuing to source alternative funding.
Their Kickstarter launched on October 2, 2013 with an email to 50 close supporters telling them about the campaign and asking them to promote the project on their email lists. By October 20th, they had amassed $136,933 from nearly 2500 backers.
A few weeks later, Lopez and team travelled to Rhode Island and New York to cover the first ERA Conference in over 30 years at Roger Williams University Law School. Lopez brainstormed with experts and activists who had their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening with women both on the ground adn in policy developments. Among them were Linda Wharton, Former Managing Attorney of the Women’s Law Project, Roberta Francis, Chair of the ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and Emily Sack, Deputy Director for the Center for Court Innovation and Professor of Criminal & Domestic Violence Law.
During spring 2014, Lopez and the crew filmed in Los Angeles. They investigated how the foster care system inadvertently feeds the child sex trade. The crew travelled with Lt. Andre Dawson of LAPD’s undercover Vice unit to the tracks in South L.A., where underage girls are bought and sold nightly. Kim Biddle of Saving Innocence and Dr. Lois Lee of Children of the Night illuminated the stark realities of these children’s lives. Inside a small clapboard house women described years of violence that ended only when they fatally defended themselves against their abuser. Prison Rights activists spoke of gender bias in sentencing and how battered women are sent away for life. From Captain Kelly Mulldorfer, the highest ranking female officer in the LAPD, to the victims of rape, assault, domestic violence and forced prostitution, came personal stories, among the most visceral of the film.
Just weeks later, Gloria Steinem won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and agreed to be interviewed for the film. The crew returned to New York for a profound and transcendent take on gender discrimination from the ultimate source.
Throughout filming, Lopez and her team were approached by a growing stream of voices wanting to be heard. The stories of so many victims and experts ended on the cutting room floor or, worse yet, un-filmed, due to time and severe budget constraints.
Lopez recognizes that one documentary cannot possibly begin to tell all the stories that need to be heard. And yet repeatedly distributors and studios told her “we aren’t doing a woman’s project this year” or “we already have a woman’s film in the pipeline” or, best of all, “we can’t sell a woman’s film.”
Women are not a minority issue. Nor are they a monolithic homogeneous group easily categorized, pandered to or assuaged. Women deserve to have sufficient content that reflects them, their needs, their stories and their issues. If EQUAL MEANS EQUAL then we still need MORE to become equal. More characters, more faces, more time onscreen, more opportunities for jobs, more green lights on our projects. MORE. As Lakshmi Puri, head of UN Women said, “We are going for parity – fifty fifty – but we need at least 30 percent.”