The Athena Film Festival honored strong female leaders in the entertainment and film industry and gave these women the opportunity to acknowledge strong women who have inspired them. 

I can’t remember the last time I was at an event that solely focused on empowering women in the entertainment and film industry. It seems as if in today’s modern world women are not only grossly underrepresented, but consistently misrepresented in the media. The Athena Film Festival is an annual gathering that honors real women in the entertainment industry and what better place to honor their accomplishments than at the prestigious, all-girls Barnard College. Barnard was filled with excitement and frenzy last night as Rosie O’Donnel,  Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sheila Nevins and Cathy Schulman hit the red carpet.

We caught up with Gina Prince-Bythewood on the red carpet who mentioned she’s currently working on a pilot for Imagine and Fox about female friendships and the way they change over time we also discussed female directors, women in the hip hop industry, and “Beyond the Lights.”

How do you think the narration of a story changes between men and women directors in general? You mentioned in a previous interview that there’s a difference of what directors focus on in portraying characters, can you elaborate on that?

I would think of “Beyond the Lights” as a perfect example. From a male perspective I don’t know what they would have focused on and I don’t think Gugu would have trusted them with what she did in that film. The great thing about her in the film and that performance was that it was so bold and so the antithesis of who she is. We built up a trust and she knew I wasn’t going to exploit her in that role, but also she believed in the vision and the vision was really to try and change the conversation where this competition of hyper-sexuality is going. I love R&B and hip hop, that’s my music but it’s going in such a weird and dangerous place right now. So you hope theres some young artists that are coming up that are not gonna fall into that blueprint. I thought FKA Twigs was gonna be one of those and then she came out with that damn cover of her half naked on the magazine so that was so disappointing. It’s like where are those women that are gonna fight against that and again I hope the film inspires them to do that.

Who are some of your favorite female directors?

Kathryn Bigelow, is a huge one for me and Kasi Lemmons, I love her she was so supportive of me early in my career. Julie Dash was one of the first people I saw that made me think “ok I can do this.”

Are you excited about “Beyond The Lights” coming out on DVD?

I am, it’s my chance to do a do-over. Obviously there were issues with marketing of the film and the thing I’m most happy about honestly is so many damn people have seen it on bootleg, it drives me nuts because its not indicative of the quality of the film so now it’s a chance to see the film the way it was intended and it’s also got the director’s cut on it which is really the R-rated version of the film so I’m excited.


Rosie O’Donnell revealed on the red carpet that leaving “The View” was for her health. She discussed how “every woman needs to take her health seriously”  and how she ignored it for so long.

When asked who she leaned on during this hard time Rosie said:

I have two brothers that are really close, who I talk to everyday and my kids are grown now so I actually called Parker and said “heres the deal. this is what’s happening to my numbers and what do you think I should do?” He’s 19 and it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that this was the baby I diapered sitting there giving me advice. Parker loves coming to the show, he loves Whoopi, he was like “don’t quit it man” and I said I’m not quitting I can’t do it and maintain what I need to maintain so I go to my family.

Rosie also spoke about Iggy Azalea’s Grammy nomination in such a male-dominated genre of music and said:

As a 52-year-old woman, I’m not up on my Iggy Azalea controversy, but I have seen it on Huffington Post when I look at it quickly and a lot of people are mad at Iggy Azalea for reasons I’m not sure, but I think she’s pretty good. My daughter who’s 12 knows every single – first things first – she knows every word.

During the awards ceremony each of the women being honored was asked to mention a powerful female role model in their lives, aside from their mothers and imparted wisdom that was valuable regardless of  one’s gender. It was truly moving to hear such important and intelligent women talk about those that have touched their lives and ignited their creative flames. Gina acknowledged Susan Fales-Hill for giving her, her start and normalizing the success and leadership of a woman of color thereby raising her  goals and standards. Rosie thanked Sheila Nevins, who she looks up to for having a big heart and an affinity for truth, which has made her such a successful documentary filmmaker. The Athena Film Festival has not only recognized the well-established and successful women in this fiercely male-dominated industry, it has provided young women with the hope and knowledge that their success and achievements will not be overlooked.

-Nishat Baig