Around the Island

‘Women’s rights are human rights,’ message of film screening on Island

COURTESY PHOTO | Filmmaker Kamala Lopez on location during filming of "Equal Means Equal."
COURTESY PHOTO | Filmmaker Kamala Lopez on location during filming of “Equal Means Equal.”

In her acceptance speech for best supporting actress at the 2015 Academy Awards for her role in “Boyhood,” Patricia Arquette put forth this fiery statement —  “To every woman who gave birth. To every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal  rights for women in the United States of America.”

Ms. Arquette is executive producer of the documentary film “Equal Means Equal,” which will presented on October 21 in a Friday Night Dialogues at the Library. This screening, which is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island, is a no-holds-barred, fact filled, call-to-action for support and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Special guest, Liz Lopez, also an executive producer of “Equal Means Equal,” will introduce the film and be on hand to answer questions afterwards.

It turns out, as the director, writer and producer Kamala Lopez (Liz Lopez’s daughter) learned, millions of Americans are not aware of the fact that the ERA is not a part of federal law; it was never ratified by enough states to become an amendment to the United States Constitution. The last time it was put up for ratification — and failed, lacking the vote of three states — was 1970.

Since then, the lack of women’s rights has continued.

With no fixed support from the law of the land, no iron-clad amendment in place for judges or juries to rely on stating that women have equal rights under the law, women’s rights have become a state-by-state, issue-by-issue political football. Employers, huge and small, have taken advantage of the inequitable pay situation and that’s just the tip of a multi-faceted conundrum that faces women today in the United States.

The fallout of what happens when you have a population — indeed, a majority, as women make up 51 percent of the United States population — without equal rights under the law is not pretty.

Poster for "Equal Means Equal."
Poster for “Equal Means Equal.”

“Equal Means Equal” explores and illuminates the bad and the ugly. It’s a gloves-off incitement to action to put the pressure on our state and local government officials to work together in a bipartisan way to ratify the ERA.

Through the lens of our most pressing issues  —  and the laws we have in place that purportedly address them  —  the film exposes a broken system. Despite the perception that women can “be, do, and have” whatever they want nowadays, the absence of basic equality under federal law has multi-tentacled ramifications that affect everything from the gender pay gap to pregnancy discrimination, from rape and child sex trafficking to juvenile justice and rates of female incarceration plus reproductive healthcare and female poverty.

This comprehensive new documentary is 93 minutes long and features legal experts, ordinary women and top-line feminists including Eleanor Smeal and Gloria Steinem. It’s a viewing experience of anecdotes, interviews, statistics in graphic and animated forms and heartfelt stories that are sometimes tough-to-watch. A must see for the hope of us all; a hope as expressed by former first lady Rosalynn Carter who said, “I hope that no one will ever tell a girl that there is something she can’t do because she is a girl.”

“Equal Means Equal” will be shown Friday, October 21 at 7 p.m. in the library’s Community Room. Open to all, the screening is free and donations are greatly appreciated.

Next up at Friday Night Dialogues: On November 4 at 7 p.m. Steven Abbondondelo from the Riverhead  Foundation for Marine Research will speak about sea turtles and marine mammals. For further information, call the library, (631) 749-0042.