When I first heard that Heather Arnet, the CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) of Southwestern Pa., had produced, written and directed a documentary called “Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.?” about why the U.S. has yet to elect a female president, I was intrigued. But, when I realized she had traveled to Brazil to seek answers to this question, I was confused. What could we, the people of the United States, possibly learn from Brazil?
Well, as it turns out, a lot.
Ms. Arnet’s quest for answers began after her grandmother and activist, Vivan Goldstein, asked a burning question a propos Brazil electing their first female president Dilma Vana Rousseff in 2011: “How the hell did they do it?” Ms. Arnet together with WGF partners ELAS: Women’s Social Investment Fund in Rio de Janeiro committed to find the answers and make the film about it. Ms. Arnet would go on to interview politicians, activists, business owners and mothers both here at home and abroad, using translators and coming back with 36 hours of footage.
The film premiere of her incredible journey to Brazil and back took place so fittingly on Saturday, March 8, the International Women’s Day, at the Carnegie Museum of Art to a sold-out crowd. The audience’s reactions were much like my own after witnessing the eye-opening film: anger, excitement, frustration and inspiration were only a few of the emotions experienced in the theatre.
After the film, Ms. Arnet sat on stage for a Q&A with Elizabeth Mulenga, an 18-year-old member of WGF, who is interested in running for political office later on after gaining experience and skills at the workshops that the WGF offers. The audience asked a wide variety of questions ranging from “Why is the United States backtracking as a political community?” “How does the film connect to people in Southwestern Pa?” “Where do you think women’s rights will be in the future?” “Why Brazil?”
But my favorite question came from Ms. Arnet’s young son, Travis, a self-proclaimed feminist who asked, “But mom, what do you REALLY think is the reason we haven’t elected a woman president yet?”
Ms. Arnet eloquently responded:
“I think it’s our system. We’ve paid too little attention to the important things. And while some would say, ‘The media sexualizes women,’ I saw plenty of pictures of bikini-clad women in Brazil! It’s deeper than that. As shown in the film, Brazilians treat voting as a mandatory obligation, not a privilege. Change is happening in America, though. It happens when we decide that it’s time.”
During the dessert reception following the film, I was able to sit down and talk with Ms. Arnet (in between filmgoers asking for photos and applauding her work) about what this film means to her and to all of us.
Check out my Q & A with Ms. Arnet in tomorrow’s blog!