Ashley Maria is a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double major in Journalism and Communication Studies. After earning her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, Ashley attended the graduate film program at The University of Southern California; where she earned her masters degree from the School of Cinematic Arts Masters Film program. Ashley is currently living in Los Angeles and has been working on her documentary Pioneers in Skirts with her mother and Co-Producer Lea-Ann W. Berst since 2012.
1. What was your inspiration behind creating Pioneers in Skirts?
“Soon after I entered the film industry, I discovered that I wasn’t respected as, and considered, a filmmaker. I was treated and judged as a ‘woman filmmaker.’ This was a shock to me because when I was an undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had felt I could do anything, be anything, and achieve anything. I had thought my career would be defined by my skills, my accomplishments and my integrity. But, as soon as I entered the graduate film program at USC, I discovered that I was wrong.
Working with the other freelancers, experts and people I respected and admired, I was surprised to find that I still was challenged to have my voice heard. I thought, “If it feels this difficult, then maybe I can’t do it?” At that point, I felt myself feeling overwhelmed with pressure and losing my way. I was 26, a graduate from two of the top educational institutions in the country, but no longer believed in my ability to succeed.
As I shared my story with my friends, with my family and with women I met in passing – I realized I wasn’t the only one. None of the young women I knew felt fully prepared for the career obstacles we would soon face.
We found that college-educated women enter careers at near parity with their male counterparts, but over time they experience issues men rarely have to face. It’s 2015 and women still do not have equal pay for equal work, they often feel extra pressure to be the primary caregiver in their families, and they continue to deal with subconscious gender biases in the world around them. So we decided to continue to investigate the issue – in a format I was comfortable with: an investigative documentary film.
Pioneers in Skirts is a feature documentary about my journey to find the solutions to the career challenges women face. The film will bring to light the gender biases and societal pressures that women deal with every day through my eyes and the eyes of other women experiencing them now.”
2. Why should women, especially college students, see Pioneers in Skirts?
“The knowledge from this film was missing from my life when I graduated from college. We all were told we could do anything we wanted to do if we just worked hard enough, got good grades, and excelled at growing our experience through internships and part-time jobs. I did just that, I followed the rules — but I was not prepared for the biases placed upon me when I entered my career. I didn’t know how to handle sexual harassment (no, you don’t just laugh it off or power through!). I didn’t know how to respond when I was constantly asked when I’d get married or have kids. And I really didn’t know how to respond when I was continually asked what it was like to be a ‘woman in the film industry.’ I certainly didn’t expect to be isolated as a person who was given opportunity and awards because I was a woman.”
3. What is the one characteristic all of the women in Pioneers in Skirts have in common?
“All of the women showcased in Pioneers in Skirts have drive. They dream of a future that is rewarding. They have the drive to reach success in their career and reach a fulfilling life we all believe is attainable. That’s why we are making this film. We want nothing to hold these women back from attaining what they feel is possible for them.”
4. What would you say to those who say this is a feminist film? Do you agree? Why/Why not?
“I believe the word ‘feminist’ has a different meaning for each person who uses it. What does it mean to us? Empowerment. Feminism is empowering women to overcome obstacles and setbacks women uniquely face. Our film is about empowering women to achieve their full potential, to encourage utilizing the power of choice, and to better prepare a woman for the obstacles that will come her way. It’s about being aware of options, and of the situations that women encounter – and learning how to handle them. In that sense, I do believe our film is a ‘feminist’ project aimed to help career-minded women. Both women and men are feminists in our film.”
5. What is one misconception you believe viewers have toward Pioneers in Skirts that you would like to clarify?
“I’d like people to better understand the purpose of the film. The name in itself can be misleading if people don’t watch the clips or read our marketing content. This is a film about women and how to help them to pioneer (take charge and lead) in their own careers. There are a lot of projects and movements out there with similar goals, and we are grateful so many believe that change for women is necessary. In fact, when we first decided to pursue Pioneers in Skirts, a few months later “Lean-In” was released and then the documentary “Makers.” Those are huge projects that have overshadowed the independently produced ones like ours, which in turn, became constant comparisons. We feel our film will complement their efforts. “Lean-In” shows women how to play the game that men created – we show how to change the game. And “Makers” is about inspiration; showcasing women who’ve done great things in the past that influenced life for women of today. Pioneers in Skirts encourages our audience to learn from the women who came before us, but then we strongly focus on helping the women of today and tomorrow. We focus on solutions and the future.
Another thing I’d like prospective viewers to know — while we are making a film that is heavy with knowledge and intense with story, we are actually keeping it light in our execution. I am a comedy director and will bring some of that humor to this film. I know that personally if a film like this were overwhelming, I would probably scare away from it and never reap the benefits. Pioneers in Skirts features a discussion about important issues, so we are using characters who are relatable and a tone that is light so that the audience can feel like we are talking with them…and definitely not at them.”
If you want to learn more about Ashley Maria & Pioneers in Skirts, check out her website.
I look forward to seeing Pioneers in Skirts in 2016 and look out for another article checking in with Ashley after the film’s release.