The Frame

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The documentary 'Equal Means Equal' explores gender inequality in America

by Oscar Garza, Cameron Kell, and Carla Javier | The Frame

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Executive producer Patricia Arquette, left, and filmmaker Kamala Lopez pushed through financial adversity to make "Equal Means Equal," a documentary about gender inequality in the United States. Courtesy of Variety/REX/Shutterstock

There are some harsh — but important — truths about our country in the documentary, "Equal Means Equal."

The film is based on a simple premise: because the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly extend certain protections to women, the result has been hardship and discrimination in a wide range of areas that include workplace harassment, domestic violence, sexual assault and healthcare.

The documentary was made by filmmaker Kamala Lopez and one of the executive producers is actress Patricia Arquette. When they joined Senior Producer Oscar Garza on The Frame, they spoke about about the frustrating history of the Equal Rights Amendment, the financial difficulties involved in making "Equal Means Equal," and the myriad challenges that women still face in America.

Interview Highlights:

Kamala, what inspired you to make this movie?

I was walking across the lobby of the Smithsonian Institution with my husband, and we were about to show our film "A Single Woman" [about the first woman elected to Congress]. This woman in the lobby came walking towards me, dressed as a suffragist, and she looked at me and said, "I'm Alice Paul, and I'm back to haunt you, because you've done nothing to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment."

And I just stopped dead in my tracks and I wondered, What on Earth was she talking about? I knew that the Equal Rights Amendment had failed, but I didn't really understand or comprehend what that meant. What it means is that women have not been given civil and human rights under our Constitution, which was written in 1787.

The epic magnitude of that problem, that civil rights violation that's been completely ignored, struck me so strongly, and I just really couldn't move forward without addressing the fact that 80% of us think we have a right that we do not have.

Patricia, when did that realization come to you?

Kamala and I have been friends for a long time, and she's been working tirelessly on this movie for seven years. So as she was moving through it, making discoveries and doing interviews, she was letting me know about all of that and talking about how these seemingly disconnected, different areas of injustice for women are actually really connected to one another.

It starts with our Constitution, that women are not a part of our Constitution, and Kamala makes a great argument in the movie of how that breaks down, how we see that play out in court cases, and how women have these patchwork laws from state-to-state that vary depending on who's in power at any given time.

I suspect that a lot of younger women don't know the history of the Equal Rights Amendment. It was passed by Congress back in 1972 and would have called for a change to the U.S. Constitution.

Lopez: It's a [short] statement: The United States, nor any state, shall not be allowed to deny or abridge anyone's right on the basis of sex.

Congress passed it, but because it's a change to the Constitution, it also had to be ratified by 38 states. But only 35 ratified it. Since then, the ERA has been introduced into every Congress ever since. Is this something we can reasonably expect to happen?

Lopez: Absolutely, yes!

Arquette: [Bay Area Congresswoman] Jackie Speier has a three-state solution bill out, so if we just ratify it in three more states, then we should be able to reach the required amount. The good news is that some states have passed their own equal rights protections, so those should be easier to get to re-sign.

I read somewhere that the first cut of this film was over seven hours long. And still, at 90 minutes, there's a lot to process. I want to ask about the process of crafting this movie and deciding what to keep in the final version.

Arquette: Can I just say one thing about that? At first, Kamala was open to making this a mini-series, making six different episodes. She certainly had more than those seven hours of footage, but everyone kept saying, We've already done something about women this year, or, We're not doing anything about women this year.

Lopez: Or, We're not interested in women's issues.

Arquette: So, first of all, to get one movie about women's issues made and sold, it's very difficult. Also, another point of this movie is to show that the seemingly disconnected things are connected. It is a barrage of information, legal and also personal, but it is important to tie them all together.

Lopez: As Patricia says, we're lucky I'm sitting here right now! Nobody wanted this movie, nobody wanted to fund this movie. My mother funded this movie, and then Kickstarter funded this movie, and then Patricia Arquette funded this movie. And that's what we're talking about — our rights and our needs are always put to the end of the line.

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