Showing resilience and finding inspiration during Women’s History Month
Image source: Дженіфер Сікора, Adobe Stock
As the past two years have shown, even throughout a pandemic and polarization, creativity can’t be held back. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we shine our light on women creators who continue to make great strides even amidst our struggles.
Below are stories of hope and resilience, and sources of inspiration from 14 female creators — artists, filmmakers, organizers and entrepreneurs — that motivate us to raise our creative voices, to reflect on women's creative power and how that applies to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive world.
Tell me about a woman who inspires you
Maliyamungu Muhande, Filmmaker
In 2016, Karissa Samuel was the first person outside of my family to support my education. Through The Rockstart program, a non-profit she created to support underrepresented youth in creative careers. I was awarded a scholarship for my creative degree, something almost unheard of at that time in South Africa. Karissa gave me a chance when very few people in my life did. At the time I felt out of options. My family was struggling financially and the degree that I was pursuing was unaffordable.
Karissa was a South African Asian woman, a catalyst who was generous in her guidance and wisdom even when she was physically ill. She fought and survived cancer for almost a decade. I have changed my lifestyle for the better because of her mentorship. I was blessed with a shift of consciousness that came of witnessing her constant uprising, her generosity to self and others, and her ability to spread joy despite everything. She taught me how to farm, how to never give up, how to stand up for myself, that success is inevitable when you put in the work and that the biggest barrier to anything I want is often myself.
Brittney Janae, Photographer, Filmmaker, and Co-Founder of LoreneJanae
I am truly made up of various women that have added to my life and inspired me to be the woman I am today. My cheerleading coach Jacqueline Powell knew there was a bigger purpose for me. SGT. Hatley taught me discipline - one of the most important traits you can have as a creative and I think that’s why I create the way I do! My mom allowed me to be free and taught me strength, my grandmother told me to pursue my dreams and move to California and believed in me the whole time she was on this earth. My god-mom Veneshia Nunnelly continues to be a foundation of holiness for me reminding me that God is the source of my strength. My best friend Erica was the reason I moved to LA, and the one who told me to do what I loved. Those powerful words changed my life, and Issa Rae of course, because she didn’t wait on anyone to open a door for her, she didn’t let the “lack of” stop her from doing what she felt she needed to do. I started my YouTube [channel] ‘cause I saw a need for more Black women, and she really did make me feel like I could do it! I can’t give just one person credit for my continued inspiration, I’m thankful for all the women in my life. I wouldn’t be the woman I am now without them plus more!
Every day I get to work with talented people and witness amazing women create which inspires me to continue to grow and learn. I know I need to keep pushing not only because I have people who believe in me but because now, I feel I have a responsibility to help and inspire others along the way.
Cheri Gaulke, co-director/co-writer of Inside the Beauty Bubble, premiering at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and the American Documentary Film Festival
I am inspired by African-American painter Alma Woodsey Thomas, who broke color barriers on and off the canvas, yet did not receive national attention until she was 80. She lived a life of firsts: the first Fine Arts graduate from Howard University (1924), the first African-American Woman to mount a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1972), and the first African-American woman to exhibit her paintings in the White House (2009). I’m thrilled to have told her story in a short film, Miss Alma Thomas: A Life in Color, that is traveling with a museum exhibition of her work.
Mickela Mallozzi, Host & Executive Producer, Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi
My sister, Adriana Mallozzi—she’s my big sister who has always been my biggest critic, but also my biggest supporter. She is also a living example of living life to her fullest potential. My sister was born with spastic cerebral palsy, but her experience in life has guided her to become an entrepreneur, founder of a tech startup that creates technologies for people with disabilities. She’s one of the most brilliant people I know. We have always complimented each other; she’s the technical brain and I’m the creative one, and together we make a great team.
Lesley Jane Seymour, former editor of More magazine; podcaster and host of “Reinvent Yourself with Lesley Jane Seymour”
I get my inspiration from other women who tell their stories of perseverance. We’ve done over 160 interviews with women who have lost everything, had to fight their way out of abusive marriages, have overcome unbelievable health barriers to do what they want. They inspire me.
I have been convinced my entire journalistic life that words can change the world, and so can the story of what one person can do. Just look at these young women in the videos coming out of Ukraine. They have chipped nail polish and are crying, but holding their guns for the first time and fighting for their country.
Cheryl Bookout, co-director/co-writer of Inside the Beauty Bubble and Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Chimaera Project
Sometimes I feel like two people: The artist and the nonprofit administrator. As an artist, the internationally renowned artist Judy Chicago inspires me. I went to her when she had no idea who I was, with something I wanted to do that involved her. She listened, and my idea turned into Judy Chicago's largest project to that point, "Envisioning the Future." This collaborative art project included artists from 47 communities within eight counties in California. I was the project coordinator, and it changed my life. Judy Chicago inspires me to take action and responsibility for the things I feel passionate about.
As a nonprofit administrator, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a true inspiration. Her tenacity, fight and outspoken strength for social justice issues has been an ongoing reminder of why I dedicate myself to the work that nonprofit organizations can accomplish and how important it is that filmmakers be supported to tell their stories.
Where do you find inspiration?
Maliyamungu Muhande, Filmmaker
I am inspired by my growing confidence in the knowledge that what is meant for me, creatively, is mine. By practicing being still and trusting, I have begun to hear my own voice again after a long time drowning in other noise.
Hearing myself has allowed me to know that in addition to being a hard worker, propelled by my own drive and ambition, I am also discerning and choose only to invest my time, energy, and self into things that feel true to the person I want to be. This is big! It means that my work is guided by what I feel has a future, first in me, and then in the world. This feels like authenticity. Life is full of constant change, but this phase I’m in now feels like intentional change.
I am also always inspired by the dreams that scare me. Every time I dream of something that is outside of the status quo or beyond what I have been historically told I can or cannot do, that dream both scares and excites me. And I feel motivated and determined to learn and unlearn in order to make my dreams come true.
Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, creator of the art installation “In America: Remember,” subject of the documentary Not Even For a Moment Does Time Stand Still, premiered at SXSW
As a social-practice visual artist, I am inspired by every news report, magazine article and social media post. Art is no longer an elective; it is an imperative in times like these when words often go unheard.
I was inspired to create “In America”—one white flag representing each individual who had died of COVID-19. Manifesting empathy and encouraging a deeper sense of humanity is what drives me and my art forward.
Cindy Gallop, founder/CEO
What most inspires me is the dynamic I characterize as: "I'm going to bloody well show you." Tell me it can't be done? I'm going to bloody well show you. Put an obstacle in my path? I'm going to bloody well show you. I channel daily demoralization, frustration, depression into motivation and inspiration.
Finally, I'm in dialogue with investors who see how fundable I and (my latest venture) are, and that gives me hope for all of us to raise the funding we deserve. All we need is access to the same amounts of capital as white men, and then just watch us churn out those unicorns.
The world we all want to live in is being built around us by women and we will see more and more of it come to life in 2022.
Brittney Janae, Photographer, Filmmaker, and Co-Founder
I find inspiration in so many ways, first and foremost from my family. I’m the first one to graduate from a four-year college, the first to move to another state chasing a dream career, and I just want my family to be inspired to chase their dreams and to know there’s so much more to life and I am a living witness of that. I have a 16-year-old niece who views the world through me, and knows that her possibilities are endless. I also find inspiration through traveling, films and shows that I watch as well as my connection with God. The more grounded and connected I am, the more I can tap into my creative spirit without pressure and force - memories just come back and ideas just flow.
Tell me about a time you showed resilience.
Heliya Alam, producer of A Place in the Field, premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
I was working as a co-producer on a feature film in New York City and the first time I walked into our production office I was faced with 20 men staring at me. From their faces I could tell they were thinking: “What is this small bubbly girl doing here? What does she have to say here?”
It took me a few days to figure out how to present myself. Instead of compressing my smiley personality, I walked back into that office being completely myself and showing them why I was there and what I could do. It didn’t have to matter if I was a woman, young, and “too nice.” I had a voice. I had the talent to be there and the capability to get the job done.
Sharon Green, yacht racing photographer and subject of Fresh to Frightening: The Sharon Green Story which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Years ago, when I was constantly on the road and I was a single mom, things could be really challenging. Trying to juggle attending racing events all over the world, masses of camera equipment and two young children was often exhausting, and at times I felt guilty about not spending as much time with my kids as other moms. But I knew, deep down, my career was important and vital to the life I wanted to provide for them. Looking back on that time now I realize what incredible experiences they had, being able to travel with me to exotic locations. Ultimately, I had no choice but to make it work and I believe I did.
Nicola Rose, writer/director of Goodbye, Petrushka, premiering in Los Angeles in June
I started out wanting to be an actor and hit smack against the inevitable wall of “No’s.” I didn’t fit the mold of what anyone was looking for. I did not get into a single drama school, and it was crushing.
I think things like this happen to more talented kids than [people] would admit it, which is why I’m mentioning it. At the time, it would have helped so much to read that this happened to other people and that they flourished regardless!
I came back from that “defeat” to have a six-year career as a professional puppeteer. Now I’ve just finished my first feature-length film, Goodbye, Petrushka, about a young American woman’s coming-of-age experiences in France. Creating worlds is what I do best and it’s what I should have been doing all along.
Diana Zollicoffer, co-producer on Out of Tune, set to play in a number of film festivals in 2022.
A few years ago, my life and career came to a screeching halt. What I thought was a minor pain turned into a life-threatening emergency. I was in the hospital for 27 days, most of which was spent in the ICU.
I was devastated and very depressed. But I also had this inner drive that wanted to not give up on me. So, I took a step back and basically started from scratch all over again.
I found and connected with my mentor after she spoke at a Women In Film event I was attending. The day following the event, I boldly reached out to her, and I said: "I want to pick your brain. We can either have a 10-minute conversation over the phone, because I value any time you give me, or I can take you to lunch?" She rewarded my willingness to take that chance and stick my neck out by taking me out to dinner. She's been my friend and mentor ever since.
America Young, director of Back to Lyla and co-Founder of The Chimaera Project, which empowers women and non-binary artists
Isn't that every day as a woman in a male dominated field? There are so many movies and stories about huge moments of resilience, but it's the small moments of standing strong that inspire me. The little things that could defeat us that surface every day, that require resilience for us to push past them and continue one day more in the direction of our dreams, paving the way for those who come after us. It's those little moments of consistent and constant resilience just to be heard, that are the key to everything.
Tamra Raven, producer of Tomorrow’s Hope, screening at SXSW
When I was first getting involved in this new documentary film (Tomorrow's Hope), it was pretty obvious to me that this was going to be a deeply resonating and surprising experience. Essentially, the film introduces us to a community on the South Side of Chicago—In a very challenging environment, both past and present—and how they've been exploring early childhood education as a way to deliver a lasting message of "you matter" to kids and families.
One of the amazing educators in the film, Portia Kennel, describes the area as “Forgot-onia”—meaning, how in many ways, the world had just turned its back on this community. Yet, despite a battle that seems relentlessly uphill—and with naysayers in every corner, still—I think what emerges from this project most of all is a belief in possibility.
For more stories of inspiration, check out Marie Claire magazine’s Creators Issue, which launched in January in partnership with Adobe, highlighting emerging female-identifying visual artists, filmmakers, writers, performers, designers, and content creators.
As brand innovator and entrepreneur Cindy Gallop, said, “The world we all want to live in is being built around us by women and we will see more and more of it come to life in 2022.”
To hear from more inspiring women, tune into ‘The Future of Filmmaking is Female’, featuring award-winning women filmmakers, moderated by Adobe CMO Executive Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Development, Ann Lewnes on March 24 at 12pm PST / 3pm EST.