On Tuesday, Sundance Film Festival attendees gathered for the 2019 Annual Women at Sundance Celebration, which was co-hosted by Sundance Institute and Refinery29.
Dedicated to creating gender equity in American media, a number of women took to the stage to speak about this year's theme, Risk Independence. One such women was 2 Dope Queens star Jessica Williams, who used her platform to speak about intersectionality in feminism.
In a rousing speech, Williams reflected on what it means to be otherised in America.
“I know that the subject for tonight is ‘Risk.’ When I thought about risk, I thought of a few things. The first is, to be black is to be a risk. To be a woman is to be a risk. To be queer is to be a risk. To be trans is to be a risk. I’m going to take a risk tonight… I want to talk about the relationship between black feminists and white feminists."
Williams also opened up about a tense luncheon at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, in which she discussed identity with stars like Salma Hayek and Shirley MacLaine.
“A couple of years ago I was here, and I attended a women’s celebration. To be honest, when I was invited to speak here I was a bit hesitant. Sometimes I feel like women’s celebrations that encourage diversity can really be an excuse for cis white women to be able to pat themselves on the back for promoting diversity while accidentally and sometimes deliberately silencing the voices of people of colour and the members of the LGBTQ[+] community. Period.
“But… you know what? [I said] if I do come here... I am going to speak to that, because I was here a couple of years ago… and I was at a luncheon, and they were trying to talk about diversity, and I tried to bring up issues that particularly affected people of colour, about how if you’re a person of colour, and specifically a trans person of colour, you are at higher risk in this country, period. What I was met with was this idea of white feminism — and I’m not talking about being white and feminist, I’m talking about it as an ideology. You can be any race and have this idea of white feminism. The idea was that, because everyone struggled — which I acknowledge is true — that we cannot help or promote or help or value or acknowledge even where we are in this country."
Williams shared how feminism has often left people of colour out of the equation.
"I find now that I’ve had time to process this… I’ve found that what I needed in that room is not new. Since the beginning of our feminist movement, we’ve had amazing suffragettes who have done wonderful things but have still kept people of colour at arm's length. What does it mean to be intersectional? It means that sometimes, actually a lot of times, that I wake up and I’m just angry. Because the people that came before me, my ancestors, died, and I will never know their name.
Williams' speech also included a call to action for white feminists.
"This last election we had was eye-opening. I was shocked and grieved. But I knew that was underneath the surface. A lot of black people knew that racism existed. Period. It’s funny because, LOL, some white people did not know. And I feel like this election was important because it showed a lot of people what’s actually lurking under the surface. For me, sometimes with things like this, I have a hard time — especially if there’s a Women’s March — because I know how black women voted that day. I know that we can often be relied upon to get shit done because it’s the right thing to do. I find that what I need from a lot of white feminists is acknowledgment and grace. I need the straight white feminists in the room to acknowledge that life is exponentially more difficult for black women, queer women, and black trans women. We have to acknowledge that this country was built without regard for black bodies."
She ended the speech with a call to action:
"We need you to take risks on us. This means, that as you continue to grow and succeed in your film careers, you will have the benefit of getting into higher-level groups that we still cannot. We need you to take a risk and be an ally in this moment. Advocate on our behalf whenever you can. We need you to pull us up with you. If there is a queer Latina woman who has never had a job outside of film but is excited and ambitious about doing the work, take the risk and hire her. Take the risk and hire black women darker than me, with different noses, curves for days, and hair like kinky curly clouds."
"White liberal Hollywood, and white feminists, we need you to take risks on us so we can continue to take risks on you."