A driving force behind cultural awareness and diversity programs inside one of the world’s largest corporations, Cecilia Stanton, assistant vice president of diversity at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, sat down with Walker film/video curator Sheryl Mousley to discuss Allianz Life’s support of the Women with Vision festival.
Given the size of your organization, you must receive thousands of sponsorship requests each year. Why sponsor the Walker’s annual Women with Vision festival and Girls in the Director’s Chair?
Allianz has a presence in more than 90 countries and is committed to supporting its communities. The Walker does so much to help bring opportunities to artists from different backgrounds, and for more than 20 years we have supported this mission. When the chance arose for us to become involved with this particularly empowering program that supports the work of women filmmakers, we knew we had to be part of it.
As a nation, we still have many things to overcome in terms of equality. It’s important that leading institutions, such as the Walker, organize programs that specifically reach out to groups that are not always well represented in the arts. I think we have a tendency to perpetuate certain stereotypes of what a race or a gender is capable of doing. The films screened during Women with Vision give women filmmakers a voice and put diversity into perspective. Seeing films from around the world by women—who have historically been underrepresented in the discipline—provides us opportunities to broaden our horizons. They help give us a new perspective on people. For me, seeing women from other parts of the world as filmmakers and in other leadership roles, overcoming adversity, making changes, and making significant decisions, is very powerful.
Can you recall a particularly memorable Women with Vision program from years past?
Oh yes, I’d have to say the film Play, and meeting Chilean director Alicia Scherson after the opening-night screening during Women with Vision 2006: Confronting Silence. I was blown away by how far she traveled to take part in the festival, and I remember these fantastic scenes from her film of this obsessed girl [laughing]. . . . I remember thinking we’ve all been her.
There was also a film from Girls in the Director’s Chair by a nine-year-old girl. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh; I can’t believe a girl that age created this!” You can’t help but imagine what the right opportunities could provide for her as she becomes a woman—opportunities such as those offered by Girls in the Director’s Chair, which helps talented young artists grow and become phenomenal women.
Talk to us about role models. Who is yours?
It’s very important for girls to see other women using their artistic creations to speak out and make changes, whether in the social, political, or corporate arena. For me, I would have to say Oprah Winfrey—I know lots of people would say Oprah [laughing]—is a phenomenal woman. What makes her stand out for me is that she’s had an impact on people’s lives in so many different arenas. She’s more than just a talk-show icon. She has been incredibly involved in arts and funding projects that provide equal opportunities for people who have not previously had a voice to tell their stories, such as her film The Color Purple and now the musical version on Broadway. When Oprah sees a need and place where she can have a great impact, she acts on it, and sets an example for us all.