Sheila Johnson and the stories that deserve to be told

Sheila Johnson is a passionate advocate of women’s empowerment, the use of media to spark social change, and the power of telling stories that deserve to be told. Definitely not on that list is squandering an opportunity.

This talented “generalist” has taken advantage of many an opportunity herself–in business, philanthropy, advocacy, design, filmmaking, and even sports team management. But more impressive than the numerous accolades which are associated with her name, is Sheila Johnson herself–a women who was nothing but the picture of poise and eloquence as she spoke to a crowded seminar room at Harvard Kennedy School on Monday evening.

As I sat in that room, I thought about the conversation that was being waged about the media, women, and the potential for social change. It is clear that the message being sent about women in the media today is far from complimentary–in fact, it is just the opposite, oft-touted as disingenuous and deprecating to say the least. But aside from a discussion of the negative, Ms. Johnson and the equally talented woman sitting on the panel with her–filmmaker Susan Koch–also discussed the potential that media and films have to share those stories which deserve to be told in a meaningful way. Her earnest belief in this point is clear from her and Ms. Koch’s work on Kicking It, a documentary film about the Homeless World Cup and Ms. Johnson’s most recent project, The Butler, a compelling film about the life of a butler who saw eight Presidents pass through the White House and experienced history in a way that is not shared in our schools’ history books.

To say that Sheila Johnson is a strong woman would be an understatement. The trials and tribulations she has undergone throughout her career are positively jaw-dropping, and her resilience through them all awe-inspiring. When she had trouble raising the necessary budget for production of The Butler, she committed to raising the money herself. When so many told her that she would fail–in this endeavor and others–she refused to believe them.

She is  a Global Ambassador for CARE, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, a philanthropist, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and firm believer in the power of women. It was startling to sit in that room and hear the statistics about women in the film production industry and the fact that even counting the positive stories being told about women in the media, the vast majority are produced and directed by men. Well, there is at least one woman who is doing something to fight that statistic.

Look out for her film next year and remember that no matter where you find yourself in life,

Always be a woman of grace, and make it work

Sheila Johnson


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