“[Female empowerment] means that women are able to make their own choices. And that they are able to do the kind of work that they want to do, and live the kind of lives they want to live. And not be restrained by social or economic barriers from realizing their own journeys.”
Nithya Raman is the executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment. With a background in non-profit and international development sectors, she has worked on issues facing low-income city residents, including access to basic services, housing and homelessness, in India and in Los Angeles.
Last year, rocked by the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault cases, Hollywood banded together for Time’s Up — a movement against sexual harassment in the workplace — by wearing white roses or all-black on the red carpets of some of the industry’s biggest events, including the Oscars and the Grammys.
Nithya Raman, the executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment, was inspired to join the organization and take action upon seeing the explosion of the #MeToo campaign in 2017, which pushed into the spotlight the abuse of power, blatant sexism and discrimination that had run rampant and unchecked in the entertainment industry.
“Gender inequality is so baked in our lives and suddenly there was a moment that it was visible to people,” she said. “And the opportunity to make it continue to be visible is a very powerful one.”
Prior to Time’s Up, Nithya worked for more than a decade as an advocate for basic resource access to the urban poor both in India and in Los Angeles. For more than nine years, she worked to help improve conditions in India’s slums and still continues to work with Los Angeles City Hall to run a homeless coalition in Silver Lake.
She’s taken all of her experience to Hollywood, where she’s addressing better workers’ rights and gender parity through the power wielded by the world’s most visible entertainment industry. “This industry shapes the stories being told and, in some ways, shapes the culture of the world. And so to have currently underrepresented voices being able to tell more stories and to be able to have individuals, women, men of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ voices in the room, making decisions, working on sets, will be really transformative for the culture as a whole,” Nithya said.
Nithya’s focus goes far beyond just high-profile celebrity cases like Weinstein. “Part of making this industry look different is also making sure [socio-economic] obstacles are removed so people who have less resources to battle those obstacles are able to thrive in this industry,” she said. One such example of these obstacles is the unique freelance-based nature of the entertainment industry, which makes it near-impossible for those from lower-income backgrounds or those who are primary child caretakers to survive.
Nithya points to a lack of guaranteed income, paid family leave and job security that make Hollywood so inhospitable to those struggling financially. Whether it’s in workers’ rights, workplace harassment or hiring practices, Nithya wants the industry to rethink how they’ve run their business. Nithya explained, “What we are trying to do is change the norms in which power has been exercised … The more we can continue pushing for that change, the more the kind of behaviors that have been seen will become unacceptable anymore.”
Already, she’s seen huge early successes. Time’s Up’s 4% Challenge raised awareness on the fact that only 4% of studio films in the last decade have been directed by a woman. Historically, that statistic has rarely budged, but after the campaign, more than 100 individuals and seven studios committed to working with a female director in the next 18 months.
She hopes that her work continues to empower the marginalized and open doors for women everywhere. “[Female empowerment] means that women are able to make their own choices,” Nithya said. “And that they are able to do the kind of work that they want to do, and live the kind of lives they want to live. And not be restrained by social or economic barriers from realizing their own journeys.”