This horror movie is directed by and stars all women. It looks scary good.

Jovanka Vuckovic hates when it happens. But when you're a film director and a woman, it's inevitable: People are going to think you're on set in a different capacity.

"I've been on film sets where the stunt man comes up and says, 'Oh, are you hair and makeup?' Uh, no. 'Are you wardrobe?' No," Vuckovic says. "'Oh, then what are you doing here?' I'm the director. 'You don't look like a director.'"

"Well, what's a director supposed to look like?"


Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

A former horror magazine editor from Toronto, Vuckovic has been a fan of the genre for many years. Working in publishing and later in the male-dominated filmmaking world, it became clear to her how underrepresented women were behind the camera and, thus, how wildly misrepresented they were in front of the camera — particularly when it comes to horror.

"I kept asking people, 'Please, can you just write women characters as actual human beings?'" she explains. "I got tired of asking, so I just decided I'm going to do it myself."

Vuckovic's short film "The Box" is part of a horror anthology, "XX," that's garnering a lot of buzz at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

For many moviegoers, it's both a scary film and an important endeavor.

The trailer for "XX" is pretty damn terrifying. But even cooler, the anthology — which features four short films, including Vuckovic's — is completely women-led, with each film directed by and starring women.

Peyton Kennedy in “The Box," Vuckovic's short film in "XX." Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Vuckovic says women made up roughly 80% of the crew for her short. On most sets, that ratio is basically flipped.

Along with "The Box," "XX" features Roxanne Benjamin's "Don't Fall," Karyn Kusama's "Only Living Son," and Annie Clark's "Birthday Party."

If the trailer (embedded below) is any indication, each short appears as scary as the next. There's no shortage of creepy children, torn-off fingernails, and camping trips gone awry between the four dark tales.

"Birthday Party" marks the directorial debut for Clark, who's better known to most as musical artist St. Vincent. Her involvement helped "XX" premiere at Sundance on Jan. 22, 2017, to a sold-out crowd.

Directors (from left) Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, and animator Sofìa Carrillo at Sundance. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.

The thrill-seeking audience at Sundance loved the barrier-pushing concept of the film anthology just as much as it loved the blood, guts, and screams — probably in part because of how different "XX" truly is.

Historically, filmmakers in horror have been overwhelmingly male. And that means women on-screen are often portrayed in trope-y, unrealistic roles.

While the male gaze and gender stereotyping run rampant throughout most genres of film, horror may arguably be the worst offender. From the damsel in distress and evil seductress to the sexually liberated woman who must be killed and the vengeful lover, a handful of tropes have largely carved out the types of dehumanizing roles available to women in horror.

Actor Peter Cushing and producer Anthony Nelson Keys on the set of a Hammer Film Productions horror film in 1965. Photo by Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images.

"The only thing you have to do to make a movie feminist is depict women as actual human beings," Vuckovic says of changing the status quo. But by that standard, many scary flicks fall embarrassingly short.

It should be noted that the genre isn't exactly known for its racial inclusiveness, either, as many films continue to fail at diverse casting: “We primarily see white-washed versions of the world in a lot of movies," Vuckovic says. "Young people need to grow up seeing versions of themselves on screen."

Sadly, there hasn't been as much progress for women in horror (or in Hollywood, more generally) as you might expect.

In fact, as Vuckovic points out, there were actually more women working as writers, producers, and directors during the silent era of film a century ago than in Hollywood today.

Director Dorothy Arzner and screenwriter Sonya Levien in 1930. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Women make up about half of film school graduates at top schools like the University of Southern California and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, yet they make up just a tiny fraction of actual working directors, MTV News reported. Lack of opportunity outside the academic world plays a big role in that lopsided reality, according to Vuckovic.

Women are "not allowed to fail the same way men are allowed to fail," she says, echoing the same injustice Reese Witherspoon spoke out about in March 2016: Men's movies can flop at the box office and they'll still get a second (or third or fourth) chance at financial redemption. For women, it doesn't work like that.

The good news: Signs are pointing to progress for women in the horror genre. But we all have a part in making that happen.

According to Vuckovic, recent films like "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" and the critically acclaimed "The Babadook" — a film that explores the difficulties of single motherhood through a horror lens — have helped move the genre forward for women behind (and in front of) the camera.

"The Babadook" director Jennifer Kent (left) and star of the film Essie Davis. Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

"I don’t think a lot of the filmmakers making horror now know its worth, or realize the potential of the genre," "The Babadook" director Jennifer Kent told New York Magazine in 2014. "Just because it's a horror film doesn't mean it can't be deep."

It's important we take note of the films that are created by women and make sure to support them at the box office, Vuckovic notes — showing that women-led films can succeed financially is the best way to provide more opportunities for more women down the road.

Through "XX," Vuckovic hopes young girls learn there is a space for them in the horror genre, despite what anyone else says.

"Go, pick up a camera, make some movies, and don't take no for an answer," she advises girls interested in the magic of filmmaking. "You didn't go to film school? Who cares. Get your friends to help you, and just start — start somewhere."

"XX" opens in select theaters and on video on-demand Feb. 17. Watch the trailer below:

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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