“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

It’s been nearly a century since Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman’s Party and a suffragist leader, first proposed the Equal Rights Amendment. Between 1923 and 1972, it was introduced into every session of Congress. It fell three states short of ratification in 1982. Although it has been reintroduced into every Congress since then, it is still not law.

I’ll repeat that. In 2016, women, who make up just over half the population of the United States, are still not guaranteed equal rights.

If this is news to you, you’re not alone. As Kamala Lopez points out early on in her ambitious film, Equal Means Equal, “72% of Americans are completely invested in the false belief that the genders are explicitly equal under the U.S. Constitution.”

Several years ago, Lopez, an accomplished actress, director and now impassioned activist, was surprised to learn this while she was working on a film about Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin. “How could this be?” she asked herself.  “It seemed like a monumental oversight that this wasn’t front and center in our classrooms and civic life! And if this came as such a surprise to me, how many other people were also ignorant on the subject? What were the ramifications of the lack of legal bedrock underpinning American women’s place in our society due to the failure of our Constitution to include them?”

These questions led Lopez into a seven-year labor of love, investigating all of the ways that women’s fundamental lack of guaranteed equality affects their lives. Supported by numerous women’s organizations, the film community, colleagues, family, friends, and a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, she amassed enough footage for a “10-episode series.” Eventually, Lopez edited her material down to a 90-minute documentary.

Equal Means Equal is organized into twelve themes, issues with which women struggle today. These include: The Gender Pay Gap; Pregnancy Discrimination and Maternity Rights; Domestic Violence; Rape and Sexual Assault; Female Poverty; Child Sex Trafficking; Healthcare and Reproductive Rights; Juvenile Justice, Prison and Rates of Female Incarceration; International Women’s Rights; and The Law. For each, Lopez educates her audience with a barrage of facts, expert and average-person interviews, and available resources.

More importantly, she points out — and persuades us — that these individual topics are linked, not only to each other, but to the overarching fact that women are still excluded from the rights, freedoms, and protection of the Constitution.

Onscreen, Lopez is joined by a diverse group of women (and a handful of thoughtful, progressive men), including Patricia Arquette (Academy Award-winning actress), Lakshmi Puri (Assistant Secretary General, U.N.) Ellie Smeal (President, Feminist Majority Foundation), Sarah Slamen (activist and writer, The Feminist Justice League), Rota Henley Jensen (founder and editor, Women’s eNews), Lenora Lapidus (director, The Women’s Rights Project, ACLU), Kelly Mulldorfer (Captain, Vice Division, LAPD), Ugoji Eze (Founder, Eng Aja Eze Foundation; NGO Commission, U.N.’s Status of Women, Peace and Security), Heidi Runnel (Director, Post Conviction Justice Project, USC), Stephanie Richard (Director, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking), Jessica Neuwirth (President, ERA Coalition), Dina Bakst (Lawyer, National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund), Carolyn Maloney (U.S. Representation, D-NY), Terry O’Neill (President, National Organization for Women), Lois Lee (Founder, Children of the Night), Kim Biddle (Founder, Saving Innocence).

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD September 6, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Kamala Lopez has provided great inspiration for women to start the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment again. On March 22, 1972, the Senate vote of 84 to 8 sent the ERA to the states for ratification. Kentucky, my birth state, voted to ratify this amendment in June of 1972. This act gave me such courage as I entered medical school in the fall of that year, one of a very few women in an auditorium full of men. Ten years later, I finished my medical training on June 1982 and the amendment fell three states short of ratification and that was that. Business as usual. I chose a solo practice at the end of my training because I knew that I would survive and thrive with my capacity for hard work and passion for relationship based medical care for women. I knew that I would have no equal rights in a bureaucratic hospital or clinic run by men.

    I can imagine that Alex found this film disturbing to watch. It was so painful to live through that time with hope then readjust to loss.

    I am so grateful that this film has been produced and have hope again that it may serve to educate and galvanize women and men to begin the struggle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment once and for all.

  • jean lawless September 6, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Equal Means Equal,could it have come at a more timely time than right now when our supreme court will be needing new judges and our next president might be…..?This is alot more than the ERA,its our rights as human beings in all aspects.Kamala Lopez has opened a door and millions can rush through and change the world for the better.Thank you for the gift Kamala,you deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.Jean H.Lawless