Usually when you hear ‘by women,’ the next thing you hear is ‘for women,’ and that frustrates me.
Thalia Mavros is set to launch The Front this fall—a new platform that publishes “media by women, for the world.” The first project for the company, New Deep South, is a show that explores sexual identity through the lives of queer youth in the American South.
We caught up with Thalia about The Front and what women’s media means at a time when the meaning of gender in general appears to be in flux.
What led you to launch this project?
I worked at Vice for seven years. On the one hand, I was really lucky to be part of that success story and learn what it means to put media companies together today. On the other hand, Vice was always a male voice, and whether it was Vice or the industry in general, we ended up working with a lot of men.
After seven years at Vice, it had run its course for me, so I wanted to go out and make a film. I needed to detach and focus on bringing something with my own vision into the world. But when I started raising money, I realized if I just raised a little bit more, I could actually create a platform, so all these people like me who felt like they didn’t have a voice could come together and create something amazing. I was hearing a lot of the same frustrations with some of the women that I wanted to collaborate with, so I said all right, why not create something for the longer-term, and for a lot more people than just myself?
Why is it called The Front?
It comes from riot grrrl and Kathleen Hanna. At Bikini Kill shows back in the 90s, all the guys used to be in the front moshing, and all the girls used to be in the back and on the sides. And she would tell all the guys to leave the front, so the women could create space and help each other out.
Public discussion about gender in general has broadened lately. What does female media mean in 2015?
In my mind, it felt like female media was one of two things: either fashion and style based—as I like to say, 259 ways to braid your hair is probably 258 ways too many—or about women’s issues. Which, of course, are also really important in the world, but it wasn’t necessarily what I felt expressed me as a female.
There’s all this white space in between, and I constantly felt that everybody in the population—whether you’re a male, female or anyone in between—understands what the masculine perspective is, and youth media companies that have a male voice. I understand the male voice, I’ve grown up with the male voice—and it’s for everybody, right? But I didn’t see a female voice for everybody, and one that’s not mainstream.
There are other general-interest magazines, but they’re based in style—and they’re mainstream. I thought, where’s the one that comes from subculture, that comes from more of a punk ethos, that has a youthfulness and a stronger, more independent spirit? Honestly, if I’d found that, I would have just gone to work there—because this is not easy.
Do you think it’s difficult because although that mainstream media voice is often a male voice, people often don’t see that gendered side of it and just think of it as the “news voice”? Do you think it’s hard for people to imagine the alternative to that before they see it?
I think so—I don’t like talking about it normally, and that’s why. It’s this really slippery slope—we know this voice, it’s a news voice, or it’s a reporter’s voice, or it’s cultural journalism. But when you start working with a lot more women, you start seeing it. There’s a soulfulness of what happens when you put female filmmakers together, and you see how that’s different.
I can postulate and say “all right, I think women make different kinds of connections, I think we’re less sensationalist and we try and bring disparate things together and look at communities or the effects on people rather than dead bodies”—I can say all that, but ultimately I just want to put it out in to the world, because we also won’t really know what it’s like until we do it. To me, it’s going to take on its own life force.
The phrase that we chose was “media by women for the world.” Usually when you hear “by women,” the next thing you hear is “for women,” and that frustrates me because I sit down with my guy friends or girlfriends, and I talk about the same exact things.
It’s interesting to think of your audience as not gendered—how does that change what you do?
I’m all for gender fluidity—people are like, “what about men and trans people and people who don’t know?” Whatever you want to call yourself, once you live as a female, if you experience life as a woman, let’s just start there. The ideal is that we don’t even have to have these conversations in the future.
But for now there’s a difference—how many media companies are owned by creative women—or even creative people? Even the female media companies, you look up and… Jezebel, it’s Nick Denton. Broadly, it’s Shane Smith. And I get potential investors that I speak to coming back to me going, “what does it matter if men own the company? If women are writing it, then what does it matter?”
What does it matter?
It’s colonialism! What does it matter that we don’t have the means of production—if ownership in this day and age doesn’t mean anything, then why are they even investing in companies? Investors, of all people, should understand the importance of ownership.
What are the most important ways that comes out in the work?
I think it’s the issues that we tackle and the kind of teams that we send. New Deep South—it’s queer kids in the South, and some of their individual stories and what they’re going through. We talk about the socioeconomic crises they’re having in the South, but also these huge social and cultural shifts towards a more progressive understanding of gender issues and homosexuality. They’re still living in an environment that hasn’t quite caught up to that in their everyday lives, and yet they have access to the internet and access to the world, and they know that things are different. It creates this interesting friction between the future and the past, but they have to create their own presence in that moment. That’s where the interesting pieces come together in that moment, and we sent an all-female, all-queer team down to capture it.
Does the fact that you’re starting out with a queer-focused project mean that you’re interested in challenging those borders of femininity and what it is to be a woman?
Yes, and changing what people think of as a feminine perspective. You look up feminine in the dictionary and it’s like “dainty,” and feminine colors and music—feminine notes are weak notes. And my ideal scenario is where feminine means strong through its vulnerability, really. We’re open to be vulnerable and it isn’t this alpha male position of strength, it’s actually through a place of accepting our imperfections and knowing that we’re “other,” and knowing we’re trying to figure it out. But there’s a strength and resilience through that.
So what would it look like if you went to North Korea instead of Shane Smith from Vice—what would you do?
That’s a really good question. I wouldn’t be bringing Dennis Rodman, for one, as my representative of the West. Let’s start there. Somebody who’s not addicted to meth—maybe I would choose that person.
I know that situation intimately, and we’re lucky that it didn’t become more of an issue than it did—for us, it’s a whole different approach. It’s not this “jump in and whoever we take down with us…” attitude. To me the idea is to provide a platform for voices. It’s not about me or any of my crew going, “we’re going to make it into North Korea and have this big press free-for-all.” It’s about intent, and it starts out in a different place.
Can you share any more info about upcoming projects?
The Jem remake is coming out, and we went back and found the original creator and interviewed her and she took us through her archives. They’re doing a Jem night at Cinefamily in LA, so we’ll be screening it there. The whole show is done with original equipment from the 1980s and all shot on Beta, So that’s going to be fun. We also have a comedy psychology show, and an interview show coming out with Martine Rothblatt, who’s an amazing human being. It’s not what people would normally think of.
We published our first piece, the Wes Craven interview, earlier than we anticipated, since he had just passed. And we had men approaching us asking why we started out with a man. That’s an interesting preconceived notion that I want people to start thinking about—that just because we’re women doesn’t mean we always have to talk about what’s overtly feminine. To me, I’m passionate about horror films, and so are a lot of the women I know. People expect feminine to mean something light and airy, and it doesn’t.
Ideally I wouldn’t have to say it’s made by women, that we’re supporting each other and we don’t have to scream it at the top of our lungs. Our audience isn’t only female; I want it to be like a 65-35 split. And ultimately, I want men to understand what a female perspective is.