I signed into Facebook one day and saw that they had censored ads for the documentary film, Mary Janes: The Women of Weed, directed by Windy Borman.
In the day and age of cannabis becoming legal in several states throughout the country, this move by Facebook surprised me. Apparently, the movie violated Facebook’s Community Guidelines. The movie focuses on women who run cannabis businesses and the director who had never tried marijuana before and wanted to also learn more about a drug she was told was a gateway to harder drugs.
“The documentary film’s goal is to educate film audiences about states’ cannabis legalization and debate the federal drug policy,” said Borman. “The film isn’t selling a federally illegal substance or promoting a criminal activity that could cause harm; it’s a first-hand account of the director’s journey to meet female entrepreneurs leading the fastest growing industry in America. To tell the story, scenes include cannabis plants and legal state businesses.”
I had a chance to watch Mary Janes: The Women of Weed at the Woodstock Film Festival, and it was very well done. The film asks big questions about corporate responsibility and ending the War on Drugs, the Prison-Industrial Complex and the destructive domination of Big Pharma.
Viewers also watch as Borman decides to try cannabis for the first time. I had the chance to ask Borman about her film and her experiences.
You tackled a very interesting topic, but one that put you in a personal position on film, trying pot for the first time. Why do this on video?
Mary Janes: The Women of Weed was a departure from my previous films in many ways, including that I found myself on camera.
We filmed Mary Janes over the course of 2016, including on Election Night. We originally thought we had a film about “girl power”: women were leading a new industry, we were going to have the first female President, the sky was the limit. When that didn’t happen, we went back to the drawing board and had to figure out what the story was really about.
We ended up restructuring the film to focus on the three core values (gender parity, social justice, and environmental sustainability) and how these intersected with the various segments of the cannabis industry. This meant I needed to be the on-camera guide (instead of merely the voice-over narrator) connecting these ideas. That meant I needed to get personal about my family’s history of addiction and how the “gateway drug” myth affected me.
We got some feedback on a rough cut of the film where people felt a scene was missing…so I decided it was time I tried cannabis for the first time ever and put it in the film.
This flipped the script in a number of ways. First, we could educate the audience about cannabis while I was learning how to avoid a negative experience, like Maureen Dowd. Secondly, I had heard from several women that their first cannabis experience came from a male. Perhaps it wasn’t consensual or it was filled with peer pressure. By choosing what I wanted to consume, purchasing it myself, and selecting who I shared it with, I was able to make cannabis consumption an empowered choice for me and other women.
The reaction to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. Because I was skeptical about cannabis, educated myself, and then had a positive experience, I’ve opened the door for other people—men and women—who are “canna-curious” to ask questions and learn if cannabis can fit into their lifestyle. I’m still at the beginning of my cannabis journey, and I look forward to sharing as I learn more.
Were you concerned about how you would be seen afterward?
My parents were concerned about how I would be viewed if I tried cannabis on film. They thought it might hurt my chances of getting a job after the film premiered. However, I felt like the damage was already done when I posted I was in production on the film. If there were any negative consequences, they already happened by people “unfriending” me on LinkedIn. I know Colorado is a cannabis-friendly bubble, but with so many networks developing content around cannabis, I feel like we are at a tipping point where it is safe for me as a filmmaker to consume on camera as part of the film’s narrative.
Being self-employed, I wasn’t weighed down by negative stigma or the fear of drug testing. I know other people are faced with losing their job, their kids, or their home if they were public about their cannabis use. Updating those draconian laws are part of what we need to address as we continue to legalize cannabis across the country.
What has been the reaction of your documentary since it premiered at Woodstock? It was sad to hear that the percentage of women in the business has dropped.
It was very sad to learn that over the course of filming, the percentage of women who are senior leaders in cannabis has dropped from 36 percent in 2015 to 27 percent in 2017. This reinforced why Mary Janes: The Women of Weed, a film that celebrates female leadership in this new industry, is so important. Geena Davis says, “If we can see it, we can be it.” We need to show women that it is possible to have a career in cannabis—and there is room for them. This has been the number one takeaway from the film festival screenings.
The second takeaway was hearing the different experiences between the film audiences in California (which has had a medical marijuana program since 1996 and begins “adult use” sales in January 2018) and New York (which began medical sales in 2016). This illustrates why we need to have a national conversation about cannabis. We’re at a critical point with the majority of states legalizing some form of cannabis, but the federal government refuses to act, so the regulations vary from state to state.
We hope Mary Janes can continue to add to these conversations.
As a woman filmmaker, how we can help women get more opportunities in the industry?
If we want people to value women in society, we need to value women in film. On the surface, I know it looks pretty grim. The statistics of women in film haven’t budged in years, and more women are vocalizing the assault, harassment, and discrimination we face. These are very real problems that we must address—and address now.
On the other hand, there is so much to gain by telling our stories, in our voices. Box office numbers prove that women-directed and women-led films connect with audiences and turn profits. Men may still control politics and the media, but they’re losing their grip because their perspective doesn’t match the majority. Women making films challenges the status quo, shifts the power dynamic, and speaks truth to power. We will persevere.
Don’t ask for permission or wait to be invited into the film industry. If you want to make films, just start. Do your research, test your idea, grab a camera, and find—or start—a women in film group. Women supporting women lifts us all up.
Check out the trailer below, and visit the Mary Janes: The Women of Weed sites: