At first blush, Mimi Oo’s organization might not seem like an obvious choice to promote a new movie about a long-standing campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Oo leads the nonprofit New Americans Alliance for Development, which supports female professionals, primarily physicians like herself, unable to resume their careers after immigrating to the United States because of education and licensing hurdles.
“Equal Means Equal,” the documentary the nonprofit is screening at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis, has drawn backing from Hollywood celebrities as it makes a renewed case for codifying gender equality in the Constitution.
But Oo says she was thrilled to get tapped to host the sold-out Friday screening and panel discussion ahead of the movie’s Sept. 6 premiere. Many of the issues the film tackles — from wage gaps to domestic abuse — affect women in some immigrant communities disproportionately.
“We are very fortunate to make people aware of these inequalities,” Oo said.
The event is among screenings in New York, Atlanta and elsewhere on Women’s Equality Day. They are part of a campaign led by the movie’s director, Kamala Lopez, and Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Arquette. Arquette coproduced the film and launched a signature drive in support of an Equal Rights Amendment, which activists have promoted unsuccessfully since the 1920s.
The campaign won the support of Reese Witherspoon, Gillian Anderson and other actresses.
Oo, who moved to the United States from Myanmar, formerly Burma, doesn’t have celebrity connections. But she has a family link to Lopez: Lopez’s grandfather married Oo’s aunt.
Back in Myanmar, Oo ran a successful medical practice before her family moved to the United States to escape political unrest. She found her credentials did not readily translate in her new home, and she started work as a medical interpreter and phlebotomist. She founded the nonprofit to help advocate for other women in her situation.
Protecting rights for all
But recently, she has set out to raise awareness about an issue facing some of the organization’s members: domestic abuse by U.S. citizen spouses.
“Once they get here, these professional women become servants,” Oo said. “They are abused.”
That’s why Oo was drawn to the idea of promoting the movie, which highlights how current laws fall short of protecting women against gender discrimination, wage disparities, domestic and sexual violence, and other issues.
To host the screening, Oo teamed up with Sue Sattel, a retired state official whose financial support for the movie on the Kickstarter site earned her an assistant producer credit. Back in the 1970s, Sattel filed a state human rights complaint after fielding questions about her plans to have more children during a job interview for a high school teaching position in Winona.
“We know those are issues that even today still come up, and there’s no protection in the U.S. Constitution,” she said.
The Friday panelists include Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and state Rep. Rena Moran, DFL, St. Paul, an author of a proposed Equal Rights amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Oo plans to encourage attendees to host home screenings and discussions after the movie’s release.
“This is an important issue,” she said. “Everybody needs to be talking about it.”