Anna Fishbeyn is the founder and president of XOFeminist Productions and Anteriya Films, is an award-winning star of stage and screen, a filmmaker, director, author and actress. She has a passion for the betterment of women in society and has shaped her work to drive gender equality.
Her film Galaxy 360: A Woman’s Playground, which she wrote, directed and starred in, will be released in theaters and on major streaming services this year. The pre-release version of the film screened to a packed house at the Cannes and Big Apple film festivals and was a finalist of the Sundance New Frontier Exhibition.
Anna’s first play Sex in Mommyville premiered in New York City and was recommended by Bloomberg News, while CBS Radio pronounced her “a comic genius.”
Her second play My Stubborn Tongue played off-Broadway at NYC’s New Ohio Theatre and went on tour to the West End in London at the Soho Theatre. Her solo cabaret show at the Metropolitan Room in NYC Anna on Fire and Uncensored was recommended by CBS News New York, Jewish Week, and NiteLife NYC.
Anna wrote and starred in the Web series Happy Hour Feminism, which won awards for leading actress, best screenplay, best web series, best short comedy, best musical parody, and has been selected at over 17 festivals.
She directed and starred in Invisible Alice, a short musical film that won best musical at the Action on Film Festival in Las Vegas, best director at the International Film Festival Milan, and best actress and best director at the Moscow Independent Film Festival. Anna’s critically acclaimed first novel The Matrimonial Flirtations of Emma Kaulfield earned her comparisons to Tolstoy, Austen and Nabokov, and is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.
Pre-production has begun on her next movie How To Seduce Your Dinner Guest, as well as two optioned pilots for television, the comedy Healthy Nuts and the drama Infidelity Club.
What’s your origin story?
I had been a child singer and actress in Russia, but like many immigrants in America, my family discouraged me from pursuing an artistic career. So, I forged an intellectual path for myself, a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Columbia University and a master’s degree in Creative Writing at New School University.
But after the birth of my first child, I was transformed. Motherhood filled me with love and extraordinary empathy, and a sudden inexplicable courage to pursue my dreams. I began performing in small New York venues and completed my first novel, The Matrimonial Flirtations of Emma Kaulfield.
But it was my son’s birth that changed my life, by almost ending it. During an emergency C-section, my pulse dropped, I thought I was dying, and lost consciousness. The doctors had to revive me. When I finally woke up and held my son in my arms, I said to him, “If not now, then never” – this was life giving me a second chance to follow my dream.
I wrote a bunch of fun comedic essays and called them: Conversations with My Breasts. And then gathered the courage to ask the manager at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City if I could perform for ten minutes on their stage. The manager replied: “With a title like that, you can have your own solo show.” I packed the house that night! People laughed at my jokes and I loved it.
The prestigious Flea Theater offered me an opportunity to have my own solo show, which I called, Sex in Mommyville, and things suddenly exploded! Before stepping on that stage, there were a dozen feature stories about me in the news. I was afraid to say my own title out loud – people would give me looks.
I’d say: “Oh it’s just about gender!” Or, “It needs to have a question mark at the end, because mothers really don’t have sex.” After incredible reviews, and so much positive support from other mothers and women, and my newfound confidence and fervent feminism, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life – create art that would have an impact.
Sex in Mommyville explored mothers’ sexuality but also their struggles to be perfect moms and have careers, and their desire to be seen and understood by their male counterparts. Everywhere articles appeared urging mothers to be thinner, younger, sexier, more healthy, more devoted to their children, side by side with articles reporting large numbers of women dropping out of the workforce to raise children.
Men continued to define themselves by their careers rather than by the raising of children. Men never called themselves “working dads” but mothers constantly referred to themselves as “working moms” or a term I coined at the time: “artist moms.” In one scene in the play, in order to keep the marriage together the husband and wife switch gender roles – just for fun but in actuality it becomes the bridge that allows them to understand one another.
This moment in Sex in Mommyville inspired me to create another feminist project that tackled gender equality: “Happy Hour Feminism,” a comedic Web series set in a world where women sit on top of a bar, and men come in with problems such aging, gaining too much weight, or suffering from their Wolf Periods.
Women hold high-powered positions, rule the government, the media, and how men view themselves. In an episode entitled, “Lipo-Draining Beer,” we offered a diet beer to an overweight man and although he is instantly transformed into a lean hunk, there are brutal side effects. I
In War of the Dads, a stay-at-home dad battles a working dad – to decide who is a “better” father. Happy Hour Feminism was a comedy with a message, and to my great surprise it had a great response from the film festival community – we got selected at over 17 festivals and won lots of awards.
How did you get into the industry?
I got into the industry by producing a Web Series and then submitting it to film festivals and suddenly a whole new world unfolded before me.
Give a shout out to your mentors.
Initially, I worked without mentors, having learned everything by doing it myself, by literally diving into the unknown, embarrassing myself many times, but the experience of learning by doing taught me a lot. Artists who have done it all themselves have always inspired me.
Sylvester Stallone’s origin story is extraordinary because he wrote, directed and starred in his own movie, defying everyone’s opinion and all the odds, to make sure his vision is realized on screen. I also deeply admire the actress Kathryn Hahn – she is fearless and funny and takes on projects that are truly honoring women’s sexuality and inner strength.
I’ve been inspired by Kathryn Bigelow, for her incredibly difficult and fearless films, and hugely admire Julie Taymor, who recently directed The Glorias, a fantastically innovative biopic that could only have been created by Taymor. Her previous work, such as Frida and Titus are absolute works of artistic genius that have moved me to the core of my soul.
What is your biggest achievement?
Creating the full-length feature film, Galaxy360: A Woman’s Playground, as a writer, director and actor. I loved the fact that I was in the trenches with the actors and at the same time shaping the vision of this piece. Wearing all three hats was incredibly challenging but also it felt right, it felt empowering, it felt like it was something impossible that I could do and loved doing.
Galaxy360: A Woman’s Playground is a comedy about a future where gender roles are reversed. Gender roles have been so proscribed, ancient, constricting and acceptable that they have become the breeding ground of countless corrosive demoralizing stereotypes that also happen to be absurd, and hilarious.
It is precisely hilarity born out of society’s hypocrisy and engrained prejudices that gave me the impetus and passion to create this film. Galaxy360: A Woman’s Playground is a dystopian reality, ruled by women wielding incredible wealth and power, obsessed with male beauty competitions. Opening the eyes of the world to the injustice of gender inequity and at the same time making audiences laugh has been my biggest achievement.
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How about your biggest disappointment?
My biggest disappointment was taking too long to start performing on stage and listening so obediently to other people telling me it was impossible. We cannot change the past, but we can remind ourselves of these disappointments periodically to make sure we are different today, stronger, more thick-skinned, able to withstand radical weather changes without changing our resolve.
If being a woman is your superpower, how has it helped you?
Being a woman has meant learning to be incredibly strong, physically and emotionally, and to always be patient. I come to set with a firm belief in solutions, and to never lose control or yell at people. Being a mother and a woman in difficult and challenging situations has taught me how to solve any problem and get out of any mess.
While working as the director of Galaxy360: A Woman’s Playground, a film I was also starring in, and had to work with 17 actors, and 30 crew members, I was able to multi-task in ways I never imagined. I needed to balance resources, egos, remembered every one’s issue, and tried to be on top of every problem erupting on set, and at the same time, carry myself as an actor in costume, in the trenches, memorizing my lines.
My whole life has been a preparation for this – precisely because I am a woman – the qualities of patience, multitasking, empathy and kindness are taught to girls from a very early age. But the sharp awareness that I was in charge and people were looking to me for answers – that too was the woman in me.
What’s your Kryptonite?
Indecisiveness in myself, deceit and betrayal in others.
How did a combination of Pandemic, Black Lives Matter and QAnon affect you?
Each of these occurrences have compelled me to examine my art, and the message I want to send, and the connection between all artists across the globe – to continue to create, analyze, explore and put a mirror up for society to be able to see itself.
What can the industry do better to promote true inclusion?
The industry needs to see and recognize talent everywhere, seek out talent in every color, ethnicity, race, nationality, and to truly genuinely make that effort. It’s important that we as content creators continue to present a world that is representative of the people who watch it from their living rooms, so that inclusion is conscious.
When casting Galaxy 360: A Woman’s Playground, I made a point of selecting candidates representing the entire world. It is a diverse world.
If you’re Batwoman, who’s Robin?
I have a great team of exceptionally talented people, and a great business manager.
What’s the Engine that pulls you?
THE DESIRE TO MAKE AN IMPACT, A DIFFERENCE IN WOMEN’S AND MEN’S LIVES, TO USE MY ART TO CREATE CHANGE IN THE WORLD.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH is every month for me. Every day I aspire to be a woman making history.
The concern for women’s daily struggles, the rise in domestic violence against women during the pandemic, unjust laws, the women forgotten by history, the women who are trailblazing today and making a difference in the entertainment world, women directors who are nominated for awards – all of it continues to be part of my daily fabric and the soil upon which I create my new projects.
I AM WOMAN, The Glorias and On The Basis of Sex are great films, which I which as a family together with my children to commemorate this month.