In This Changes Everything Oscar nominated and winning actresses talk about their own struggles to be taken seriously in front of or behind the camera. Reese Witherspoon shared a story how she had gone to meetings with studio contacts and asked what potential projects they had for her. The response was along the lines of “sexy mom” or other similar characters. Not satisfied with that answer, she set out to make her own path with projects she developed for herself and for women which are some of our favorites. Emmy award winning Big Little Lies and a book on my TBR shelf Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere will be on Hulu soon and even Legally Blonde 3 due next year.
Strong Female Character
I was listening to the Hysteria podcast from Crooked Media, which is the weekly female hosted and produced podcast. This particular episode they were talking about “Strong Female Characters” and what makes a women strong. In the podcast, Naomi Ekperigin, Michaela Watkins, and Grace Parra join Erin Ryan and talk about how strength is different on each woman. I’ve been in panels where people praise Joss Whedon for writing Buffy as “strong” and I want to barf. That may be unpopular, Yes, I loved Buffy, but strong does not mean a woman over 40, confidently walks into a room baring her shoulders or shows a shred of personality. The women are still written from the male gaze.
How often do we see women labeled as strong because of her beautiful, physical appearance, not because she actually has muscles. Or the backhanded compliment that a woman is confident because she isn’t “traditionally pretty” but carries herself with grace anyway. What was the reaction to Lizzo’s performance at the VMA’s the other night in her yellow outfit? Strong? Confident? Good as Hell?
It was last year when we heard the story about Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. Jessica’s been nominated for two Oscars, Octavia has won one. But does winning an Oscar carry the weight of equal pay when negotiating your contract? Octavia shares a story about a phone call she had with Jessica and wanting to work with her on an upcoming project but having a real conversation with her about the wage gap. The whole panel is fantastic but to hear Octavia tell the story at a Sundance panel in 2018 is enlightening.
We found out last year that Michelle Williams made a fraction of what Mark Wahlberg did on All the Money in the World. During her Emmy win for Fosse/Verdon on Sunday she used the stage as a literal platform to call for gender parity.
I want to say, thank you so much to FX and to Fox 21 studios for supporting me completely and for paying me equally because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work, and so the next time a woman and especially a woman of color—because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart—tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her. Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it. – Michelle Williams, Emmy Awards, Sunday 9/22/19
And just this month word broke about the screenwriter for the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians. Adele Lim shared the writing credit on the first film with Peter Chiarelli (a white man) after director John M. Chu brought her on. The first film made more than $200 million worldwide and you think would be enough to earn a person some clout. Lim found out that on the sequel, Chiarelli was making 10-times her salary and she decided to walk away.
The quote in The Hollywood Reporter said that said Chiarelli even offered her half of his salary to reach some semblance of parity and Lim still said no.
“Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn’t be dependent on the generosity of the white-guy writer,” she says. “If I couldn’t get pay equity after CRA, I can’t imagine what it would be like for anyone else, given that the standard for how much you’re worth is having established quotes from previous movies, which women of color would never have been [hired for]. There’s no realistic way to achieve true equity that way.”
Director Chu released a statement in support of Lim but it’s time for men to be better allies in the parity fight. As Adele said, she shouldn’t be dependent on the generosity of the white guy after the fact. We need to have more friends like Jessica Chastain who are going to walk the walk and fight things.
Films honored at the Oscars in 2015 were a result of Reese Witherspoon’s production pursuit, Laura Dern, Wild and when we got Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette’s speech where she called for wage equality. The rest is gif history.
All Hail Meryl
Meryl Streep plays Emmeline Pankhurst in the 2015 film Suffragette, who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union and helped get women the right to vote. We know Meryl is one of the world’s most celebrated actresses and her award winning career is one that many strive for. While doing a press conference she used the critics who weigh in on Rotten Tomatoes to explain the disparity of the film industry.
An Oscar win or nomination carries influence, it helps get your next project funded. But if women can’t break into that room it’s harder for them to get the movie or tv show made. Even if the demand for stories are there. Only one woman has won Best Director at the Oscars. Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2009. The film also won Best Picture that year. If only men are reviewing your film, only those films will get further funding. It’s a viscous cycle.
— Variety (@Variety) March 5, 2018
At the 2018 Oscars Frances McDormand used the words “Inclusion Rider” in her acceptance speech. It’s about giving a voice to a movement. Now that this is out there, films with this option are being completed. Will we see a difference when it comes to award season next year? After that Oscars, it was one of the biggest trending topics and searches. People like Michael B. Jordan, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon tout their use of them but I don’t know if the reports I see are accurate.
Check out the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for more data and information on Inequality in 1200 Popular Films. The study examined the top films from 2007 to 2018 year over year and show a consistent pattern of under-representation of women across all areas. Prior to McDormand’s Oscar speech, “the top 100 films of 2016, 47 of them did not feature a single Black woman or girl speaking on screen.” The Inclusion Rider will hopefully be that change in Hollywood.
Here is Founder Dr. Stacy Smith’s Ted Talk on the data behind Hollywood’s Sexism.
To use Dr. Smith’s words, Hollywood has a responsibility for parity because its stories are being shared world wide. Women buy 50% of the movie tickets and watch 50% of the TV shows. There going to be an audience for your project. And we’ll be here to cover it.