Are Actresses & Female Directors Modern-Day Suffragettes For Women In Hollywood?

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Patricia Arquette talked about wage equality in her 2015 Oscars speech. Jennifer Lawrence expanded on how she was paid less than her male co-stars in ‘American Hustle’. Sandra Bullock has spoken about the struggle to find lead roles for women and how she had to convince George Clooney’s production company to flip the gender of it’s protagonist in the upcoming ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ in order to find a character that was exciting enough to play. And let’s not forget the countless female directors who have continued to speak up about not being given the same opportunities as male directors, culminating in what will be an industry-defining case where the ACLU is now investigating the alleged discriminatory hiring practices by Hollywood studios.

When you look at the numbers, it is painful to even think change is happening. But let’s not forget the collective rabble-rousing of women in the film industry speaking up about gender inequality in such large numbers and with such passion is a relatively new phenomenon. We kinda see it as the movement of the modern day suffragettes of Hollywood, who are picketing not necessarily outside court houses and in public spaces, but in media interviews, at award ceremonies, in op-eds, and in the roles they take.

We still see some hesitation from some, showing why it is more important than ever for these women to stand together to demand equal opportunities. In a recent interview with director Guillermo del Toro, actress Jessica Chastain appears very apologetic to even mention the fact that she has been treated a certain way in Hollywood simply for being a woman, as if she doesn’t want to appear like a “trouble maker” for even raising her voice. Jennifer Lawrence also echoed the same sentiment when she talked about her experience being paid less than male co-stars. The idea that women don’t want to “rock the boat” or risk losing out on work is still a very present reality for some, but it has come to a point where, like the British women in the recent film ‘Suffragette’, in order to create change, you have to make a loud noise and get in people’s faces.

Film industry publication Variety recently dedicated one of their issues to this current movement happening in Hollywood, specifically how wage inequality leads to lack of equal opportunities, and featured a number of women and men both in front of and behind the scenes to share their opinion.

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“Pay disparity for actresses in both TV and film has become a hot-button issue in the entertainment business. Although a familiar tale in Hollywood, dating back to Bette Davis’ clashes with Jack Warner over her contract at Warner Bros., a code of silence had long kept actresses from venting publicly. That all changed this year. Patricia Arquette used her Oscar speech to stump for equal pay for women everywhere,” writes Ramin Setoodeh.

‘Bridesmaids’ Director Paul Feig, who has been one of the most outspoken male allies in this issue, says it is an unfathomable situation happening in a creative industry.

“It’s ridiculous in 2015 that we’re still having to have these conversations. I don’t know how we got so behind-the-times in a town that fancies itself on being so liberal and forward thinking,” he said.

‘Parenthood’ actress Joy Bryant told LA Weekly something similar.

“I love the myth of Hollywood being this liberal place. Hollywood is not liberal. We would have more women and people of color in positions of power. Everyone is donating to the cause célèbre and the cause du jour, and we need that, but let’s not get it twisted — it’s just as sexist and racist [as anyplace else],” she said, adding that if the big 6 studios truly wanted to change things, we would’ve seen it happen already.

New data that has helped this issue become more glaringly obvious came from a number of studies undertaken by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Stacy Smith who has examined gender inequality in film and TV, diversity in entertainment, and the barriers facing female filmmakers in both film as well as TV.

Female directors in television worked on only 16% of the 3,900 episodes produced last season, according to the Directors Guild of America. In 2013, 1.9% of directors of Hollywood’s 100 top-grossing films were female. Among the 100 top-grossing movies of 2014, 11% were written by women, and 19 percent were produced by women. In the same category, just 28% of all the characters chosen to speak were female. Just 9% of those films featured girls or women speaking in numbers equal to the boys or men.

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These figures are a startling contrast to the fact that for the past 6 years, the majority of moviegoers have been women, according to the DGA. In 2009, 113 million moviegoers were women, and 104 million were men. By 2014, women made up 119 million of moviegoers; men just 110 million. Yet in 2014, just 21% of Hollywood’s 100 top-grossing films featured a female lead or co-lead. And the trustworthy voices that narrated films were male 79%of the time. Between 2007 and 2014, in 700 films, women were most likely to be cast as someone in a romantic relationship rather than on their own, or as caregivers.

You see, when female directors, producers, and writers are taken out of consideration from the beginning, it means less interesting female roles being written and female-driven stories being made. It is a shame because if a male is a lead in a film, no one calls it a “male flick”. Women are also paying money to see ‘James Bond’, so it is unfair and short-sighted of the industry to think films with a female lead aren’t going to be as viable.

Nancy Dubuc, president-CEO of A+E Networks, told Variety that the problem is cyclical, and two-fold.

“People with more experience are paid more. The problem is that the industry continues to give a disproportionate number of men the opportunity to gain that experience, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that men earn more than women,” she said, which is why we need to emphasize how important it is for women to support each other.

Actress Sandra Bullock was interviewed by Variety and she shared some very bold thoughts about the issue saying it comes down to perspective.

“It’s a bigger issue than money. I know we’re focused on the money part right now. That’s just a byproduct. We’re mocked and judged in the media and articles. Really, how men are described in articles versus women, there’s a big difference. Once we start shifting how we perceive women and stop thinking about them as “less than,” the pay disparity will take care of itself. There’s a much bigger issue at hand. I’m glad Hollywood got caught,” she said.

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She says her mother raised her to be independent, to “blaze her own trails” and that all people are equal, which is why she feels strongly about this.

“Hollywood has always been at the forefront of pioneering a new road and a new movement. So it’s a blessing that they got caught, and there are a lot of outspoken, narcissistic actors like myself who are very happy to talk about the issue and keep it alive.”

An aspect that is hotly contested is the power to negotiate better pay. Some say it is down to the woman who be more aggressive, and it is a fair point. But in 2014 when the infamous Sony Leaks happened and details emerged about the way some women were getting paid compared to male counterparts, the (now ex) studio chief Amy Pascal said something that angered some women in the industry.

“The truth is, what women have to do is not work for less money. They have to walk away,” she said, which was seen as a cop out to not paying women fairly. Why should women have to fight for what should be in place anyway? It’s a bizarre argument to make, especially when there is so much data showing movies directed by women, for women and featuring women are bringing in the big bucks and filling cinemas at just the same rate, if not more, than films made by men.

The ACLU’s Melissa Goodman told Variety in an interview, similar to what Sandra Bullock said about shifting perspectives about women in the industry, it will require a collective consciousness wanting to change the issue, which we can see is very slowly starting to happen.

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“If there was a will to seriously tackle the problem, the problem would be tackled. It’s not actually hard to hire women directors. It’s not actually hard to find women directors who are talented and qualified and able and willing to work. There’s this perception that it’s harder but it’s my understanding, as an outsider having talked to a lot of people now – it isn’t hard. If people made it a priority and made it important and made it something that was a part of what was required of their shows, there would be a perceptible move in the numbers,” she said.

‘Homeland’ Executive Producer Lesli Linka Glatter believes nothing has changed much in 25 years, and the problem lies at the top of the food chain.

It should be an equal playing field.  This should not be an issue.  But the fact that it’s being talked about so much has to be a good thing.  We have to deal with the studio and networks that hire because that’s where change will take place. That’s who is making the hiring decisions,” she said.

She also addressed the issue of hearing the excuse “there just aren’t that many female directors” which is complete and utter BS. Los Angeles-based director Destri Martino started a database called The Director List which currently has over 1000 female directors who have worked on commercials, industrials, short films, feature films and TV shows.

While on the surface we see the celebrity names flying the flag for equality and change in Hollywood, which means film, TV and digital platforms, the movement has to be driven by women in all aspects of the industry, especially behind the scenes. And the more we read about the issues that female directors and actresses face on a daily basis, the more we realize this has an impact on us as audiences. We all watch films and TV shows, so we all have a vested interest in seeing change.

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“The media creates a worldview that becomes deeply ingrained into people’s perception of the way things are. The way women are depicted perpetuates discriminatory attitudes and sexist behavior” and the notion that girls and women ‘don’t count’,” said Nanette Braun, chief of communications and advocacy at UN Women, to LA Weekly. UN Women has been calling for change in Hollywood’s portrayal of women and girls since 1995 when they launched the Beijing Platform for Action.

Nanette goes on to say that when you look at the broader fight for gender equality around the world, it is much harder to create change in certain sectors, but for Hollywood it should be very easy.

“When you have to draft a new bill or constitution, that takes enormously long. When you try to change a tradition, whether that is harmful practices like female genital mutilation, that takes enormously long because a whole societal norm and cultural change is involved. But to write a film script and write more women into more roles? Where is the problem?” she asks.

It’s a great question, one that we hope will continue to be answered the more these women speak up and seek to change the status quo. A change in Hollywood means a very impactful change in the rest of society. We want to hear more people like Helen Mirren calling the ageism toward women “f**king outrageous”, and actress/director Rose McGowan labeling it “institutional stupidity” the way women are relegated to objectified characters alongside men. Hollywood studio executives cannot continue to ignore the growing voices of dissent against this unequal treatment, because at the end of the day, it will only result in major financial losses if they do.

To all the modern-day Suffragettes in the film industry willing to raise their voice and rabble-rouse in the hope that future generations of women won’t experience the same inequalities, we salute you.

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  1. Pingback: Will Smith, Spike Lee, Samuel L.Jackson & Benicio Del Toro Discuss Racism & Aging In Hollywood - GirlTalkHQ

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