Reese Witherspoon: “Films With Women At The Center Are Not A Public Service Project”

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Reese Witherspoon was recently honored by Glamour Magazine as one of their Women Of The Year in an annual celebration of women who break barriers, blaze trails and create change in the world in inspiring and powerful ways. This year’s event included Caitlyn Jenner, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, designer Victoria Beckham and comedian Amy Schumer just to name a few.

We already love Reese for the way she has dictated her own path in Hollywood outside of the confines often placed upon women. She went from being a teen movie star, to an Oscar winner, then starting her own production company, Pacific Standard Productions, after not being satisfied with the types of roles being offered women, and the first two productions ‘Wild’ and ‘Gone Girl’ both garnered Oscar nominations proving her talent and determination.

Needless to say is a fierce advocate of women’s empowerment and increasing the visibility, the types of opportunities and the number of opportunities they have not just in Hollywood, but in all aspects of society. She was recently presented the Lifetime Achievement award at the American Cinematheque event for her advocacy work for women in film. Hollywood heavyweights such as Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Aniston and Jeffrey Katzenberg all took turns in sharing stories of how they have been impacted by what Reese is doing and what she has done throughout her career.

So it’s easy to see why she was named one of Glamour’s Women Of The Year. At the awards ceremony in New York on November 9, she gave a powerful and compelling speech about her career, the need for women to grab hold of opportunities, and why we shouldn’t be so afraid of being ambitious.

She started off by talking about her 14 year old self, and learning just how ambitious she was, but as she grew older, she started to see how problematic an ambitious woman was in the world.

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“I just kind of started wondering lately why female ambition is a trait that people are so afraid of. Why do people have prejudiced opinions about women who accomplish things? Why is that perceived as a negative? In a study by Georgetown University in 2005, a group of professors asked candidates to evaluate male ambition vs. female ambition in politicians. Respondents were less likely to vote for power-seeking women than power-seeking men. They also perceived ambitious women as looking out for themselves. They even reported ambitious women as provoking feelings of disgust,” she said.

Reese recounts a personal experience where she told a school counselor she wanted to apply to Stanford, but he was quick to tell her she wouldn’t get in because of her SAT scores. However, she applied anyway and did end up getting in. Eventually as she progressed into her film career, she started to get pigeon-holed as a certain type of actress and wanted to break out. Before launching Pacific Standard Productions with partner Bruna Papandrea, she met with the heads of every studio whom she had known for years to talk business. She asked each of them what they were developing in the way of roles for leading women, none of them had anything positive to say, and didn’t seem apologetic for their lack of female focus in their development slate.

“I was flabbergasted. This was 2012, and it made no sense to me. After going to these studios and telling people about how there’s barely any female leads in films and the industry’s in crisis, people were aghast. ‘That’s horrible,’ they said. And then they changed the subject and moved on with their dinner and moved on with their lives. But I could not change the subject. I couldn’t turn to some man and say, ‘What do we do now?’ This is my life,” she explained about the start of her passion to take control of her career more, and just like her character Elle Woods from ‘Legally Blonde’ she refused to be underestimated.

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She put her own money into PSP, despite being warned against doing that, and was also told that her company wouldn’t make it past a few years because there just wasn’t a market for female driven films. Which is hilariously ludicrous because anyone who says that phrase clearly lives under a rock and hasn’t head of ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Pitch Perfect’, ‘Maleficent’, ‘Spy’ etc. Many of these films have not only out-earned male-driven films that have been released on the same weekend (‘Spy’ vs ‘Entourage’) but some of them have even been directed by women (‘Frozen’, ‘Pitch Perfect 2’) and have gone on to become the biggest selling movies at the box office in a single year (‘The Hunger Games’ in 2013 and ‘Catching Fire’ in 2014).

“Our company isn’t just thriving because it feels like a good thing to do. It’s thriving because female-driven films work. This year alone, ‘Trainwreck’ with Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy’s ‘Spy,’ ‘Pitch Perfect 2,’ ‘Cinderella,’ the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise, those made over 2.2 billion dollars world wide. Films with women at the center are not a public service project, they are a big time, bottom line-enhancing, money-making commodity,” she said, and she could not have said it more perfectly. If it’s the bottom dollar excuse that studios and executives are continuing to use when justifying why they don’t have any female films in development, then perhaps they need a lesson in economics.

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After going on to explain how her company defied all odds in its first year with ‘Wild’ and ‘Gone Girl’ both being nominates for Oscars, and the current slate of 25 feature films and 3 television shows they have in development, Reese turns her attention in her speech to the greater cultural crisis that women are currently experiencing.

“In every industry, women are underrepresented and underpaid in leadership positions. Under 5 percent of CEOS of fortune 500 companies are women. Only 19 percent of Congress is women. No wonder we don’t have the health care we deserve or paid family leave or public access to early childhood education. That really worries me. How can we expect legislation or our needs to be served if we don’t have equal representation?” she asks.

In a separate interview with ‘Miss Representation’ filmmaker Jen Siebel Newsom for Glamour Magazine, Reese shared some details from her family life and how that has influenced the driven woman she has become today.

“I’d always ask my grandma, who was so, so smart, why she didn’t work, and she would explain that her parents didn’t approve of her working after she had children. She didn’t feel like she had choices. And I witnessed it all firsthand. Growing up in the South, it was very patriarchal,” she explained, which has made her more determined than ever to ensure her teenage daughter grows up knowing the choices she DOES have available to her today.

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Her career as a filmmaker, producer and actress has made her realize what a prime position she is in to be able to influence younger generations of women, as well as men, about the importance of telling women’s stories from a female perspective.

“More people telling stories leads to more interesting perspectives in this world. I often think we wouldn’t get to these political impasses if we had balance in storytelling. If more men would see a story of what it was like to be pregnant, and how it felt to be in a place where you had to make a decision about whether to keep a pregnancy, maybe they would feel differently about women’s health care,” she said, and we could not agree more!

She says there is a need to invest in more female potential in Hollywood because women are “infinitely capable” of creating great stories and producing meaningful content that both challenges and inspires.

The message to Hollywood and the world is clear: Reese as well as a whole army of determined women are here to stay and change the game forever. We love that she has unapologetically taken the reigns and moved not only her career, but the future course of many women in the industry, toward a more inclusive, diverse and dynamic direction. As for the rest of the world, if we could have more Reese Witherspoons infiltrating every industry, we suspect it would be a very good thing.

Check out a snippet of her speech below:

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Reese Witherspoon Says Women Should Run Way From Any Man Threatened By Their Ambition - GirlTalkHQ

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