“Hear our voice”, could be the apt motto of the past year. Thanks in part to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in Hollywood, women have raised their voices in the face of predatory behavior and the rallying cry is now spreading into other women/minority-related issues like representation in the halls of power and equal pay in the workplace, to name just a few. There has also been a shift in the conversation from simply having the courage to speak up to finding solutions to an age-old issue: What to do about the state of play?
To further that end, We Do It Together and The Alliance of Women Directors recently held a panel discussion at USC to identify key obstacles and solutions. The panel consisted of Professor Jeremy Kagan, Chiara Tilesli (We Do It Together), Patricia Cardoso (director, writer, producer), Julie Janata of the Producers Guild, Ivana Massetti (Women Occupy Hollywood), and moderated by Jennifer Warren - Alliance of Women Directors and this HFPA journalist (also the author of Women Branded/Men Preferred highlighting the role of unconscious bias in gender inequality). As Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Meher Tatna stated in her Golden Globes address, our association “stands with women everywhere".
The aim of this panel was to look for intersectional solutions and the discussion explored everything from the role of media in shaping gender ideals to the lack of role models, linked to the dearth of female protagonists. To make an example, Jules, with some irony, pointed out that The Chronicles of Narnia begins with a girl stepping into the closet only to have her brother become the central character once in Narnia. To address these societal issues the Producer’s Guild of America is helping to overcome obstacles through its Diversity Workshop that has branches in Taiwan, South Africa, and Brazil - to name just a few. The diversity workshop provides the support structure for diverse filmmakers to get their voices heard in the marketplace. “We define diversity very broadly, which I think is appropriate. We talk about underserved voices in all genders - we used to talk about both genders, but now use the word ‘all’ sexual orientations, all ethnicities, all religions, all ages. The course runs two nights a week for two months and one of the perks is a top producer sharing their blueprint for getting the projects funded. The program has been effective in moving students to power positions and behind the camera throughout the industry and may be a contributing reason why, of all the Guilds, the producer’s is most representative when it comes to gender, though at 25% it still falls short both for women and minorities.
Patricia Cardoso, award-winning director, producer and writer (Real Women Have Curves; The Water Carrier of Cucunuba) elaborated on the unconscious bias which leads to decision- makers to make the safe choice that leaves non-traditional contributors out in the cold. “The process to get a film greenlit is a long one.” She explained, “You meet the writer, stars, producers and then it’s narrowed down to two people who meet the studio. I have too often been in the position when I was up against a white man and given positive feedback but the final choice has always gone for the man and against the woman. Coincidence or unconscious bias? She admits if she was back in that position she would be more vocal and assertive about the gender disparity.
Jeremy Kagan, Emmy Award-winning director, writer, producer and tenured professor at USC, noted that exclusion is not limited to women and minorities, but also extends to ageism. The founder of Women Occupy Hollywood said her impetus for activation had its roots in her treatment as a director in Hollywood. “I went all over the world and never felt that I was a ‘woman director’, merely a director. Once I transplanted to Hollywood the conversation repeated too often: “Your work is beautiful, very artistic, but it won’t make money.” She shakes her head. “In the silent era, women were effective and equal contributors. When sound arrived the industry needed an influx of money. Men from the East Coast arrived with funds and said this is how we are going to do things.”
The moderator, Jennifer Warren, hailed leaders like Jonathan Landgraf of FX who have made a concerted effort to address inequality and diversity both in storytelling and behind the camera. That has translated to higher ratings, though many still feel immobilized in acting on equality initiatives in power position. If a woman or minority’s project fails it is often gender or diversity issues that are trotted out as reasons for the failure, making it more difficult for a sophomore attempt. This stereotype, in turn, makes it harder for those who follow. The HFPA’s decision to highlight women and minorities succeeding in roles generally held by males was touted as a way to rectify unconscious bias by documenting diverse successes from fields like music supervision where women make up only 1%.
Of the many prongs needed to address gender inequality, wage disparity, an issue which reaches far beyond the entertainment industry, was discussed in light of recent revelations that agents from the same agency had negotiated radically different deals for two of their clients for the film, All the Money In the World. A disparity that ran along gender lines. Another gatekeeping activity is the dismal representation of women’s projects at film festivals when compared to men. A solution is to review the number of minorities and women that are represented and then consciously up the numbers.
The conclusion of the panel was that the discussions themselves not only continue to propagate the many micro injustices between genders but drive solutions into the industry psyche and expose the unconscious bias, which in itself helps the pendulum to swing toward equality.