Stars speak out about sexism in Hollywood but nothing seems to change
In the list of things-everybody-talks-about-but-nothing-ever-changes, sexism in Hollywood ranks right up there. But now boldfaced frustration with the status quo has reached a boiling point.
The #Oscarssowhite controversy ignited Hollywood this year after the dearth of minority faces in the major Oscar acting categories and in the entertainment industry in general hit hard again. But the debate was also about the still-lagging status of women and pay equity.
A USA TODAY analysis of nearly 200 forthcoming movies in 2016 signaled that the lack of minorities AND women in Hollywood, and especially female directors, probably will continue at the 2017 Academy Awards. Meanwhile, a flurry of academic reports has shown that diversity in Hollywood barely exists.
Enough is enough, say a slew of celebrities, including Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon, Patricia Arquette and the second-highest-paid actor in Hollywood,Jennifer Lawrence. They are venting, boldly and in public, about inequality in pay, power and creative opportunities for women in the entertainment business.
Now that the Academy Awards are over, they're still fuming. Last year, Arquette claimed her award with a passionate speech about pay equity for women. This year, she was still campaigning on the red carpet at the Women in Film cocktail party for female Oscar nominees.
"It’s not just about lack of diversity in film, it’s the lack of diversity in CEOs and boardrooms and any position of power. There’s a bigger conversation to be had about power-sharing," Arquette told USA TODAY.
Two-time Oscar-nominee and Emmy winner Viola Davis, speaking at a Women Making History brunch in Los Angeles in 2015, said women, including women of color, can't play roles if no one is writing them.
"I hope that this wave (continues) of seeing Taraji P. Henson, Halle Berry, Nicole Beharie, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union and the nameless, faceless actresses out there that the only thing that has ever separated us in this world, in this business, is opportunity," she said.
And Oscar winner Geena Davis, who launched a diversity think tank 10 years ago, says the "profound lack of female characters" in films is teaching kids to have an unconscious bias against girls.
"The concept of diversity needs to include women, not be a separate topic," Davis told USA TODAY in a recent email interview. "Films and television do not reflect the real, diverse world — and the world is 51% female."
As Melissa Silverstein, activist and writer for Women and Hollywood, a blog on Indiewire.com, notes, the day after the Oscars, the trade media reported that an open director's job for the next film in the Divergent franchise, an action picture starring young star Shailene Woodley, had gone to a man.
"A day after the Oscars, a dude got a job and girl didn’t," Silverstein says. "It's an open job, it’s a movie starring a woman, it’s an action film — how is it that a woman can’t get these jobs?"
How indeed. The time for carping is over, and the time for doing something is here, women in Hollywood say.
"The conversation feels like it is reaching critical mass," says producer Nina Jacobson, who's leading the biggest film franchise in the world, The Hunger Games.
Not that there's anything new about this: Sexism has been deeply embedded in Hollywood (not to mention the wider culture) since Hollywood was born.
Nearly a century after silent-film star and "America's Sweetheart" Mary Pickford co-founded United Artists in 1919 and was one of the original 36 founders of the motion picture academy in 1927, statistics show the status of women in all precincts of Hollywood is frozen behind that of men, who continue to dominate as studio executives, directors, writers, photographers, stars and others who run the industry.
"Believe it or not, we were doing better in 1916, when 12 women were working as directors in Hollywood," Barbra Streisand said at the The Hollywood Reporter's annual Power 100 breakfast in December. "But in 2014, almost 100 years later, only five of the 150 top-grossing films were directed by women. So gender discrimination drives me crazy."
Lately, there's a lot more data like that to replace what used to be anecdotal, says Kirsten Schaffer, director of Women In Film Los Angeles, which partnered with the Sundance Institute to found the Female Filmmakers Initiative and has just released new research on female directors.