Normally, when a celebrity or studio head or otherwise large industry figure in Hollywood does something worthy of praise, they make damn sure they’re getting that praise. There are interviews, press releases, and whatever else they can put out there to make sure their image is boosted appropriately. Which is why it’s surprising to hear that as we’ve all been crying out for gender parity in the film and television industries, both in front of the camera and in all the roles behind it, Hollywood was not only listening, but silently acting.
Back in October, 44 industry players gathered for a two-day summit to come up with a 4-point plan to cure (or at least take a big stab at) Hollywood’s sexism problem. The event was co-hosted by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute, and was put together because, as Cathy Schulman, president of Women in Film Los Angeles, puts it,
We are at an economic, social and cultural tipping point and sustainable change is within reach. The time to act is now. Hollywood is surprisingly late in coming to this party and this is the time for conversion.That’s the kind of thing that we as angry consumers, as well as these organizations, say constantly, but it’s kind of amazing that so many higher-ups came out to actually work to make a difference. Especially considering a lot of these people are rivals of sorts. There were executives from Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Marvel, HBO, and DreamWorks, and agents from three huge competing talent agencies (CAA, William Morris, and UTA). There were also directors, writers, actors (well, actually only Maria Bello for some reason), producers, and other top-level figures from all sides, and of both genders. As Schulman said,
People who normally spend all day long trying to screw each other were in there together trying to figure out this gender issue. This is not a shaming process. We’re not saying, ‘You’re the bad guys.’ We’re saying, ‘This is your situation. We’ve been doing it the same way for so long. We need to retrain our brains.The plan that the group came up with is basic, but important. It pretty much boils down to:
1. Employ industry-wide “Unconscious Bias” training.
2. Launch a “Gender Parity Stamp” to recognize movies and shows, as well as companies, that are furthering gender equality. This can serve as a “visible identifier” for people and companies creating opportunities for women.
3. A mentorship/sponsorship program, placing early career female directors in year-long fellowship programs with established directors. There are a lot of studio-specific programs like this, but it sounds like the hope is that by placing individuals together, the greener director can learn to navigate the industry as a whole, rather than just learning about one company.
4. As far as I can tell, this one is pretty much just, “we’ll tell people this stuff is important.” Ambassadors from the event have promised to spread the word through their studios, agencies, and what have you. They’ve also said they’re committed to following through with the goals created, and won’t forget about them as soon as they leave the room.
This all sounds great, as do all the people leaving the meeting who, according to them, had until now been spewing the same lines we’ve heard all along— the “well, there just aren’t enough female directors” and the “sure, we know it’s a problem, but what can we do?” Because these aren’t necessarily bad people. And, even more important, they’re not stupid people. And they want to make money, and they’re starting to realize that they could make more money if more than 21% of their movies had a female lead. They just honestly didn’t know what to do. And now they at least have a path and resources to move forward. The Fifty Shades of Grey franchise producer, Mike DeLuca, says he’s going to start asking agencies and management firms to start including 50% women in their lists of candidates for various positions. A partner at William Morris says she’s now set up meetings for multiple female writers and directors for future Star Wars projects.
It’s heartening to hear these people in charge actually commit to making a change. Even if it all boils down to a financial decision, who cares? Do you think Sony cares about men’s feelings? Hell no. They care about their purchasing power. I just want them to care about my money as much as they care about a guy’s. I don’t know why they kept this meeting a secret, especially since so much of this is about taking a public stance to let their industry as well as their audience know they’re committed to change. But as long as they’re working, and people are talking, this can only be a good thing, right?