To say it’s hard for a woman to break through behind the scenes in Hollywood is an understatement. Of course, it’s also hard for women to succeed in Silicon Valley. Or the White House. Look, sometimes it just sucks to be a woman in general.
But especially in Hollywood, ok. A point that has become abundantly clear this week, thanks to two stories that have been making the rounds. Ready for your Friday afternoon rage-read? Sexism, take it awayyyyy!
First up: fuck The Simpsons. Ok, maybe not the show as an entire entity. Don’t have a cow, etc. etc. But fuck some of the behind-the-scenes garbage that occurred, particularly during the early seasons. Cartoonist Mimi Pond recently spoke to Jezebel about her upcoming graphic novel, and the conversation circled around to her time writing for the long-running cartoon. To be clear — she wrote only one episode. It turned out to be the very first episode, thanks to a fluke with the scheduling, but in a way she helped launch the show that would go on to become a singular cultural phenomenon. And then she was never invited to join the staff or contribute in any additional way.
You may be wondering why. And so was she. But she did eventually discover the reason — her gender. Let’s hear her explain it, shall we?
And it wasn’t until years later that I found out that Sam Simon, who was the showrunner, didn’t want any women around because he was going through a divorce. It had remained a boys’ club for a good long time. I feel like I was just as qualified as anyone else who came along and got hired on the show, and it was just because I was a woman that I was, you know, not allowed entry into that club.
Gosh, emotional men being emotional! Say it ain’t so! Clearly not being around women in the workplace is the answer. We should really respect the guy for prioritizing his own mental health above the career advancement of qualified artists, amirite?
But, you know, that happened almost 3 decades ago (related: I’m feeling old now). Surely things have gotten better, right?
Well, not if you’re an assistant who wanted to observe A Day Without a Woman on March 8th without your talent manager boss getting huffy. Rosette Laursen recently shared some disturbing emails she inadvertently received from her former boss, Michael Einfeld (who meant to share his thoughts with two of her male coworkers but instead sent them to the entire team — Laursen included). His response, with spelling errors fixed, went thusly: “Are you f—ing kidding me. At the end of pilot season. Someone should sew her vagina shut. I’m never hiring a girl ever again.”
Oh but wait! There’s more, thanks to an additional email! “No bonus for anyone that strikes or leaves early in pilot season. No one is striking in show business we are all against Trump. And women are considered diverse and being shoved in as writer and directors. Zach who is a Jewish male is being pushed out. Uppity Selfish C-t. Heather went to work. I’m sure anyone at a casting office or agency would be fired.”
Please remember, this was all in response to a subordinate staff member requesting the option of observing International Women’s Day. Kinda proves the point of the whole event, don’t it?
To be fair, Einfeld did quickly realize just how fucked up that was… but he didn’t make things better. He texted an apology to Laursen when he realized, you know, that his own assistant saw him recommend her vagina get sewn shut. But the apology somehow managed to be kind of MORE offensive? You decide: “I apologize for venting like a misogynistic faggot,” he said. “I was letting off steam I didn’t mean to hit reply all. I’m an a-hole. If you come back we can play Nazi death camp. You can beat me and put me in the oven. Or feed me cabbage and lock me in the shower. I am truly sorry.”
Yeah, so Laursen quit. Obviously. And decided to pursue legal action. But when Einfeld didn’t respond to her lawyers, she took her case to the court of public opinion by posting her receipts on Facebook. Which certainly got her old boss to pay attention! Along with, you know, the media.
Last night, Einfeld emailed a response to the controversy to his clients, friends, and colleagues. As far as mea culpas go, it’s pretty good. But it isn’t clear if he’s tried to say any of this to Laursen herself.
“Let me say without reservation - I am sorry. I used language that was tasteless, humorless and completely inexcusable. I believe deeply in workplace diversity regardless of race, gender, creed or sexual orientation, and I am mortified that the things I have said have worked against my commitment to inclusion. As I’ve searched for a response to all this, what I’ve discovered is that words fall woefully short of my extreme remorse - I am so sorry,” Einfeld wrote. “I will be undertaking some obviously needed introspection, and want to thank those of you who have expressed a willingness to standby me. To those that feel they need space from me - I am heartbroken but understand. If it were possible, I wouldn’t mind space from myself right now. Again, to everyone - I am sorry. If this is something you are willing to hear from me in person please call, or send me a note and I’ll call you. I am devastated, and hope in time you will consider giving me the chance to earn your forgiveness.”
So, that happened. But lest you think it’s all doom and gloom for ladies trying to get ahead behind the camera, this week also brought a rather delightful bit of news. At the TCAs, FX hosted a panel of seven female directors who have gotten a leg up in the industry thanks to Ryan Murphy’s Half foundation. Launched just last year, Half aims to have women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community account for 50 percent of all director positions, in addition to outreach efforts and mentorships to promote diversity.
Many of the women on the panel, including Rachel Goldberg, Alexis Ostrander, and Liza Johnson, have gotten their biggest opportunities by directing episodes of Murphy shows or other FX properties. And a big topic was the catch-22 that occurs when you’re looking for your big break. Studios won’t let you helm a film without at least a TV episode on your resume, but you can’t direct a TV episode without showing feature film experience. Basically, no one wants to be the first to take a risk and give a new voice a chance, which is why having a foundation like Half is so important to help open up opportunities.
Regarding having Murphy as an ally, Goldberg said: “He told me, ‘50 year-old white men make chances, and I’m now a 50 year-old white man, so I’ll make changes.’ And he did. He shows you can give these women opportunities, and they won’t fuck it up. It’s ok to take the risk.”
Dudes in Hollywood — that’s how it’s done.