‘It’s time for action’: ‘Systemic Change Project’ pushes for more women in film and TV

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Natalie Dormer, left, and Jennifer Lawrence star in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2." Lionsgate photo

Natalie Dormer, left, and Jennifer Lawrence star in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.” Lionsgate photo

Leaders from studios, production companies and talent agencies released in the past week the results of a two-day October brain-storming designed to launch the private “Systemic Change Project,” a joint initiative of Women in Film Los Angeles and the Sundance Institute.

According to Variety, the project follows research by the organizations that revealed the massive disproportion of men to women in the entertainment industry. The two organizations leading the October sessions sponsored research by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that generated some of my least-favorite statistics: less than 2 percent of last year’s 100 top-grossing films were led by female directors and only about one in five of the films featured a female lead character.

“After three years of doing research, it’s time for action,” said Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women in Film Los Angeles, told Variety. “This is a deeply-rooted, systemic problem that is going to take a complex solution…. This is a first step. It’s not the end game.

I’d say it’s well past time for action, and some of the actions proposed in this ‘Systemic Change Project’ seem promising.

Although details of specific initiatives have not been hashed out, the trade publication reports that the two days of meetings at the Pacific Design Center in October brought together individuals from CAA, WME, Warner Brothers, Marvel Studios, Miramax, Lionsgate and Tristar Pictures. The influential insiders said that they are determined to push entertainment companies to employ more women in acting, writing, directing and other positions.

Women in Film L.A. and the Sundance Institute are working to create specific guidelines to create a “gender parity stamp,” a mark of approval that would be given to films and TV programs that provide substantial employment opportunities to women, according to Variety.

Other ideas on the drawing board: hiring an educator who would be able to train individuals and organizations about unconscious biases; choosing a dozen early- to mid-career directors for a special year-long training and fellowship program; and the promotion of more “ambassadors,” industry leaders who will push inside their companies for more gender parity.

According to the trade publication, the October discussions rightly emphasized that hiring more female directors, writers and actors is not just a moral imperative, but an economic one, since it means creating films and shows that appeal to a wider audience.

“As someone who has professionally and creatively greatly benefited from women as protagonists, directors, producers, writers, fellow executives and audiences, gender parity has always seemed like the most win-win goal for anyone in the entertainment industry,” Erik Feig, co-president of Lionsgate, said in a statement about the October gathering. “So getting behind this objective was a very easy decision for me.”

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 tops box office for third straight week

Feig definitely speaks the truth: Lionsgate’s franchise-capping sequel The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 topped the box office this weekend for the third straight week. The Jennifer Lawrence star vehicle took in an estimated $18.6 million in the U.S. and Canada, bringing its domestic total to $227 million, reports the Associated Press.

The final movie installment for bow-wielding Katniss Everdeen pushed past $500 million worldwide, another hit for Lionsgate, which has staked its claim on the young adult market, especially young women. It hopes to keep rolling with its franchise film strategy with Allegiant, the third film in the Shailene Woodley-led Divergent series due out in March.

Daisy Ridley stars in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Lucasfilm photo

Daisy Ridley stars in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Lucasfilm photo

New women of Star Wars speak out before The Force Awakens

We’re now less than two weeks away from the opening of one of the most long-awaited sequels in the galaxy, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and Meredith Woerner of the Los Angeles Times has an excellent feature on four of the women who are the stars of the film: apparent lead Daisy Ridley, who plays ace pilot and scavenging survivor Rey; Carrie Fisher, who reprises her groundbreaking part as the rebel leader Princess Leia, who has since become a general; Gwendoline Christie, who plays the formidable Capt. Phasma, the female villain in a “Star Wars” movie; and Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm.

Here a few highlights from the must-read feature:

– “Rey’s not important because she’s a woman, she’s just important,” Ridley says. “But obviously, having a woman like this in a film is hugely important.”

– Ridley says the parts Hollywood has offered her since “Star Wars” haven’t lived up to Rey. “I understand sexism is going on, and I’ve seen it actually more this year being out of the film in the scripts I’m being sent. Sometimes I’m reading it and I’m thinking, ‘Are you for real? Literally the bit on the side?’ That’s not cool.”

– Fisher says Rey doesn’t need to live up to Princess Leia’s legacy: “It’s a new generation doing what they have to do or what they feel they need to do. What’s good is that they’re confident and capable, and that they don’t stop. They don’t not do things just because they’re afraid to do them. They’re relatable, again. This girl I think is more relatable. Well, in that she is not a princess militant,” Fisher says.

– “Kathleen Kennedy said to me, ‘Have you ever Googled ‘female heroines’? I said, ‘No,’ and she did it for me. If you do it, there are a lot of scantily clad women. Now women should be allowed to dress exactly however they choose, but the idea that you Google female heroines and there isn’t a diverse range of examples that come up, I find it a bit depressing,” Christie says.

“The reason I love my character so much and I feel so enthusiastic about Capt. Phasma is, yes, she’s cool, she looks cool, she’s a villain — but more than that, we see a female character and respond to her not because of the way she looks. We respond to her because of her actions.”

– “I have a story department up at Lucasfilm, and four out of the six people who make up that story department are women,” Kennedy says. “So there were as many women sitting in the room having those discussion as there were men. I think that, in and of itself, is what really began to help [Rey] take shape in a way that was relevant to us. And hopefully relevant to other women seeing the film. I think having all those voices in the room, along with mine, was extremely important.”

Charlize Theron plays Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road" Warner Bros. photo

Charlize Theron plays Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” Warner Bros. photo

Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, Ex Machina earn accolades

Although the fact-based investigative journalism saga Spotlight has dominated the film awards season so far, Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol and Ex Machina are among the movies starring women that have earned accolades.

The National Board of Review has named Warner Bros.’ Mad Max: Fury Road, one of my favorite movies of the year, as the best film of 2015, according to Deadline.com. George Miller’s post-apocalyptic sequel stars Charlize Theron as a hard-bitten warrior who rebels against a tyrannical overlord with the help of a drifter named Mad Max (Tom Hardy).

The period romantic drama Carol, starring Rooney Mara as a store clerk who falls for Cate Blanchett’s older married woman, was the big winner at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, earning best film, best director for Todd Haynes, best screenplay for Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel and best cinematography for Edward Lachman’s visuals, Deadline.com reports.

Alex Garland’s sci-fi movie “Ex Machina,” about a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who faces off against an artificial intelligence housed in the body of a beautiful robotic woman (Alicia Vikander), likewise garnered four British Independent Film Awards. The movie won best film, Garland took the prizes for director and screenplay, and the craft award was picked up by Andrew Whitehurst for the film’s visual effects, according to Variety.

Hopefully, we’ll see even more movies about women – and even better, by women filmmakers – honored during the awards season.

Barbra Streisand. Photo provided

Barbra Streisand. Photo provided

Quick hitters

Barbra Streisand makes directorial return. Barbra Streisand, one of the most prominent female directors, is tackling the story of one of history’s most powerful women, Catherine the Great, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

She is attached to direct the biopic of the Russian empress, with the project, being produced by Gil Netter.

With the biopic, Streisand will return to the director’s chair for her first dramatic movie since 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces.

Stephany Folsom picks up pen for next Thor movie. Stephany Folsom has been tapped to work on the script for Thor: Ragnarok, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Christopher Yost and Craig Kyle previously worked on the script.

Folsom also wrote the script for The Princess of North Sudan, Disney’s in-development princess tale inspired by the true account of an American man claiming a territory in Africa and proclaiming himself and his family its royal rulers.

In October, Taika Waititi, who co-wrote and co-directed the terrific vampire spoof What We Do in the Shadows (another of my favorite films released this year) came on board as director Thor: Ragnarok, which will have the thunder god (Chris Hemsworth) teaming up with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Mary Walsh cracks funny bones, hearts with Whistler Film Fest keynote. Canadian writer, actress, producer and director Mary Walsh delivered an insightful, irreverent, hilarious and sad-but-true keynote speech at the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia. She argues convincingly that now is the time for gender parity, if not for any other reason than the fact it happens to be 2015, which means it’s long overdue. It’s a must-read speech that you can check out courtesy the Alliance of Women Film Journalists by clicking here.



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