Women in film and TV marked milestones in 2015, but do the milestones mark lasting change?

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

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

The Force is about to awaken, and question is not if the Star Wars: Episode VII will break records but if long-awaited sequel can actually break records for breaking records.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens already has crossed the marks for most advanced ticket sales and most advanced IMAX ticket sales, per The Wrap, but it also predicted to challenge the records for best December opening, best domestic opening weekend, best worldwide opening weekend, most number of screens for an opening weekend, top-grossing franchise and fastest movie to reach $1 billion.

All these records may be broken by a movie that features a woman pilot as its apparent protagonist (Daisy Ridley’s Rey), a formidable female villain (Gwendoline Christie’s Capt. Phasma) and a one-time princess who is now a general (Carrie Fisher’s Leia).

In that sense, The Force Awakens may be the perfect movie to cap 2015, a year in which movies and TV shows starring and about women were huge hits – and Hollywood’s shortcomings in putting women in charge behind the cameras were constantly in the news.

At the box office, Paul Feig’s Spy, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (which again topped the domestic box office for a fourth straight time this weekend, according to the Los Angeles Times) have all been big successes. Even better, Fifty Shades of Grey and Pitch Perfect 2 raked in the cash with both female directors (Sam Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Banks, respectively) behind the camera and women in the lead roles.

Films about women like Carol, Brooklyn and Room also are racking up wins and nominations as awards season progresses.

On TV, femme-centric series like CBS’ Supergirl, ABC’s Scandal (from showrunner Shonda Rimes) and Netflix’s Jessica Jones (from showrunner Melissa Rosenberg) have earned strong reviews and solid viewership.

Even when the news wasn’t so good, it stayed in the news, with groups from UCLA and USC releasing a steady stream of sobering statistics about the dearth of women behind the camera. At the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission started this fall interviewing female directors who said they have faced discrimination in the entertainment industry.

Patricia Arquette spoke out for equal pay for women in her Oscars acceptance speech, Viola Davis advocated for equal opportunities for women of color at the Emmys, and Jennifer Lawrence finally wrote an essay revealing her thoughts about the news – revealed via the Sony hacking scandal – that she got paid less than her male counterparts on the movie American Hustle.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Meryl Streep is backing a lab for female screenwriters older than 40; Selma director Ava DuVernay has used the success of her best picture-nominated film to broaden the scope of her distribution company, Array, which releases films by women and directors of color; and in May, female filmmaker Destri Martino created the Director List, a database of more than 1,000 working female filmmakers designed to be used by executives and producers looking to find female candidates for jobs.

As 2015 comes to a close, the question becomes are these milestones just high points of a particularly good year? Or are they markers on the road to true change? The truth is, movies about and directed by women were not the rarity they have become in the early days of Hollywood. And the entertainment industry has had its moments, particularly in the 1980s, when it vowed to change and seemed to for a while before slipping back into its comfort zone of unconscious bias and systemic sexism.

As the New Year approaches, the challenge seems to be ensuring that now that the forces for change have awakened for women that we keep the fight on for fairness and equal representation.

Jessica Chastain is filming "The Zookeeper's Wife." Photo provided

Jessica Chastain is filming “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” Photo provided

Praise for women-helmed film sets

Two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain has penned an essay for The Hollywood Reporter about the amazing experience she’s having in Prague filming director Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife.

“I’ve never been on a set with so many women. We’re not even 50 percent of the crew — we’re probably something like 20 percent women and 80 percent men — but it’s way more than I’ve ever worked with on a film before. There are female producers (Diane Levin, Kim Zubick and Katie McNeill), a female screenwriter (Angela Workman), a female novelist (Diane Ackerman), a female protagonist and a female director. I’ve never seen a female camera operator like Rachael Levine on one of my films. And I’ve never, ever seen a female stunt coordinator like Antje ‘Angie” Rau,’ Chastain writes.

She writes that her experience on the film has affirmed for her that when women are in positions of power, more women get hired.

“When you have both genders represented, then you have a healthier point of view. The energy is great, you all are working together as a community, and everyone is participating in the exchange of ideas. You don’t feel a hierarchy; you don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated. Sometimes being the only girl on a set, you can feel like a sexual object,” Chastain writes.

“I was talking to other actors about this recently, and the wonderful thing about having so many women on set is there hasn’t been anyone who has screamed or anything like that. It’s a very collaborative experience, and it’s been heaven for me. We all hang out all the time — there are no strange power plays or egos. We know how rare making this kind of film is. We’re giddy with happiness.”

Chastain’s essay echoes comments fellow Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan made to the New York Times about her experience working on Sarah Gavron’s fact-based period drama Suffragette, which boasted a set dominated by women.

“I’ve had really, really nice experiences with men as well, and very collaborative experiences. But I think in the past in rehearsal, there [have] been occasions where I’ve been like, ‘All right, I’m going to pick my battles.’ If I agree to do this scene in the way I’m not entirely convinced on, that maybe he’ll let me add this idea. On this film, there was no battle for anything. You didn’t have to be diplomatic, you just had to say what you thought and were excited by, and they were excited. Everything was just a conversation, and there was no kind of ego in the room,” Mulligan told NYT.

“I didn’t read the Jennifer Lawrence thing [her essay about the inequity in salaries for actors and actresses], but I know she talked about her being polite and being sick of being polite. I think everyone should be polite. But I’ve had to go in a couple of times when I haven’t felt like I was going to get my voice out and be really tough. That’s rubbish. I shouldn’t have to be tough to get my voice heard on a project. I should be part of the process.”

After playing a Middle Earth power player in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" movies, Cate Blanchett could be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in "Thor: Ragnarok." New Line Cinema photo

After playing a Middle Earth power player in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies, Cate Blanchett could be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Thor: Ragnarok.” New Line Cinema photo

Quick hitters

Cate Blanchett powering up Thor 3. Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is in final negotiations to join Thor: Ragnarok, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

The news comes shortly after Marvel Studios hired Stephany Folsom to work on the film, which will be helmed by What We Do in the Shadows’ Taika Waititi.

It is unclear what character Blanchett would play, but several sources tell the trade publication that Marvel has been on the hunt for a “bad-ass female,” which is always good news.

Women In Film announces grant recipients. Women In Film has announced the recipients of the organization’s 30th annual Film Finishing Fund grant program, including Children of the Mountain, directed, written, and produced by Priscilla Anany; the documentary Black Ballerina, directed and produced by Frances McElroy; and the short film Lacrimosa, directed, written and produced by Tanja Mairitsch. According to Deadline.com, AWOL, directed by Deb Shoval, was selected to receive the first annual $25,000 grant supported by Tiffany & Co.

THR releases Women in Entertainment Power 100. The Hollywood Reporter has released its 24th annual Women in Entertainment Power 100, although the trade publication opted this year to dispense with actually ranking the list. The list includes Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, comedic star Melissa McCarthy, actress-writer Amy Shumer, James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, actress/producer/director Elizabeth Banks, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger, 20th Century Fox co-chairman Stacey Snider, performer/producers Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and acting legend Meryl Streep, plus 90 more.

Barbra Streisand talks about being ‘difficult.’ Show biz legend Barbra Streisand was honored with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment event, and she spoke with the trade publication about her long career, including being labeled “difficult.”

“But what does “difficult” mean anyway? If a man on a set says something — “I want to change this shot” — they do whatever he says. Now, if a woman asks…” Streisand says.

She also talks about her experiences being labeled “aggressive”:

“That word ‘aggressive.’ That led me to write a speech for Women in Film about how language defines the problem of the way women and men are viewed. We’re just measured by a different standard. He’s ‘committed.’ She’s ‘obsessed.’ It’s been said that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Why can’t that be true of a woman

As previously reported, Streisand will make her long-awaited return to the director’s chair for her first dramatic movie since 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces with an upcoming biopic of Catherine the Great.


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