I’m in the midst of reading an extremely powerful book about residential schools in Canada. However, the subject matter is very difficult, so it is a challenging read. Yet, it has been a long time since I posted on this blog. So when I saw this incredible documentary recently, I knew I had my next blog post.
The documentary opens with some of the most powerful female voices in the media industry discussing those experiences and the importance of including women in media. Shonda Rhimes, Geena Davis, Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Oh, and many others open the film. It is powerful, not only in its primary use of women voices, but also in its recognition of the fact that most media consumed worldwide is produced in the United States, which often has a misogynistic take.
The first film reflected on is Thelma and Louise, starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. It was written by Callie Khouri, who was tired of women only being objects in media. Geena discussed how big of an impact starring in this film had on her life.
It’s unusual seeing women as complicated, able to make mistakes, able to be funny and sexual, and troubled.Lesli Link Latter, Director of Homeland TV series
At one point, the film discusses a phenomenon called The CSI Effect. It was extremely prevalent after Brave and The Hunger Games were released. The amount of girls taking up archery increased beyond that of adult men. Seeing strong women in the forensics field on screen opened the floodgates for women getting involved in the real life forensic science field. Marg Helgenberger, who plays Catherine Willows in CSI, spoke about the power that her role had on young women and girls. They loved the show and the strength of her character. She wasn’t typecast into a girlfriend role, but was a lead character. Helgenberger even mentions that women are half the workforce in the forensic science field now.
Personally, I loved CSI as a kid, and even now, though finding it to watch is hard. I even toyed with the idea of going into that field before I realized that it would involve, you know, science and clearly, I’m more on the artistic side of things. That’s why seeing a film like The Hours was powerful for me. It was a woman writer and women readers on the screen. Virginia Woolf was famous for her work as a writer, so seeing her on screen even in a fictional atmosphere inspired me to keep writing.
Maria Giese’s experience of becoming a director is powerful and eye-opening. While in film school, the students were 50/50 women and men. After graduating, she shot her first feature film within a year. Then the work dried up.
I started to watch my male peers being celebrated and beloved filmmakers. I didn’t see that happening for any of my women friends at all.Maria Giese
In this vein, Marg Helgenberger notes that she acted in 265 episodes of CSI, but that she can count on one hand the number of female directors who directed an episode. Gillian Anderson notes that she has worked on between 30 and 40 films, but has only worked with probably 3 women directors. Ellen Pompeo hadn’t worked with a single female director until she was cast on Grey’s Anatomy. Natalie Portman has worked with 2 female directors on feature films and she was one of them.
The Hurt Locker (2008) directed by Katherine Bigelow is the only film directed by a women to win an Academy Award for Best Director, until 2020 when Chloé Zhao won for Nomadland. That is 2 women directors since the award started in 1927, just shy of a century ago. In fact, only 7 women have ever been NOMINATED for the Best Director award. Two of those women were in 2021 (Chloé Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman”). This is the first time that two women have been nominated at the same time for this award. The other five women are Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” (1976), Jane Campion for “The Piano” (1993), Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” (2003), and Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird” (2017). A full list of the nominees and winners can be found here.
Then even when there are female directors with female leads, there are still a host of problems as most of the crew are men. While talking about the experience of making Carrie (2013), Chloë Grace Moretz mentioned that men on the crew kept trying to tell her and Kimberly Peirce (director) how the period scene should be depicted. Since you know, men are the only ones who can possibly understand what it is like to have a period*. This was her first time on set with a female director and it was clear to her how little respect there is for women in the industry. Kimberly even describes it as men failing upward and women succeeding downward.
*To clarify, this is sarcasm. Also it is not meant in anyway to be transphobic. I’m well aware that there are men out there who experience menstruation. However, I highly doubt that any of those men were on set having those discussions with Chloe and Kimberly.
Of the top 100 grossing films of 2018, 85% of writers were male.The Celluloid Ceiling – quoted in film
The documentary discusses the titles of some of the movies that were supposed to change everything:
- Thelma and Louise
- The First Wives Club
- Twilight series
- Mean Girls
- Hidden Figures
And yet, nothing changed.
So Geena Davis decided it was time to do something about it. She created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Then the institute conducted the largest scale study on women in media. The study looked at a total of 122 films (all rated G, PG or PG-13) from 18 different distributors between 2006 and 2009. It examined the speaking roles and found that 70.8% of ALL speaking characters were male. And this is in movies for kids!!
Before they delve into what they are doing to combat the sexism in Hollywood, they mention the Bechdel Test. This is a very simple test to determine if there is some semblance of gender balance in a movie or TV episode. There are 3 parts to this test:
- It must have at least two women in it,
- Who must talk to each other,
- About something other than a man.
While films like Mean Girls, Moana and Titanic pass, Deadpool fails. Some other movies that also fail are: Shrek, all 3 of the Lord of the Rings movies, La La Land, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Finding Nemo. American Hustle passes because two women have a conversation about nail polish. So it is not a perfect test, but a surprising number of films still fail it. You can find out more about the rating system here.
After discussing the Bechdel Test, the documentaries follows the efforts of the many women in Hollywood to change the way things are done. They discuss how when film began, there was a lot of gender equality until sound entered movies. Then funding was required and women were essentially locked out of the industry. There are mentions of court cases and ACLU documents, EEOC investigations and the inaugural Women’s March of 2017.
Overall, this is a fantastic, informative, and impactful documentary. If you love movies, I highly recommend it to you. The strength behind every single woman who appears on screen in the documentary is inspiring. It makes me proud to call myself a feminist and an artist. They have fought for every single project, speaking role, and moment on screen. Consumers, like you and me, need to respect that with supporting the projects that matter, the projects that actually support the hard work and artistic design of these women.
Hopefully, this time, it will actually change everything.
If I could go back and talk to my teenage self, I would say, actually, you’ll learn a feminist is exactly what you wanna be and people will come to realize that what’s good for women is good for everyone.Geena Davis
While the documentary itself was directed by a man, the film was made with a crew of over 75% women. They also showed mostly women on the screen.
You can watch This Changes Everything on Netflix. Have you seen it? Let me know what you think in the comments.