(The 2019 Annapolis Film Festival, out of Annapolis, MD, featured 70 films in 4 days and ran March 21-24. Lead critic Chris Reed was on the ground there and offered his usual compelling slate of reviews and interviews! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not share just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
In This Changes Everything, documentarian Tom Donahue (Thank You for Your Service) chronicles the never-ending struggle of women in Hollywood to achieve something resembling gender parity. With a cast of interview subjects that includes Jessica Chastain, Julie Dash, Geena Davis, Rosario Dawson, Patty Jenkins, Callie Khouri, Tiffany Hadish, Taraji P. Henson, Sandra Oh, Natalie Portman, Shonda Rhimes, Amanda Stenberg, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and many more, the film offers story after story of discrimination across multiple eras and studios. Where (white) men hold power and feel invulnerable, they will act accordingly and subjugate everyone else to their will. So goes human behavior…at least until now.
Fortunately, we may finally be in a moment where real change could happen (though as one interviewee says, we’ve certainly heard the “this changes everything” line before, to little effect), thanks in part to actual data to prove that gender (and racial) bias exist. That data comes to us in part via Davis (an executive producer on the film), whose Institute on Gender in Media commissioned a study to examine the number of roles given to women vs. those given to men, particularly in media targeted to children. Representation matters, especially for the young, as when they see themselves on screen, they internalize the normality of their active role in society. And representation matters just as much behind the camera (writers, directors, producers) as in front of it.
Davis is not the only activist. Chastain, Rhimes and Witherspoon all do their part with their own production companies; I think my favorite act of resistance is Chastain’s, who insists on removing all character descriptions of women from scripts, since they are so often written in a prejudicial way with words that emphasize appearance rather than behavior. There’s journalist Maureen Ryan, of Variety, as well, whose reporting on the inequities of broadcast companies leads FX CEO John Landgraf to reconsider his network’s hiring practices, completely turning things around within a year. Ryan calls it “the best thing that’s ever happened” to her, seeing articles she has written change the world, and we should all be grateful for her work. Especially, as Landgraf emphatically states, since diversity is not only a necessary ethical goal, but also improves the quality of output (FX now routinely wins, or is nominated for, Emmys).
And then there’s director Maria Giese, who has gathered data of her own for a lawsuit filed with the American Civil Liberties Union. Nothing may come of it, or it could forever alter the media landscape, since it alleges that the studios are in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Such suits have come up before, but now, once more, there is data. Will this change everything? We shall see. In the meantime, hear these women roar.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)
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