“I actually think women drive the box office,” said Sony chairman Tom Rothman at The Hollywood Reporter’s annual executive roundtable. This year has been dominated by headlines about sexism and feminism in Hollywood, and the 2015 edition of the roundtable followed suit, with discussions about the gendered pay gap, the ongoing lack of women directors at the studio level and what they can do about the unequal opportunities for female creatives and perfomers in the film industry.
Here are the highlights that refer to women’s issues in Holllywood.
The Pay Gap
Stacey Snider, Fox Co-Chair: The issue of opportunity for women is real, and it’s in front of us. It’s incumbent upon us as business leaders to really address it seriously.
Snider: The thing that Jennifer Lawrence did say [in her Lenny piece] that struck a chord with me is the techniques of women in terms of being liked and being polite. There was a great thing on the Internet about how women would say great quotes if asked. So instead of, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” the woman’s version would be, “You know, I have this idea and I’m not sure if I should bring it up in this meeting. But it seems that if we all pitched in, we could do a lot for the country.”
On the whole, though, the executives delivered boilerplate answers about how salaries are always variable according to the performer and where he/she is in his/her career, avoiding the question of institutional sexism. Rob Moore, Vice Chairman at Paramount, surmised that Lawrence may have been paid less than her “American Hustle” co-stars based on the “combination of [her] current market value and what [her] history had been to that point,” apparently forgetting that she is the star of two successful franchises and an Oscar winner to boot. More also mentioned that Scarlett Johansson is being paid a great deal of money for the upcoming “Ghost in the Shell” reboot, so I guess according to him having one woman being paid well solves the problem for all women in the industry.
Rob Friedman, Co-ChairmanLionsgate: Female directors are obviously something that we all pay attention to, and there are more coming. But if you look at the producing segment, there are a lot of very successful female producers who a lot of times go unheralded just because producers historically go unheralded.
Rothman: There’s a myth in the business that young males drive the box office. Maybe a decade ago or so, that was true. I don’t find that true now at all. I actually think women drive the box office. I’m very proud of the fact that right now we have five movies — two that are actively shooting and three that are actively prepping — with female directors. They are not “typical female” subject matter, and we have, for the first time, a woman directing the new “Underworld” movie (Anna Foerster). We have a Hispanic directing “Miracles From Heaven” (Patricia Riggen), and Jodie Foster’s just done a thriller for us (“Money Monster”). So there is growing diversity. More needs to be done. And there is a certain cynicism that needs to be overcome. When we announced an “all female” “Ghostbusters,” we actually didn’t say it was a female “Ghostbusters.” We announced that there were four women, and then it immediately became “female ‘Ghostbusters.'” Having seen it, it’s a f—ing hilarious “Ghostbusters.” So, that’s what it is. It’s the all-funny “Ghostbusters.”
Donna Langley, Chairman at Universal: I can say if female director X walked in and says, “I want to be considered for the next ‘Fast & Furious,'” we would have a conversation. I don’t have all of the answers as to why [there are so few women directors]. … That is certainly not to suggest that there are not female directors who also equally want to go and direct big tentpole films. Elizabeth Banks [of “Pitch Perfect 2”], by the way, is somebody who …
Rothman: We just hired Elizabeth Banks to direct “Charlie’s Angels”!
Langley: There you go…
Rothman: … And that is a big kick-ass action tentpole. It’s tonally not at all like the show was. It’s a pure, very visceral action film.
Langley: And her directing “Pitch Perfect” was very much a step toward her being able to go and put herself up for a film like that.
Unfortunately, no further female directors were mentioned in the roundtable.
Solutions to Sexism
Snider: I feel an obligation to look into it professionally in my executive capacity and also just as a woman in the business. I feel like I probably could mentor more. I could probably extend myself personally more to enable young female writers and directors to have some access and information about how to navigate through the process.
One of the male execs added that “the subject of equality for women in our industry should be a priority for us all.” If the powerful and influential men at the roundtable are actually doing something about instituting a more meritocratic system behind the scenes other than the handful of female-helmed movies at Sony, they’re apparently keeping it to themselves.