2015 marked a gender quake in the film and TV worlds. The conversation surrounding women in Hollywood — both those working onscreen and behind the scenes — is in a very different place than it was just 12 months ago. Women and some men are speaking out against sexism — be it in the form of pay inequality, the dearth of opportunities for women directors, homophobia, racism and ageism in the entertainment industry — at unprecedented rates. Voices of dissent are getting louder.
This has been a historically monumental year for women. We’re in the midst of a seismic shift, and our collection of the most brilliantly feminist moments of the year are only some of the most memorable highlights that defined 2015 for us.
Patricia Arquette Rallies for Pay Equality
Picking up the feminist torch from Cate Blanchett’s Oscar speech last year (“The world is round, people!”), Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) gave this year’s Academy Awards ceremony its first jolt by calling for equal rights and equal pay for women at the podium.
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” declared Arquette. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!” The crowd roared, but none could match the enthusiasm of Meryl Streep, who yelled, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” while her seatmate Jennifer Lopez arguably clapped harder than anyone else in the room.
“I knew that pay inequality was a risky thing to bring up at the Oscars,” wrote Arquette in a recently published an essay on The Hollywood Reporter. She explained, “There is an unspoken understanding that you shouldn’t be political on that stage. But the truth is, I don’t think women can wait anymore. We have to be political.” We couldn’t agree more. Arquette’s risky decision was brave and essential, and her Oscars acceptance speech is easily one of our most memorable awards show moments of all-time.
Viola Davis Becomes the First African-American Winner in the Best Actress in a Drama Category at the Emmys
“The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” Viola Davis proclaimed said in an acceptance speech that quoted Harriet Tubman. “You cannot win an Emmy for a role that isn’t there.” The “How to Get Away With Murder” actress then thanked “people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons and Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goodes, to Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line.”
Even more wonderfully, Davis was hardly the only black female winner of the night; she was also joined by Uzo Aduba, Regina King and “Bessie” writer-director Dee Rees.
“Grey’s Anatomy” Ages Like Fine Wine
Shows don’t usually get better and stronger in their later years, but in its 12th season, “Grey’s Anatomy” has become one of the most explicitly feminist shows on TV. The medical soap has always been feminist, but this year Shonda Rhimes has taken it to another level. The show explicitly discussed how all the hospital heads were women, helped give us a life lesson on pay disparity and talked about white privilege in an accessible and profound way. Rhimes continues to prove why she is the most powerful woman in TV.
Amy Schumer’s Meteoric Rise
This year, Amy Schumer vaulted onto Hollywood’s A-List. Positive reviews and Schumer’s rising profile helped steer “Trainwreck,” which she penned, to the number-two spot at the domestic box office its opening week. The film grossed nearly $140 million worldwide on a budget of $35 million.
In addition to her success on the big screen, Schumer picked up a full mantle’s worth of Emmy and Peabody awards for her Comedy Central series, where she tackled body image, rape culture and sexism for an ever-increasing viewership. She also premiered her HBO standup special and became the first female comedian to headline Madison Square Garden. As for upcoming projects, Schumer, (along with her producer sister Kim Caramele) is co-writing a movie with a new friend who just so happens to be arguably the biggest movie star in the world: Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence and Schumer will play sisters in the film. Schumer and Caramele are also collaborating on a script for a mother-daugther comedy that will star Schumer. Paul Feig is attached to produce.
“Suffragette” Both Chronicles and Creates Herstory
We all know that women’s historical stories are missing from the movie theaters. “Suffragette” tells the story of the ordinary women in Britain who fought for the right to vote, the right be be counted equally. We don’t think there has ever been a more feminist movie made, and the whole female team behind it — who worked for a decade to get this story told — has made an important contribution to film herstory.
Jennifer Lawrence Is Done With Being Likable, Vows to Demand the Money She’s Entitled To
Jennifer Lawrence received a Golden Globe, a BAFTA award and her third Oscar nomination for her performance in “American Hustle.” But the period crime drama has also become an albatross for the hyper-accomplished actress since the Sony hack, which revealed that Lawrence, the second-youngest Best Actress Oscar winner ever, and Amy Adams, a five-time Oscar nominee, were paid less than their three male co-stars.
The Sony hack made Lawrence the inadvertent poster child for Hollywood’s pay gap — a state of affairs the actress stayed quiet about, until October. In a brief, dense and passionate essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter, Lawrence was honest about how she didn’t fight for more money because A) she didn’t need it and B) she was afraid of appearing “difficult” and “spoiled.” But now, she declared, “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable.” She resolved, “Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.” This year, Lawrence also announced that she has plans to direct.
The Women of Hollywood Speak Out in New York Times Magazine
This was the year when women in Hollywood said ENOUGH. The voices of women — which had been simmering under the surface of the culture and the industry for years — burst forth with such force that no one in the business could ignore them. Women, particularly the lack of female filmmakers, are a major subject the studio heads are now routinely asked about. In addition, The Hollywood Reporter abandoned it’s 1-100 ranking of women this year, opting to list women without order. There have been significant media pieces that fueled the conversation first: Jennifer Lawrence’s Lenny letter essay on pay equity, followed closely by the six-months researched Maureen Dowd cover story in the NY Times Magazine. Both those pieces drew an indelible line, marking a before and after moment for this conversation.
Jessica Chastain Pens Essay on the Importance of Women-Directed Films
“I want to make sure I’m contributing to creating diversity in the industry,” wrote Jessica Chastain just last week in a guest feature for The Hollywood Reporter. Chastain has a long and inspiring history of championing Hollywood inclusivity, both behind and in front of the camera, so this essay was far from the first time she directly contributed to revitalizing the industry by pushing the dialogue forward. Chastain’s piece argued that “sex really isn’t the qualifier in the way someone directs,” but vowed that she doesn’t want the percentage of female directors she works with to match the unacceptably low status quo of Hollywood at large. Kudos to a major A-list star using her clout to stand up for female filmmakers and acknowledging that they simply “are not given the same opportunity” as their male counterparts.
Ava DuVernay Barbie Flies Off the (Virtual) Shelves
Mattel first introduced an Ava DuVernay doll back in April as part of its “Sheroes” line, described by the toy company as “female heroes who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere.” DuVernay’s considerable fan base — namely her 141,000 Twitter followers — convinced Mattel to mass produce the pint-sized iteration of the “Selma” director, which went on sale in the first week of December. The doll sold out online in 17 minutes.
Barbie has a (deservedly) bad rep for perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards, so we were thrilled to see the company celebrating women for what they do rather than what they look like with the Sheroes line. Now it’s clear that immortalizing history-making helmer DuVernay was a great business decision as well. We can only hope the limited-edition Barbie goes on sale again soon.
Jill Soloway Brings Attention to the Trans Community’s Struggles in “Transparent”
Everyone fell in love with the first season of “Transparent.” Season Two began streaming last week, and critical adoration has only intensified with the new batch of episodes. The Amazon series focuses on a trans protagonist, was created by a woman (Jill Soloway) and only one episode of its sophomore season was directed by a cis male.
During Soloway’s Emmy acceptance speech for directing, she thanked her “moppa” for inspiring the show and reminded everyone watching that trans people can still be legally discriminated against in more than 30 states. “We don’t have a trans tipping point,” she said of the headlines we’ve been seeing recently. “We have a trans civil rights problem.”
A common — and very understandable — criticism of the series is that main character, a trans woman, is portrayed by a cis man (Jeffrey Tambor). Trans actors and actresses are seriously underrepresented in media — hello, “The Danish Girl” — so we were especially heartened by the success of the indie breakout “Tangerine,” which stars two trans women (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor).
ACLU Pushes Investigation into Discrimination Against Women Directors
A big part of Hollywood’s gender quake was the letter the ACLU sent to three government agencies, including the EEOC, asking them to investigate the “systemic failure to hire women directors.” This work began way back in 2013, when Maria Giese, a one-time promising director, spent many years being shut out of opportunities to further her career. She was not alone in being thwarted, yet she did something about it. And so now the EEOC has begun their investigation, with at least 50 women directors receiving letters asking them to come and testify to see if there are federal and state gender-discrimination cases to be made. While the studio folks might not yet be shaking in their boots, one would assume that as the investigation moves forward — and we learn more about the entertainment industry’s institutional sexism through blogs like Shit People Say to Women Directors — female moviegoers will think more about supporting female-centric and women-directed films. We here at Women and Hollywood will continue to be hopeful while continuing to agitate for change.
Superheroines Make Their Mark on the Small Screen
We’re still (eagerly, angrily) awaiting a female-superhero film on the big screen, but this year, three heroines with origins in the comics world (finally!) made their debut on TV. CBS’s “Supergirl” tied for the biggest fall premiere this year, and our TV critic Sara Stewart championed the show for baring “feminist conflicts, not abs.” ABC’s “Agent Carter” doesn’t feature a super-powered heroine, but Hayley Atwell’s Peggy is dashingly clever and inspiringly righteous. But our favorite among the batch is Netflix’s critical darling “Jessica Jones,” which offers a broody lead who rocks a signature leather jacket and wouldn’t be caught dead in a cape. The hard-drinking P.I. (Krysten Ritter) is more likely to be found on a wanted ad than a cereal box. Creator Melissa Rosenberg has created a fascinating neo-noir about sexual assault and partner abuse, locating her (painfully familiar) villain in a man who tells women to “smile.” It’s a brave new world for the traditionally male-dominated comics world — and pop culture in general.