Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future. This week, we look back on a monumental year, for better or worse.
Ask enough women in Hollywood about being a woman in Hollywood, and eventually a theme emerges: conversation is great, and the acknowledgement of the skewed numbers and lack of equality is essential. It’s a discussion that needs to happen, but won’t it be great when we can stop just talking and put words into action?
It’s a two-pronged dream — that conversation will move past chatter and produce real results, and that those results will create a world where inequality becomes a thing of the past.
But talking has a way of being one-sided and, as it turns out, there needed to be one more step in between the chatter and actually moving things forward. That finally happened in 2017, the year people stopped talking, and started listening. The conversation is louder than ever, and the change — the real change — is coming.
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Here are five ways that women in the film industry have forever changed it.
Changing the Conversation About Sexual Harassment and Abuse
It’s the biggest story of the year, and one indicative of the sea change taking hold throughout Hollywood. Early stories, like the harassment charges leveled at Cinefamily brass and claims against Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles and his associates at the Alamo Drafthouse, hinted that long-held secrets and whisper networks were about to burst to the surface, but few could have anticipated either the wave of allegations against disgraced Weinstein Company co-founder Harvey Weinstein or the other revelations it would lead to involving other major players in the industry.
The list of the accused is staggering, ranging from power players like Weinstein and former Amazon head Roy Price; lauded newsmen Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer; performers Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Ed Westwick, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss, and Jeffrey Tambor; directors James Toback and Brett Ratner; and all the way down to small-scale media personalities like Andy Signore.
And of course, the allegations lead back to the man occupying the White House, thanks to that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape — a horrific slice of American history that owes its literal existence to tabloid television. While fallout has been swift for many of the accused, long-term effects still remain to be seen. It may seem like a lifetime ago, but the Weinstein accusations only hit in October. If there’s one thing that seems destined to forever change Hollywood and the wider world it touches, it’s these stories.
And why did they finally hit so hard this year? Why are there so many? Why aren’t they stopping? Because people finally started listening and believing women, not just “letting” them talk or nodding along. Women have mobilized (including, most notably, Rose McGowan, who has gathered a literal army around her), not letting up on these difficult stories and continuing to come forward with their experiences. That’s not to say that the path has been without its added hardships, from victim-shaming to secret operations aimed at silencing victims, but the conversation has turned a corner. It will never be forgotten, and it can no longer be ignored.
A Billion Dollar Box Office
This year’s box office played home to just 15 new studio releases from female directors and co-directors (and next year looks even worse, with just eight titles on the current schedule), but between those titles, female-directed features pulled in a massive $1.2 billion take at the global box office. Women don’t just make movies — all kinds, too, no matter what some people want you to believe — they make movies that people want to see.
Look no further than the number-two domestic earner of the year, Patty Jenkins’ boundary-busting “Wonder Woman,” which has so far earned over $412 million at the domestic box office, second only to the juggernaut that is “Beauty and the Beast.” When it opened in June, “Wonder Woman” set a new record for a female-directed feature opening, earning $100M in its first weekend and far surpassing the last film to hold the record, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s 2015 hit “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which opened to just over $85 million. Next up for Jenkins: a well-earned sequel that will likely only continue Wonder Woman’s legacy with further success.
In the indie sphere, money-making women are also emerging in full force, including the similarly record-breaking Greta Gerwig, whose acclaimed “Lady Bird” became the best-ever limited opening for a feature film directed by a woman. Just a month into release, and the awards season favorite is poised to break $20 million, while also racking up big accolades.
Gerwig is hardly alone, as this year’s highest-grossing indies list include six titles from fellow female filmmakers, including established filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola, alongside rising stars like Ry Russo-Young and Niki Caro (who will next direct Disney’s live-action “Mulan”).
Moving Past “Strong Female Characters”
Consider it a problem of semantics, but the concept of the “strong female character” no longer fully encapsulates the kind of women bursting out of the big screen. As Kate Winslet recently told IndieWire:
That word “strong,” I think it means prominent, dominating, female-driven. I think it means that we are taken through the thrust of a story by a woman, as opposed to a man. To be “strong” sometimes isn’t the most interesting thing. It is more interesting to be complicated, and vulnerable, and real, and terrified, and hopeful, and full of regret.
The female-centric stories of 2017 speak directly to that, offering up a chance to turn “strong” into “complex, interesting, complicated,” or even the most important designation of all: “real.”
Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” offers a vivid coming-of-age tale that eschews cliche and lets star Saoirse Ronan (as the eponymous Lady Bird) play a big, messy, character that’s so often glossed over in teen-leaning films. Russo-Young’s “Before I Fall” did something similar with a sci-fi twist, casting Zoey Deutch as a popular teen stuck in a “Groundhog Day”-style loop that literally requires she works towards becoming a better person before she can be freed from it. Stella Meghie’s charming “Everything, Everything” follows a teenage girl trapped inside her own home, thanks to a life-threatening disease that finds bodily threats at every turn. Meghie turned the story (based on a YA novel of the same name) into a funny and sweet story that also finds room to — GASP — portray teenage sexuality in an honest manner.
Action films gave women plenty of room to grow as well, from Anne Hathaway’s genre-bending turn in monster movie “Colossal” (itself one heck of a coming of age story) to Charlize Theron’s butt-kicking badass from “Atomic Blonde.” And what is 2017 without “Wonder Woman,” a crowdpleasing spectacle that didn’t balk at telling a decidedly woman-centric story within the context of the superhero genre, which so often can’t seem to get its heroines right?
Elsewhere, wild and raunchy women threatened to take the “crazy trip” comedy trope away from men once and for all, thanks to both “Girls Trip” and “Rough Night.” While both films went whole-hog on the comedy, they also offered up sweet and touching commentary on the importance of actual friendship, rendered most vividly by Tiffany Haddish’s breakout performance in the former, the kind of go-for-broke role that any performer dreams of nailing — or, such as the case may be, grapefruiting.
Some of the year’s most lauded films also hinge on its complex female characters, including Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” which sees Meryl Streep breathing profound life into the remarkable world of Katharine Graham; “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” gave Frances McDormand a well-deserved lead role that she grabbed with both hands. Both are — quite rightly — deep in the awards conversation as best actress contenders. Other awards hopefuls, such as documentaries “Jane” and “Faces Places,” follow real-life women into new spaces, contextualizing their contributions to a world still grappling to know them fully.
Introducing More Directors of Color
A record-breaking six female directors of color released feature-length films this year through studios and well-known distributors, including Stella Meghie, the only black woman with a wide release film this year, and Dee Rees, entering the Oscar conversation with her Sundance favorite “Mudbound.”
Rees and Meghie were joined by names like Amma Asante, Angela Robinson, Maggie Betts, and Janicza Bravo, whose very different films speak to the range of creativity currently being exerted by black female directors. Asante and Betts both churned out compelling historical dramas, thanks to “A United Kingdom” and “Novitiate,” while Robinson took a more creative approach with her sexy biopic “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.” Bravo’s wild comedy “Lemon” was a Sundance hit, and was later released by Magnolia Pictures.
But even with 2017’s perceived uptick in releasing features by black female directors, other minorities still struggle for representation behind the camera. According to a February report from USC’s Annenberg Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, black and Asian filmmakers directed less than 10% of of the top 1,000 films in the last decade (and that includes both genders).
“For the last decade, female directors of color have been nearly invisible in the director’s chair,” said report co-author Stacy L. Smith. The report found that, of the Asian directors that helmed the 1,000 top films of the past 10 years, only 8.8% were women. And of those 1,000 films, only one was directed by a Latina.
The Rise of All-Female Crews
While men continue to dominate positions behind the camera, a number of female filmmakers have made it their business to alter those stats by employing all-female (or nearly all-female) crews. “Band Aid” filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones did it for her feature directorial debut “Band Aid,” and while she was widely hailed as the first filmmaker to do such a thing, her name is now joined by scores of others. Rainy Kerwin used an all-female crew for her “The Wedding Invitation,” as did “Below Her Mouth” director April Mullen.
Elsewhere, perennial indie favorite Marianna Palka employed a majority female crew for her upcoming “Egg,” which has the same producers of “Equity,” another movie that featured a predominantly female crew. The upcoming comedy “The Feels” hit up the crowdfunding circuit with a promise to employ a crew made up of 68% women.
None of these projects have hit any roadblocks when it comes to finding qualified women for their sets. As it turns out, the future isn’t female; the present is, and always has been.