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5 Ways Female Filmmakers, Actresses, and Advocates Shaped Hollywood in 2018

After the seismic changes of 2017, it seemed inevitable that 2018 would mark some sort of downswing in thought, conversation, and action. It didn't.

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Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future. 

After 2017’s “The Year of the Woman,” what do you do for an encore? This year brought no Harvey Weinstein analog (insert gratitude emoji here), but we saw something with even greater impact: Equality for women isn’t just a hashtag anymore. The world has moved well beyond what’s trending on Twitter, and the conversation that began in 2017 is now fast becoming the new normal.

Here’s five ways female filmmakers, actresses, and advocates continued to push for a new Hollywood in 2018.

Turning Talk Into Action With Time’s Up and #MeToo

On January 1, Hollywood stars like Kerry Washington, Natalie Portman, Brie Larson, Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon, announced the formation of Time’s Up, an initiative created “to fight sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond.” Aided by major star power and a Golden Globes coming-out party, the Time’s Up movement has become a crucial part of the conversation and another mainstay within the industry. Its legal defense fund has already raised over $22 million to help victims in need of financial support.

Elsewhere, activist Tarana Burke, who launched #MeToo in 2006 to promote “empowerment through empathy” among victims of sexual abuse, particularly women of color, stepped up to the task of leading a sea change through the sometimes thankless work of not letting the conversation that reached new levels of visibility in 2017 drop: A fixture at conferences and panels, Burke and her ideas remain steadfast. When she appeared on “The Daily Show” in May, Burke was clear about what #MeToo means: “I think that we have seen a culture starting to move in a different direction, but a true culture shift won’t happen until we are resocialized about how we think about sexual violence, and how we engage with each other, and how we talk to each other.”

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Tarana Burke (L) and Ashley Judd speak onstage at "Time's Up" during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios on April 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

Tarana Burke and Ashley Judd

Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Inclusion Riders, Gender Parity, and Championing Underrepresented Voices

Time’s Up and #MeToo helped proliferate other movements dedicated to pushing forward an industry that is diverse, equality-driven, and rooted in professional behavior. Those aims inevitably drew attention to hot-button subjects such as inclusion riders (thanks, Frances McDormand), pay equity, gender parity both in front of and behind the camera, trans representation, and beyond.

But inclusion extends beyond production. After a recent study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 22.2 percent of 2017 reviews for the top-grossing films were written by women, while critics from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds represented only 18 percent, actress and filmmaker Brie Larson drew attention to the disparity with an impassioned speech at the Crystal + Lucy Awards. Change happened fast after that.

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: (L-R) Abigal Disney, Tilane Jones, Angela Robinson, Pat Mitchell, Kirsten Schaffer, Nina Shaw, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Tessa Tompson speak onstage at The Sundance Institute, Refinery29, and DOVE Chocolate Present 2018 Women at Sundance Brunch at The Shop on January 22, 2018 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Refinery29)

Abigail Disney, Tilane Jones, Angela Robinson, Pat Mitchell, Kirsten Schaffer, Nina Shaw, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Tessa Thompson at the Women at Sundance Brunch

Getty Images for Refinery29

In June of this year, announcements from both the Toronto and Sundance festivals pledged to increase underrepresented critical voices at their festivals by 20 percent. In August, Rotten Tomatoes installed steps to ensure that the site housed a variety of voices, in addition to announcing that its just-created grant program would provide $100,000 to critics attending festivals like TIFF and Sundance. Time’s Up joined in, creating its Time’s Up Critical opt-in database, designed as to “allow studios, talent, film critics associations, and representatives to find contacts, to find critics from a variety of different backgrounds and groups.”

The real work hinges on these kinds of actions, initiatives, and directives, the ones that create and foster actual change. “We don’t really want panels about this, we want policy, right?” actress Tessa Thompson said at a Sundance event in January. “This is useful insofar as it gives us a space to get on the same page, to be able to look across the room at our allies who are like-minded… When we talk about the real change that needs to happen on a studio level, to really create some change in our industry, and in the kind of stories that are told and celebrated, that’s kind of what we need to do, right? That’s what these spaces are useful for.”

Landing Major Deals

You know what else talks? Money. Conversations regarding safety, security, and inclusion are of paramount importance, and one way to help ensure those changes take root is to change who steers the ship.

Just this week, Warner Bros. TV Group announcing a multi-year deal, reportedly worth at least $100 million, with Ava DuVernay and her Forward Movement shingle. Alongside the “Wrinkle in Time” and “Selma” filmmaker, Warner Bros. will produce her TV projects for every platform — including broadcast, cable, and streaming services. In July, showrunning superstar Shonda Rhimes inked her own huge deal, departing long-time home ABC for a $150 million deal with Netflix.

Patty Jenkins on the set of “Wonder Woman”

Warner Bros.

This year also found the space to offer key gigs to female filmmakers like Patty Jenkins (back for more “Wonder Woman”), Chloe Zhao (making the jump to Marvel with “The Eternals”), Cate Shortland (similarly moving from indies to Marvel’s much-hyped “Black Widow”), Sundance winner Cathy Yan (also heading to comic-book land with DC’s “Birds of Prey”), Marielle Heller (moving swiftly from her “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” to a new Mr. Rogers biopic), and Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels”).

It’s an essential change to the box office landscape. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Gender, Race & Age of Directors across 1,000 films from 2007-2017,” found that of 109 film directors associated with the 100 top movies of 2017, a full 92.7 percent were male and 7.3% were female. Women can and want to direct massive films, and putting talented filmmakers who happen to be female in those positions increases visibility for all creators who don’t resemble the majority.

Telling Women-Centric Stories

This year saw many deeply felt films from female filmmakers, including Tamara Jenkins’ “Private Life,” Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Quinn Shephard’s “Blame,” Kay Cannon’s “Blockers,” Sandi Tan’s “Shirkers,” Jennifer Fox’s “The Tale,” Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama,” Mimi Leder’s “On the Basis of Sex,” and many, many more.

And then there’s the films that weren’t directed by women, but still compellingly centered women’s stories: Dual box-office juggernauts “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” both managed to use outsized stories to bolster rich female characters. Steve McQueen’s “Widows” flipped the crime genre on its head for a female-powered revenge tale, while Yorgos Lanthimos similarly stirred up the historical drama with “The Favourite.”

Other films that proved the staggering breadth of narratives about women include Barry Jenkins’ love story “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Andrew Bujalski’s smart “Support the Girls,” Bo Burnham’s heartfelt “Eighth Grade,” Alex Garland’s trippy “Annihilation,” Jason Reitman’s honest “Tully,” Sebastián Lelio’s stirring “Disobedience,” Marc Turteltaub’s charming “Puzzle,” and those are just the buzziest of titles.


If nothing else, the number of films about women this year give credence to the hope that, in the future, no one will feel it’s necessary to note if a film is about women, because it’s become just another box-office norm. (The same could be said about going ahead and knocking off the “female” part of “female filmmaker.”)

Getting That Awards Love

While this year’s awards season is just kicking off, there are already signs that the works of women are bound for glory. The Indie Spirit Awards heaped nomination love on a number of female filmmakers earlier this month, including Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace,” and Jenkins’ “Private Life” in their directing spot.

“The Favourite”

On the acting side, both best supporting actress and best actress races are packed with big guns like Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born” and indie leaders like Regina Hall in “Support the Girls,” the three stars of “The Favourite,” and younger up-and-comers like Thomasin McKenzie and Elsie Fisher.

Next step: more attention for the women who excel at below-the-line crafts, like music and cinematography. Earlier this year, Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography (for her work on “Mudbound”). The first ever, and yet that was the 90th Academy Awards. It’s a first step that shows just how much more work remains to be done.

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