Hollywood’s Labor Problem Is A Gender Bias Problem


By Patt Morrison
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new documentary titled, “This Changes Everything, ” focuses on how women have been and continue to be marginalized in Hollywood. Much of the film relies on data provided by the Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media.

Los Angeles Times

That “dream factory ” label they put on Hollywood is a lot more about the “dream ” part than the “factory ” part. And while Hollywood’s labor concerns look to be a long way and several decimal points from the tasks and the paychecks of millions of Americans, its images and its examples influence every day how women and girls are regarded and treated, in the workplace and in the world.

In his new documentary, “This Changes Everything, ” filmmaker Tom Donahue works with facts and figures from executive producer Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media to make it clear how profoundly women have been sidelined and marginalized in the work of Hollywood : Men still appear onscreen more, talk more, do more, are hired to direct and produce and create far, far more than women. Figures like Meryl Streep, Taraji P. Henson, Sandra Oh and Natalie Portman tell their stories to illuminate the point of Donahue’s film–what, in the end, really can change everything ?
When we think of labor issues per se, we don’t automatically think of Hollywood and labor problems.

I think the image we have of Hollywood is basically generated by the media, and it’s a very glamorous image. Nobody thinks of people in Hollywood being employees who are subject to the same levels or the same labor issues or levels of discrimination as other industries.

And yet what we see in your film is that behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in a factory or an office building seems to happen all the time in Hollywood.

I think the reason for that is that there is an incredible power disparity in Hollywood. You have young, attractive, underpaid women by the thousands coming to Hollywood looking for opportunity. And you have a lot of very powerful men at the top who then take advantage of those women.

Your film is driven by data from the institute that actress and producer director Geena Davis founded. Talk about this data and the disparity in power.

When I started to do this movie, I had learned about the story of Maria Geise and her battle for equality among female directors, and that was what initially attracted me–not to mention Patricia Arquette getting up at the Oscars and talking about equal pay, and what we learned from the Sony hack about the pay disparity on “American Hustle.”

But I realized as I started making that film that a worldwide audience–even an American audience–why are they going to care about the workplace discrimination against 15, 000 women in Hollywood. And it made me realize that in order to convert the audience over to a belief that this is an important issue for them, I had to connect the dots to the disparity that we see on screen that perpetuate sexism around the world.

About a year into the making of the film I learned about the incredible data that Geena Davis’ institute was researching, and the incredible disparity. It’s something that I had not really been paying attention to, even while I was doing a documentary [“Casting By “] on workplace discrimination within Hollywood. Realizing that the final effect of workplace discrimination in Hollywood is that your little boy and your little girl are seeing really sexist representations on screen, if they are seeing women at all–that it’s having it’s having a deleterious effect on your children. And I knew that that’s the point I needed to hit home in the film.

A lot of this is about income disparity at a level that people in ordinary life wouldn’t really see as a problem : Well, you’re only getting $100, 000 instead of $800, 000.

I think the unions need to be more sensitive not only to setting minimums but to understanding the pay disparity in films where the male and the female leads are getting vastly different sums of money for the same number of speaking roles.

Unlike a lot of working Americans today, Hollywood has unions. Where are the unions been in addressing these problems ?

Well, to defend the unions, they are aware of the problems. The Directors Guild actually publishes stats on television directors and assistant directors, etc. What they don’t do, and should do, is publish the data related to the hiring of women and men for studio feature directing. That is something they do not publish. The Writers Guild also, every two years, I think, puts out a diversity report card.

What they can do is exert more influence in contract negotiations with the AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers ]. The AMPTP are the representatives of the studios that negotiate with the unions when the contracts come up for negotiation. I think the studios can be a lot harder in asking for gender parity, and they don’t do that because they’re fighting for a lot of things at the same time, and they don’t consider gender parity a priority.

So if you’re the Directors Guild, and say 25 % of your membership is female, it’s not going to get the kind of priority that other issues might get.

This is not, as the data showed, just about actresses.

But this issue infects every level of filmmaking in Hollywood. It is systemic across the board. It needs to be addressed all the way from the corporate board representation and multi-conglomerates all the way down to the PAs that you hire, or the extras.

The Geena Davis Institute did a study about background extras and found that on average 83 % of background extras were male. I started interviewing casting directors to try to get to the bottom of what happens–how do casting directors who cast extras end up hiring more men than women, and nobody could give me a straight answer. Nobody could admit that they were the ones doing it.

Women get cast in many roles, but in your film, a job opportunity is often sexualized, it’s uncomfortable–maybe even the working conditions, especially for some young women.

You’re talking specifically about actresses. Rose McGowan says in the film that in Hollywood, on sets, we don’t have a human resources department. We are not protected. There’s nobody they can complain to. Your manager or your agent will just tell you to be quiet.

I had one actress that I interviewed who called me soon after and said, listen, I was just on the set doing a love scene. And the director made a joke for me to pull down my panties. And I was really offended, and everybody on the crew laughed.

She said, you know, before I did the interview with you, I never would have thought twice about it. I just would have put up with it. But your interview made me realize the abuse I was taking and how I was just shutting it out without really thinking about it.

Women are dealing with that kind of abuse, that kind of micro-aggression all the time. There needs to be a system in place on sets where women can anonymously–maybe via app–can report to some sort of centralized organization that’s maybe bankrolled by all of the studios, and some sort of consortium and that can be properly dealt with.

Often when these labor issues emerge in a group, there is the resort of the courts. There’s the resort of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Why hasn’t that happened to remedy some of these problems ?

It’s complicated. In 1915, the Supreme Court decided that Hollywood was not protected under the 1st Amendment, that Hollywood was commerce and, therefore, it could be regulated.

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