Title: This Changes Everything
Director: Tom Donahue
What female role models, in film and television, can inspire the young women of tomorrow?
The documentary ‘This Changes Everything’ explores this issue through a detailed analysis of gender in Hollywood. Testosteronic scenes from blockbusters, intertwine with interviews that give voice to some of the most illustrious female celebrities. Actresses, writers, directors and producers, express their difficulties working in the film industry, as a consequence of gender gap.
Meryl Streep, Sandra Oh, Jessica Chastain, Mira Nair, Callie Khouri, Natalie Portman, Rose McGowan, Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon, Taraji P. Henson, Catherine Hardwicke, Viola Davis, Lena Dunham, Rosario Dawson, Cate Blanchett, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Geena Davis are just a few among the many powerful agents of change in this documentary.
The film provides shocking data that attests the under representation of women in the film industry. For instance, in the course of almost a century only one woman has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for ‘The Hurt Locker’). The cause is that, so far, almost 90% of directors for top domestic releases have been male.
The paradox is that during the silent era there was no gender bias in show business, and women directors, writers and producers were incredibly prolific. Lois Weber was considered one of Hollywood’s three great minds, along with D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, although history seems to have forgotten her…unlike her male colleagues. The film industry began to become masculinized with the advent of sound, which meant the rise of vertical integration, as the studio system adopted a male-oriented hierarchy.
Since the thirties Hollywood never had a mechanism to regulate discrimination. ‘This Changes Everything’ explores the historical evolution of many attempts done by women in Hollywood to try to promote gender equality — that preceded the #MeToo #TimesUp and 50/50 movements.
Several films from the Nineties were considered change-makers pushing for women’s empowerment. When ‘Thelma and Louise,’ or ‘ The First Wives Club’ were released, people would say, “This Changes Everything.” But those films did not subvert the disparity between men and women in show business. This pursuit had a most flabbergasting precedent: the story about “The Original Six.” In 1979 a group made up by six feminist members of the Directors Guild of America, tried to fight the gender discrimination of the Studio System. Susan Bay Nimoy, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman, spent years gathering statistics and advocating for women. However because of technicalities the court dismissed their case and it wasn’t until 2013, when director Maria Giese talked to the American Civil Liberties Union, to investigate the lack of jobs for women in Hollywood, that the issue was scrutinized by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Later, when the Weinstein Case became public it fully unveiled how “sexual harassment and abuse are a symptom of employment discrimination,” as Maria Giese says in the documentary.
What has been happening in Hollywood clearly clashes with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that, “prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of Race, Color, Sex, Religion, and National Origin.” But Hollywood is just the tip of a global iceberg. ‘This Changes Everything’ takes audiences all the way to Stockholm, to show how the Swedish Ellen Tejle — manger of a cinema called Bio Rio — had an epiphany while using the Bechdel-Wallace Test on the films she was screening. This test owes its origins to a comic strip of 1985 (Alison Bechdel’s ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’) and it measures the representation of women in fiction, by asking whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
This reference intertwines with the evidence, provided by the documentary, that kids are highly influenced by the world of entertainment. Studies show that at the age of five, children’s understanding of society and their future aspirations tend to be shaped by what they see on a screen. There are six-year-old girls who have learnt to sexualize, to appeal to the male gaze, and yet there are also some empowering examples, such as those created by the CSI Effect. This social phenomenon demonstrates how the portrayal of forensic science on crime series has influenced public perception, to the extent that more girls are drawn to choosing it as a career.
‘This Changes Everything’ does not present female empowerment as an anti-male conversation, but until only women discuss the issue, it will be perceived as such. In fact, the most beautiful aspect of the film, is that the director is a man. Tom Donahue has always been a filmmaker sensitive to undervalued groups (as attested by his film ‘Casting By,’ nominated for an Emmy in 2014, that championed the underrated role of casting directors). His commitment, shows how righting the gender gap is a job that falls on both sexes. “Progress will happen when men take a stand, it’s the chivalry of the 21st century” says Meryl Streep in the film.
Tom Donahue’s film includes the 2017 Woman’s March, when Natalie Portman proclaimed, “Women’s rights are human rights,” something that must be bequeathed to the next generations. This starts with teaching our children about the importance of equality, also through film and television. To achieve true parity we need more stories about women scientists, business leaders, and policymakers. Geena Davis who is the executive producer of ‘This Changes Everything’ has this topic at heart. She created the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004, to research gender representation in media, after she noticed an underrepresentation of female characters in children’s TV. As she says in the documentary: “Growing up free of conscious gender bias could change our culture. It could change the world.”
Written by: Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi