When thinking about women in entertainment in 2017, it is easy instead to think of just one man. On 5th October, the New York Times published a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against the producer Harvey Weinstein, turning Hollywood on its head.
Since then, dozens of other women have come forward accusing the movie mogul of sexual assault, rape and harassment, and the industry continues to reel. Further women (and indeed men) have spoken up against other powerful men in the entertainment world: Brett Ratner, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer and so on. Revelations continue. Long may they continue.
In a year that began with women’s marches across the world and ended with the global #MeToo movement, spearheaded by the entertainment industry, it would be easy to feel defeated. But there were also milestones and moments to celebrate this year. Let’s not forget them.
If there was one film or TV show that defined the year, surely it was The Handmaid’s Tale. It might have gone into production before Donald Trump won the White House (and was based on a book written more than three decades earlier) but Margaret Atwood’s feminist tale of a dystopian future in which democracy is eroded and women become a subservient class was, for many, too close for comfort. It quickly became one of the most talked-about shows on television and stormed the Emmys back in September, winning eight statuettes including one for Reed Morano for best director in a drama series, the first woman to win the category in 22 years (and only the third ever), as well as outstanding drama series, a category usually reserved for the stories of Don Drapers, Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites.
Speaking of well-deserved (and long overdue) Emmys, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win for comedy writing. She co-wrote and starred in the brilliant (semi-autobiographical) Master of None episode “Thanksgiving”, bringing to the screen a fresh and moving account of coming out.
Despite airing before the Weinstein scandal, it seemed pertinent that Big Little Lies, a television show about sexual violence and the coming together of women in its aftermath, was among the most popular of the year. It walked away with the same number of Primetime Emmys as The Handmaid’s Tale, proving once and for all that women’s stories could resonate with both viewers and critics alike.
And these stories really are not told often enough. In May, Variety reported that for the 2017-2018 American television season, women only made up 35% of lead actors and 29% of showrunners in scripted series.
How encouraging, then, that the BBC announced in July that the next Doctor Who, one of its flagship shows and most famous characters, would be played by a woman. Typically Jodie Whittaker’s appointment was met with some eyeroll-worthy reactions from male fans, but it is a brave and exciting move.
And in film, the women didn't come to play in 2017. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman quickly silenced all critics who said that audiences didn’t want to see a solo female superhero movie by raking in $820m (£611m) at the box office, becoming both the top-grossing superhero origin movie of all time (toppling Tobey Maguire’s 2002 Spider-Man) and shattering the box office record for a female director. Oh, and the reviews were terrific.
“The market is there, and the money is there,” Jenkins told the Forbes Women’s Summit in June. “As long as you’re obsessed with young male audiences and you’re writing stories with men and directing them with men, nothing will change. The world is changing, so if Hollywood wants to get rich, pay attention to this: Women are our biggest audience in the world right now. It would be wise to go after them.”
And just like that, Girls Trip, a raucous, critically acclaimed comedy about four black female friends went on to become the highest grossing comedy of the year. It was the only comedy to make over $100m in the US – a remarkable achievement and hopefully something that will encourage studio heads to put much-needed funding into female-driven comedy, and, in particular, stories about women of colour.
Meanwhile Lady Bird, a coming-of-age comedy-drama about a 17-year-old girl’s final year of high school, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, ended the year by becoming the best reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes (well, for a while at least). At the height of the Weinstein scandal, it was impossible not to be cheered by this news.
Of the seven major movie studios, only one, 20th Century Fox, is headed up by a woman. With just 7% of the top 250 US films last year being directed by women, can the financial and critical rewards of films such as Wonder Woman, Girls Trip and Lady Bird act as an incentive to these powerful men to elicit real change, both onscreen and behind the camera?
This awards season will undoubtedly be interesting. The Golden Globes, sadly, failed to recognise many women in last week’s nominations announcement (not one woman was nominated for best director and only Gerwig nabbed a screenwriting nom). The Globes could have used the recent news cycle to make a statement. They didn’t and they will regret it (especially when high-profile women turn up on the red carpet dressed in black to silently protest the treatment of women in Hollywood). Hopefully the Oscars will correct this (voters, if you need reminding, Gerwig, Jenkins and Mudbound’s Dee Rees would all be deserving recipients of directing nominations).
Currently the conversation about women in entertainment is, quite rightly, one of pain. The scandal has given a much-needed voice to survivors and held the guilty accountable for their actions but where to next? Can the world of entertainment finally address its skewed hierarchy of power, one of the reasons this epidemic was allowed to thrive in the first place?
There is an easy solution: to place more women in positions of power, to employ more women behind the camera, to tell diverse stories of women. Because, as this year has shown, there is an audience out there hungry for them. No more excuses.