A movie about fish sex won Best Picture. Someone took home a jet ski. The oldest Oscar winner ever accepted an award for a story about a same-sex love affair. But as surprising as these results were, people at the 2018 Oscars only cared about one thing: Who would talk about Time’s Up and/or #MeToo? The 2018 awards season will forever be remembered as the first after The New York Times and The New Yorker blew the lid off of the rampant sexual harassment and, in some cases, assaults happening in Hollywood (starting with allegations against film titan Harvey Weinstein) with the complicity of an alarming number of people in the industry. After brave survivors came forward and spoke their truths, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements rose up to surround them, support them, and establish a legal defense fund to help others who had suffered similar treatment in many other industries as well.
It was against this backdrop that women in Hollywood decided to use awards season to take a stand and draw attention to the movements. They wore black. They spoke out about Time’s Up, #MeToo, equal pay, gender parity, and diversity on the red carpet. At the Golden Globes, Oprah told everyone that, “A new day is on the horizon” because of women — and “some pretty phenomenal men” — who are working tirelessly to make sure no one ever has to say “me too” again. Ashley Judd became perhaps the first person to use the word “intersectionality” at the Oscars. Frances McDormand issued a rallying cry for inclusion riders from the stage at the Oscars after she celebrated her fellow women nominees by having them stand up and get the applause they were due.
And it did have an effect, according to a Time’s Up spokesperson, who told Refinery29 in an email, “The Times Up Legal Defense Fund has already helped over 1,500 women get connected to lawyers and communications help. Each time there is a big event, like the Oscars, we get more inquiries both from people needing assistance and lawyers offering assistance. The need is great and we expect it to continue, so you will be hearing about TULDF activities and events regularly over the coming year.”
But awards season is over. The massive spotlight on Hollywood has once again dimmed, and it’s now incumbent on the hardworking people behind the scenes to keep the wheel turning on the important initiatives actually spurring change in the current status quo. SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union, released a new code of conduct in early February that made the rules regarding sexual harassment even more clear. It is also supporting two bills — both introduced by woman senators — related to sexual harassment in the California senate. Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA’s president, described the proposed legislature in an email to Refinery29: “Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s SB 224 will expand liability for sexual harassment to cover those in our industry who have positions of power and influence in hiring but are not the actual employers. Senator Connie Leyva’s bill, SB 820, will end the practice of forcing the courageous women and men who come forward to file a lawsuit against their harassers to accept silence about what happened to them as a condition of resolving their cases.” Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, says that SB 224 has already gotten through its first couple of committee hearings and has yet to encounter any opposition.
It’s this type of legislated action that “will lead to the kind of broad change we need to help thwart the systemic nature of sexual violence,” Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, writer, and actor in her one-woman show, One Drop of Love, and Head of Strategic Outreach for Pearl Street Films, told Refinery29 in an email. She mentioned The Weinstein Company entering into bankruptcy (“in large part due to their being sued by the state of New York”) as an example of this legislative action. DiGiovanni also called out Anita Hill’s recently formed Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace as an example of an organization that “will act as a watchdog.”
Things are happening across the border in “Hollywood north,” too. “The Canada Media Production Company Association, which is the producer’s association, was really quick to start to offer resources and courses to producers and production companies to basically put them on the fast track to developing their own sexual harassment policies within their companies if they didn’t already have them,” said Anthony Leo, whose film The Breadwinner, was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars this year.
McDormand’s call for inclusion riders is already being heeded. On Wednesday, Michael B. Jordan wrote on Instagram that he will be adopting riders for all projects produced by his company, Outlier Society. He hashtagged the photo #AnnenbergInclusionInitiative, which, per DiGiovanni, will collect and share data about how riders are being adopted and implemented.
Laura Walker Lee, the CEO of AG Capital, which invests in film, television, and live events, told Refinery29 that inclusion riders can open up a two-way conversation between talent and the people that support them, like agents and managers. “There are some actresses I know that don’t have any female agents or managers on their team, or they do, and they’re not supporting them in maybe the way that they could by asking their opinion on conference calls and making sure that they’re being included in meetings.” Lee encourages women in positions of power to “help bring up other women by including them in these environments and making them feel heard.” McDormand’s inclusion rider call should go beyond the people being hired on film sets; it needs to cover the business side of Hollywood as well.
Ten women are always guaranteed nominations at the Oscars in the acting categories. Beyond that, the field is wide open. Unfortunately, women are still vastly underrepresented in the below-the-line fields, which is something inclusion riders can help change. According to a report from the Women’s Media Center, this year, only 23% of the nominees in the major non-acting categories (writing, directing, editing, and producing) were women. The Academy may have made an active effort to diversify its members with the 774 new inductees it welcomed last year, but if studios, executives, directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, etc. aren’t hiring women in these roles, how can they be nominated for their work?
Getting to the Oscars, the pinnacle of achievement in film, starts at the very bottom rungs of the hiring ladder, and it requires everyone to have an open mind about who they hire and who they can envision in certain types of roles. If you can only picture a man directing or editing an action movie, you’re not going to even bother interviewing a woman for the job, Tatiana S. Riegel, who was nominated this year for Best Editing for her work on I, Tonya, told Refinery29 on the phone before the Oscars (she was the only woman nominated in her category, and she lost to Lee Smith of Dunkirk).
“When somebody goes in for an interview, the person interviewing needs to have an open mind and be able to potentially see and imagine not just what they initially think might come through the door to be the editor that they choose,” Riegel said. “When I go to hire people, I have to do the same thing. I need to bring in apprentices and assistants and give them opportunities that they may not normally get in other positions. You have to bring people up through the ranks all the way from the initial jobs.”
There are some fields women have been entirely shut out of for basically all of film history, like cinematography. It took 90 years for a woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars (Rachel Morrison of Mudbound), which sparked an intense focus on why cinematography has been so biased towards men. Kees Van Oostrum, the president of the American Society of Cinematographers, told the Washington Post that film schools have never gone out of their way to encourage women to enter the field. It’s historically been a boys club, and “I definitely encounter men patronizing me and assuming I can't lift the camera because it's ‘too heavy,’” Christine Ng, a director of photography, told Refinery29 in an email. “I've had men in all departments give me the ‘ohhh... you're the DP?’ look and then immediately dismiss any authoritative position I may have over them.” Thanks to Morrison’s nomination, there is an increased interest in the role, and the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600 has reportedly increased its efforts to recruit women in the past few years.
DiGiovanni says that there are vetted databases of crew and people who can fill executive positions available, and organizations like Colour Entertainment, which was co-created by HBO’s Head of Talent Development, Kelly Edwards, works to develop executives and assistants of color in the industry. She also points out how historically, white men with little experience (and sometimes little talent) have been given roles they didn’t quite yet deserve. “So it’s okay to hire someone who isn’t yet ‘perfect.’ That person should be a woman of color and/or LGBTQ and/or disabled and/or a man of color since they bring all the strength and talents that come along with being those things.” The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative plans to measure the representation in the pipeline (like at film schools), which should help identify the point at which minorities are being weeded out of opportunities for these roles or told not to pursue certain field.
Women are very good at talking, and I think we need to get down to the business of doing.
Laura Walker Lee
“If we keep on 'making statements' and not really doing the work, we are going to be in trouble," Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too movement, said before the Oscars. During the reporting of this piece, it was refreshing to learn that the work behind the statements is really being done. DiGiovanni also named Seed & Spark, a crowdfunding and distribution platform, the JTC List (an open-source list of women of color filmmakers created by Cheryl L. Bedford), and Akuarel (launched by #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign), a free hiring site for diverse media professionals, as resources for people of color in Hollywood. On International Women’s Day, Vogue published interviews with several high-powered women at CAA, an agency closely linked with Harvey Weinstein and the old-school casting couch culture, who remain extremely hopeful about where the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements will lead Hollywood. They say that the culture at CAA, one of the largest agencies in Hollywood, has witnessed a sea change, which is key when it comes to never again having another situation like Michelle Williams getting paid $80/day while Mark Wahlberg gets $1.5 million (which, it should be mentioned, occurred at WME). Actors may have power, but these agencies are the gatekeepers when it comes to setting up meetings where women feel safe and writing contracts with inclusion riders and equal pay.
Lee didn’t want to comment on that particular situation, but she does think it opened up another dialogue that should be happening. “I think we have to talk more openly with each other about what we’re making. In the past, it’s been frowned upon for people to share that kind of information, but information is power, and I think it’s best to have a logical approach when you’re talking to people about how much you’re getting paid. If you’ve done the market research, it’s really hard to argue with that,” she said. “What women can do now is form concrete goals to advance the movement. If we don’t put permanent and measurable benchmarks in place to support women in our industry long term, this movement is only going to be as strong as the new cycle will let it be.”
She wishes there were more women in her line of work (film financing and producing), but says the ones who exist help each other out and make each other smarter. She actively looks for woman-created projects, which is something that other woman-led production companies have made their mission. Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine has found success adapting novels about women into movies and TV shows. Sophie Vickers of Rooks Next Entertainment executive produced Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child.
The 2018 awards season served as a call to action — an extremely necessary one at that. But the work doesn’t end because the statues have been given out. “Women are very good at talking, and I think we need to get down to the business of doing,” Lee emphasized.
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