Top Hollywood Women Blast Industry's Gender Inequality in NY Times Magazine Feature

Mark Davis/Getty Images; Randy Shropshire/Getty Images
Shonda Rhimes and Lena Dunham

"We’re presumed incompetent, whereas a white male is assumed competent until proven otherwise."

Female directors, writers, producers and actresses spoke with Maureen Dowd for a longform feature in The New York Times Magazine about the issue of gender equality (or lack thereof) in Hollywood. Dowd also spoke with male entertainment executives to get their perspective.

Dowd's article touches not only on the hiring discrimination in Hollywood but also on the different ways women and men are perceived in the industry. "Male directors who act out are seen as moody, eccentric geniuses," wrote Dowd. "Women are dragons."

Dowd said male executives often "shrugged the [gender] issue off as 'bogus' or 'a tempest in a teapot.' " In 2014, women were only 1.9 percent of the directors for the top 100 grossing films in the industry, according to research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith at USC Annenberg's School for Communication. Dowd also pointed out, citing a San Diego State University study, that in 2014, 95 percent of cinematographers, 89 percent of screenwriters, 82 percent of editors, 81 percent of executive producers and 77 percent of producers were men. 

Meanwhile, the journalist argues, films like Bridesmaids, Frozen, Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect 2, Mamma Mia and Trainwreck show that movies directed by or targeting women can be highly profitable.

Female screenwriters told Dowd they are accustomed to hearing things like "Can you insert a rape scene here?" or "Can they go to a strip club here?"

A male entertainment executive, who asked to remain anonymous, told Dowd, "Not that many women have succeeded in the movie business. A lot of ’em haven’t tried hard enough."

Screenwriter and director Dee Rees said, "We don’t get the benefit of the doubt, particularly black women. We’re presumed incompetent, whereas a white male is assumed competent until proven otherwise."

Here's a look at what the different women of Hollywood had to say about gender equality:

Shonda Rhimes:

"The world of movies is fascinating to me because everyone has amnesia all the time. Every time a female-driven project is made and succeeds, somehow it’s a fluke. Instead of just saying The Hunger Games is popular among young women, they say it only made money because Jennifer Lawrence was luminous and amazing. I mean, you go get yours, girl. But seriously, that’s ridiculous.

"There’s a very hungry audience of young women dying to see some movies. They came out for Titanic and Twilight, 14-year-old girls going back to see those movies every day. I find it fascinating that this audience is not being respected. In the absence of water, people drink sand. And that is sad. There’s such an interest in things being equal and such a weary acceptance that it’s not."

Liz Meriwether:

The New Girl creator said executives would give her notes about the show saying, "I don’t understand how this character can be smart and sexy."

Lena Dunham:

"I feel like we do too much telling women: 'You aren’t aggressive enough. You haven’t made yourself known enough.' And it’s like, women shouldn’t be having to hustle twice as fast to get what men achieve just by showing up."

Jenji Kohan:

"Talent with all sorts of genitalia" can make money.

Anjelica Huston:

"It’s kind of like the church. They don’t want us to be priests. They want us to be obedient nuns."

Helen Hunt:

"Women who say it’s not OK are wet blankets or sore losers."

Meryl Streep:

"It’s harder for men to imagine themselves as the girl in the movies than it is for me to imagine myself as Daniel Craig bringing down the building. Boys are never encouraged to imagine what it is like to be female. The reason I know this is because when I made The Devil Wears Prada, it was the very first time men came to me after the film and said, 'I know how you felt.' "

Amy Pascal:

"I loved those movies, but all anyone said was that I made chick flicks. And then I got co-opted because everyone made me feel ashamed. I felt like, unfortunately, I was being categorized, that I could only make this one kind of movie, and it wasn’t going to make the kind of money that people wanted. I had to prove I could do anything.

"All of a sudden, we’re in this era of, 'Oh, my God, girls.' It’ll last about as long as it always does: about five more minutes."

Leslye Headland:

"Quentin Tarantino can make 'Pulp Fiction' for $8 million and you can slap him on any magazine," Headland said. "He’s the poster boy. He was for me. I want to be that guy even though he looks like a foot. God bless him, and he can do whatever he wants to my feet. But with a female director, you’re just not celebrated the same way."

"Without the benefit of Google, ask anybody to name more than five female filmmakers that have made more than three films. It’s shockingly hard."

Dee Rees:

"We don’t get the benefit of the doubt, particularly black women. We’re presumed incompetent, whereas a white male is assumed competent until proven otherwise. They just think the guy in the ball hat and the T-shirt over the thermal has got it, whether he’s got it or not. For buzzy first films by a white male, the trajectory is a 90-degree angle. For us, it’s a 30-degree angle."

Catherine Hardwicke:

"I worked for 20 directors as a production designer, most male. I was on the set to witness firsthand a range of sometimes atrocious emotions — well-documented firings, yellings, fights between directors and actors, hookers, abusive things, budget overages, lack of preparation. A man gets a standing ovation for crying because he’s so sensitive, but a woman is shamed."

Jessica Elbaum:

"I think there’s a fear that females can only tell female stories, like if they’re given free rein, they’ll just write stories where everyone’s braiding each other’s hair and crying."

Shira Piven:

"I feel that there is something going on underneath all of this which is the idea that women aren’t quite as interesting as men. That men have heroic lives, do heroic things, are these kind of warriors in the world, and that women have a certain set of rooms that they have to operate in."

An anonymous woman leading a studio:

"The moment you mention it’s a female director to foreign companies, you can see the eyes roll. Buyers want action films, and they don’t see women as action directors."

Penny Marshall:

"All they like is Superman, Batman, those kinds of things, because it sells foreign, because it doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. Even the comedies are sophomoric. They remake things that are lying there while the people who have done it already are still alive. I’ve read and seen horrible stuff. Sometimes the people who are in charge of things are a little dumb."

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