The Hollywood Reporter long has chronicled the most influential women in entertainment with its annual Power 100 list, a list so culturally resonant among the players in town here that it once spawned an episode of Entourage, in which Beverly D’Angelo’s agent character strives and connives to up her ranking. But, as with any decades-old concept, it’s time for a reboot. THR‘s president and chief creative officer Janice Min explains, in her own words, the rationale and intent behind a simple but significant shift to lose the index. The star-studded annual Women in Entertainment breakfast, which celebrates both the Power 100 and The Hollywood Reporter‘s Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program, still will continue on Dec. 9. Barbra Streisand will be honored as the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award winner, and Melinda Gates will deliver the keynote.
Twenty-three years ago, in 1992, The Hollywood Reporter created its Women in Entertainment Power 100 list, an annual index of the most powerful women in Hollywood. At the time, Sherry Lansing had just been named chairman of Paramount Pictures in a history-making move, and the mood in town was as optimistic as an earlier era’s Virginia Slims cigarette ad — “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Fast-forward to today. I’m a female editor covering an industry that, in terms of gender, remains persistently stuck, not unlike the frozen-in-amber faces one sees strolling Rodeo Drive. It’s like white noise at this point, all those facts that bubble up with the same redundancy as the remakes and franchise sequels Hollywood now loves. Two decades since Lansing’s news, the executive suites of today are about 32 percent female (at film studios, less than 24 percent), numbers that barely have budged and shrink into oblivion at the highest echelons. (By comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor puts women in “high-paying management and professional” jobs at 51.5 percent of the national workforce.)
The percentage of female directors on the highest-grossing films has actually fallen (only 2 percent of 2014’s top 100 films were directed by women, compared with 5 percent in 1992), and even when you expand the scope to the top 700 films of 2014, only 13 percent had female directors. The pay gap in Hollywood also is a point of hot contention, as evidenced by Jennifer Lawrence’s recent essay titled, simply, “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” On the boards of corporations that manage the studios, 21st Century Fox, Comcast and Sony Corp., each have one woman on their 11- to 12-member boards (three of The Walt Disney Co.’s 10 board members are female).
There are, of course, a million reasons and excuses for these facts, none of which are simple or blamable on any one group. Certainly no one in Hollywood — ground zero of support for Hillary Clinton and every liberal cause — consciously embraces sexism. But even a current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation into gender discrimination in Hollywood hasn’t changed the industry’s soporific avoidance. In private conversations I’ve had, and heard about, the town’s most powerful people don’t appear to take the investigation seriously, or to heart. Certainly no one publicly addresses it. This, even with the news of dozens of female directors receiving letters from the EEOC requesting interviews. With a nod to Patricia Arquette’s eloquent acceptance speech at the Oscars, people along the sunny corridors in Beverly Hills and Burbank are more likely to jump at casual discrimination against a transgender celebrity than slights toward their own female colleagues. Neither is right, but the acceptance of women as “lesser” in Hollywood is so commonplace, it’s as if we’ve grown comfortable living with our own ugly furniture. We don’t even know it looks bad.
I’ve spent time thinking about our role at The Hollywood Reporter, and also Billboard, another publication I oversee, in this discussion. My job is not to be an advocate but to report fairly and accurately on what the staff sees. But I’ve had a nagging sense that this ranked list of 100 women — and at Billboard, of 50 women in music — isn’t serving its intended goal. When The Hollywood Reporter launched its female power list, its male publisher, Robert Dowling, said, “We felt that this would stand as testimony to young women on the way up, that there is a future for all people in entertainment.” At its heart, he once said of the annual ranking, “This is not a reflection of one woman versus another.”
And yet today, in legend and reality, women fight for position on these lists in ways that don’t always make them, or us, comfortable. THR‘s Power 100 list, by its nature, pits the town’s most impressive females against one another. I can’t help but think of a telling passage I read from Lansing’s upcoming biography that describes her ascension in an era when men felt there was room for just one alpha woman at a time at the studios.
I’ve come to believe that something as simple as our ranked women’s lists contributes to keeping that sense alive, that we accidentally created a beauty pageant of brains where only one woman gets crowned. Some women have publicly cried upon seeing their rankings. That is funny to some people. But it’s depressing as hell to me.
There is a phrase that men use, including my male financial-industry boss, when talking about combining assets: “Think how powerful we are if we hunt as a pack.” Women don’t use phraseology like that, but maybe it’s time. Today, as part of that thinking, The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard are abolishing the rankings for both lists and instead each anointing a single annual class of a Power 100 (Hollywood Reporter) and a Power 50 (Billboard). There still will be designations for executive woman of the year at both titles and other marks of distinction to be revealed. This is probably also a good time to tell you we’re creating an inaugural ranked list of entertainment’s most powerful people — men and women — as part of our upcoming fifth anniversary year celebrating The Hollywood Reporter‘s relaunch. I say, game on in that regard. But right here, right now, the moment feels wrong to host a female cage match.
Will this change make an impact? I don’t know. I keep thinking about the Latin origin of the word compete: competere, which means “to come together.” As part of this decision, I challenge the groups of women we cover, who create content, who move billions of dollars of business, to work together. To hunt as a pack. And for those who can, to take a leadership role in addressing the gender issues that we both unconsciously and willfully ignore. After all, there is no greater sense of power than being able to use it.