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I wish I was more surprised by the absence of women in the best director category at the Academy Awards nominations that were announced on Jan. 24. Just a quick reminder: only seven women have ever been nominated for best director (Jane Campion has been nominated twice), and three have taken home the award, the first being Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010. So, as disappointing as it is not to see any women directors up for the most high profile honor in their industry, it’s not exactly shocking.
My initiative, Women and Hollywood, has been on the frontlines of the fight for gender equality and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry for the last 15 years. In the early days, I traversed the globe with a simple PowerPoint lambasting the tired tropes that were foundational in Hollywood – women couldn’t direct big budget movies, teen boys were the dominant audience, women’s stories were not universal. All the information that was available then showed that those narratives were false. I spoke to people across the world, many of whom had been in this fight for decades longer than I had. The push for more opportunities for women and people of color was here long before Time’s Up — and it will endure long after the demise of the highly publicized organization that just announced its closure. The Women in Film movement is 50 years old here in the U.S., yet surprisingly, there are countries still just joining the movement.
Don’t get me wrong, Time’s Up had its moment. It used its superpower – movie stars — to shine a light on a topic that never got the attention it deserved. High powered women stood up for the ones who could not and said, very simply, Time’s Up. And, finally, a global audience was confronted with the inequities and unsafe environments that actresses and others had experienced to work in their chosen profession. What was once whispered about became headline-making news.
When Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey pushed the button on the first New York Times piece on Harvey Weinstein’s predation on October 5, 2017 leading with Ashley Judd’s story (if you want to see bravery onscreen watch Judd play HERSELF in the film version of She Said) it caused a fissure in the firmament of an industry so notorious for its exploitation of women that there is even a term for it – the casting couch, which rolls off all of our tongues as if it is normal. That we all casually describe a concept that has been so pervasive that everyone has heard of it is sickening. None of us can even begin to imagine how many women endured the “casting couch.”
But that fissure continues to expand. In the immediate aftermath of the stories about Weinstein, the sound that washed over the industry was a primal scream that had been held back for so long. The explosion of Me Too allowed women across the country and the globe, not just in the industry, to remind all of us that sexual assault and harassment is everywhere in every industry.
Time’s Up began with the best intentions, with women of means pledging their money to stop the predation. It grew so fast and took on so much meaning for all of us fighting for change. The name – brilliant! – became a rallying cry to an industry that always undervalued women. But Time’s Up, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun, and while it burned bright for a time, it singed its own wings and calamitously fell to the ground. It’s unbelievably sad for what could have been, but the fact that millions was raised for the Time’s Up Legal Defense at the National Women’s Law Center helping countless women outside the industry fight for equality and justice will be a reminder of its legacy.
While the Time’s Up organization in the U.S. is now gone — a separate branch in the U.K. still exists — what Time’s Up brought to us will still remain. I participated in a couple of Time’s Up meetings both in the U.S. and the U.K. and saw first-hand how it was able to connect women in the industry together in ways that hadn’t happened before. It will be no surprise to learn that the U.S. branch was celebrity-focused and very protective of its members, but if they wanted women at the top of the Hollywood food chain to participate it had to be safe for them. Unfortunately, they never figured out how to integrate the rest of the people working on this issue – the ones who didn’t appear on the covers of magazines. They had to figure out how to fly the plane while still building it. Not an easy thing to do, especially with a global audience watching. Time’s Up became the catchphrase and place for all possibilities and could never navigate the desperate need that flowed from all facets.
But the fight continues and evolves. In the wake of Black Lives Matter, an intersectional approach to this work relating to race and gender has rightly taken its place at the front of the conversation.
The legacy of all our work will be the normalization of women’s stories and women storytellers. Having many women — not just one or two or seven, not just white, but women of all races and ethnicities, an abundance of women, has the ability to change everything. Young people entering the industry today don’t think about gender in the same way, and I look forward to a world where all different kinds of stories and storytellers are embraced.
But there is no doubt that having done this work for 15 years, the conversation has changed so much, and is now so deeply embedded in our culture that when there are no women or people of color nominated for anything, anywhere there will be an outcry, as there is with the lack of black women nominees for leading actress for this year’s Oscars. The world finally sees things now that were invisible to us before, and there’s no going back, only forging ahead. Time is still up.
Melissa Silverstein is the Founder of Women and Hollywood and Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Athena Film Festival at Barnard College.
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