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This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It’s no surprise that the women who were asked to finish the above sentence (“If women ran Hollywood…”) responded either with a touch of bristle (hi, Liz Meriwether!) or thoughtful ideas (the industry would become more inclusive, diverse and collaborative). What was surprising was how many of those asked — regardless of gender — think women already run Hollywood. While it’s true that the number of women in leadership positions is increasing, equal gender representation remains elusive, with a man still sitting atop every industry conglom.
Joel McHale (actor, Community; host, The Soup): If women ran Hollywood, there would be hit romantic comedies about hunky male strippers, hugely successful film franchises about sparkly vampires and music and dancing competition shows would dominate the airwaves — wait, are we sure women don’t already run Hollywood? If women ran Hollywood, there’d be no need for a separate Women in Entertainment Issue of The Hollywood Reporter — which means the one you’re currently holding is now a collector’s item. You should sell this thing on eBay for a small fortune. If women ran Hollywood, 007’s new catchphrase would be, “The name is Bond … James Bond. Now tell me all about your day at work.” If women ran Hollywood, Universal Studios would have just unveiled “Magic Mike: The Ride.”
Gale Anne Hurd (producer, The Walking Dead): Would a Hollywood run entirely by women really be any different? Would casting finally be color- and gender-blind? Women tend to be more inclusive and lead from the ground up rather than the top down. Imagine a collaborative process where assistants’ ideas are given as much value as top-level executives’: Let the best idea win! Perhaps the traditional hierarchy would evolve until hard work trumps nepotism. Would Hollywood finally become a meritocracy? On the flip side, would there be more sentiment onscreen? Probably not. Content, driven by the marketplace, likely wouldn’t change much. And the business would still be populated by passionate, hardworking individuals, male and female, devoted to creating and sharing stories with the world.
Abbe Raven (president and CEO of A+E Networks): I remember years ago when I was a young executive, a colleague of mine said, “A woman will never run this company.” As you now know, they were wrong. Not to mention, a powerful, talented woman [Anne Sweeney] is the head of our board. And I have great women who work for me and run major divisions of our company. Personally, I always wanted to be recognized as a successful CEO — not only as a female CEO. This is such an exciting time in our business, as we can see a critical mass of women executives emerging in Hollywood. Whether you are trying to make a hit show or launch a global marketing campaign, building and maintaining a diversity of leadership at all levels will always yield the most success.
Anne Fletcher (director, The Proposal and The Guilt Trip): This is a hard question for me to answer. I don’t really love this subject because it immediately pits men against women and perpetuates the comparisons in our capabilities. The truth is, there are so many women who are at the forefront of this industry, which is the good news. There are more and more women today who are heads of studios, editors, writers, directors, producers, actors, etc. In reality, what we offer and bring to the table, man or woman, is our own unique point of view. So I’d like for our work to speak for itself. But since you’re asking — I’d also like to see healthier food on the craft service table, with a secret stash of M&Ms hidden somewhere for emergencies.
John Landgraf (president and GM of FX Networks): In 25 years in this business, I’ve dealt with women in positions of authority and power in every way. Bosses, showrunners, stars, studio heads, network heads, agents, journalists, managers, producers. To tell you the truth, I don’t see huge differences between the way men and women do all of these jobs. Maybe the women I’ve dealt with are slightly hardier than the men because they have had to compete in a male- dominated field (often while being moms at the same time). I guess I look at gender less as a factor that in any way defines ability and more as a prism through which we experience life. When women run Hollywood to the same extent as men, the stories we tell will be equally filtered through both the male and female prisms of being. I think we will find that greater male/female balance in power and storytelling is one of the primary factors in a civilization’s advance — in fact, look at the planet around us: The cultures that are succeeding and moving forward are the ones empowering women. Also, there will be less fart jokes. Sad, but I suppose a small price to pay for progress.
Lauren Shuler Donner (producer, the X-Men franchise): Women do run Hollywood. Are they the CEOs? No. But the ones who make the decisions are Emma and Amy and Hannah and Stacey and Donna. They certainly make a lot of the decisions. It will always be a male business, but I think this is a time when you look around and you can say women run the business — except at Paramount, Disney and Warners. The reason that I thought both Spider-Man and X-Men were as successful as they were was, not only did Laura [Ziskin] and I have wonderful directors in Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer, but we instinctively understood that the characters had to be grounded in emotion. No matter how much action there is, there needs to be heart, and it needs to be personal. The agencies are where women do not have power. The agencies are run by men. So the talent and the projects that are offered, that is done by men and that could change. That’s where you should look. Not the studios and not the producers. There are a lot of us as producers, and there are a lot of female agents. But in terms of running WME or CAA or UTA, there’s not a woman in sight.
Liz Meriwether (creator, New Girl): If women ran Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter would have a “Men in Entertainment” issue every year, and those jerks would have to write something.
Steve Gilula (co-president of Fox Searchlight): There would be a more balanced release schedule with less emphasis on comic-book and video game-generated material. I think women have broader interests. They’d be more attuned to a female audience who’s interested in films like The Help and other story material.
Rich Ross (CEO, Shine America – The Office, MasterChef): I think if women ran Hollywood, there’d be a greater diversity in the workforce and the product created. Women are great at listening to consumers and to their teams, which leads to a change in the status quo. I’ve never worked for a woman who wasn’t a terrific listener.
Melissa Rosenberg (screenwriter of all five Twilight movies): I believe it would be more inclusive. There would be a better reflection of the gender and racial makeup of our community in writing rooms, in directors’ chairs, in decision-makers’ offices and hence on the screen. Which I also believe would attract a greater audience and bigger ratings and box office. And maybe world peace!
Tom Bernard (co-president of Sony PIcture Classics): What do you mean, women don’t run Hollywood? From Stacey Snider to Amy Pascal to Nikki Rocco, they are running Hollywood. There are women in key spots all over town and making it a better place. It’s so different from when I started in the ’70s, when it truly was the world of bald, comb-over, cigar-smoking men who ran fiefdoms rather than businesses. Now you’ve got women who are essential and in charge, whether it’s head of legal, distribution, marketing or an entire studio.
Kurt Sutter (creator, Sons of Anarchy): Honestly, this setup feels a little degrading, ladies, like we’re talking about women in power as a futuristic fairy tale. Maybe that’s the point, that it still is a far road to travel — but women will run Hollywood, it’s only a matter of time. I don’t say this to be flip or patronizing — I believe that eventually the need for grace, compassion and intelligence (women) will overtake the current system of aggression, arrogance and ego (men). Women will run everything. As God intended.
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