Olivia Wilde: Powerful Women "Refuse to Be Manipulated" (Guest Column)

Photographed By Martha Galvan
Women in Entertainment 2019 guest editor Olivia Wilde was photographed Nov. 4 at her Los Angeles home.

The filmmaker-actress, who guest-edited The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment issue, writes that the women profiled are “linked by a common desire to shift the paradigm and demand a different way.”

In this issue, we are celebrating more than 100 women who defy expectations, shrug off limitations and harness their power without stripping it from others. As guest editor, I am exploring the phenomenon of feminine strength as it has been redefined by a new era in Hollywood, the era of the Sisterhood. Our links are stronger than ever before, and if we continue to see the value of our unity, I believe we will achieve the equality we have always deserved.

We have become accustomed to the terms that strip us of our own strength as women. "Big dick energy," "man up," "have some balls," "don't be a pussy"— all not-so-subtle cues that power is inherently masculine. Even the word "feminine" has an unserious connotation of delicate flimsiness that feels antithetical to the very notion of power.

Indeed, women have long been encouraged to hide our womanhood if we want to be taken seriously. "She's powerful" means she can behave like the men. She doesn't need women. She stands apart from them. She rises above them. She's not "a girl's girl" — as if somehow, our connection to one another signals a lack of strength. If she is to be trusted as an ally to patriarchy, she must denounce her tribe. This isolation is a convenient way to maintain the proverbial boot on our necks.

In truth, of course, a woman is powerful without masculine assimilation, and without separation from other women. As Gloria Steinem reminds us, "We are linked, not ranked." The glass ceiling is cracked by one, but shattered by many. Or, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has put it, "the marble ceiling" — referring to the Capitol dome, under which she is the first woman to wield such significant influence.

In my conversation with Madam Speaker for this issue, I asked how the discourse in Congress has changed since the election of a record number of women in the 2018 midterms. Pelosi answered that these women were effective from the start because they arrived knowing exactly what they wanted to achieve. "They knew their 'why,' " she told me.

This struck me. When given the opportunity, women get to work, immediately, because we fought for the ability to do the work at all. We are aware of the value of our time with the gavel, the pen and the camera, and we aren't willing to waste a moment of it. We know why we are here, and we are ready to own our power without apologizing for it.

The women profiled in this issue — the Power 100 — are not ranked. They are not competing for a top spot. There is no hard comparison based on accomplishments, fame or money earned this year. They are, however, linked by a common desire to shift the paradigm and demand a different way. They know their "whys" — and they are unstoppable.

Hollywood no longer is a culture of masculine assimilation and smothering of feminist instincts. This is our time to cut through the social fabric of this industry with our singular specificity. This business is sick from the female brain drain that resulted from a misogynistic culture that disqualified women. We refuse to be manipulated into cutting one another down, to the benefit of men. My power does not depend on your destruction, and there is not only room for all of us to thrive, there is a need.

So why do we take the time to celebrate the powerful women in the issue? Because we shine a light on one another to remind the rest of us what is possible. We celebrate one another's success to amplify our collective progress. As Geena Davis says, "We cannot be what we cannot see."

This has never felt more true for me, personally. I am a female director working at a time when Hollywood is cracking open its gates to let us in. This year, we had the chance to see work from so many exciting women filmmakers, all of whom inspire me to keep working, boldly, and without imposter syndrome. Alma Har'el, Ava DuVernay, Elizabeth Banks, Melina Matsoukas, Lulu Wang, Greta Gerwig, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Lorene Scafaria, Marielle Heller and many, many more. I am so proud to be their sister in this fight to change the landscape of this business. We are here, linked, and ready to work.

I asked Speaker Pelosi whether America has a problem with powerful women. "Of course there's misogyny, but we don't agonize, we organize." I will never tire of this sound bite. We can't hear it enough these days. She went on to say what women did in response to the election of Trump. She reminded me that we marched, and then we ran. And then we voted. And then women won more seats at the table in the House than ever before during the midterm elections. We changed the game. We harnessed our collective power, and we shifted the course of history. Most importantly, we did it together.

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Contributors

Victoria Mahoney's dreams of being whisked away on the Millennium Falcon came true on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, on which she served as second-unit director. Recounting the experience (page 42), the first African American woman to direct for the blockbuster franchise was inspired by "up-and-comer outlier filmmakers," she says, adding: "Some of us are leaving side windows open for them to bust through traditional hiring practices."

Jeanie Pyun, recently promoted to THR deputy editorial director, has overseen the Women in Entertainment issue since 2015 — what she calls "an annual snapshot of where women are in Hollywood. It's a privilege to work on it." She particularly enjoys collaborating with guest editors. Says Pyun, "This year, Olivia Wilde contributed so many great ideas — from the female alliances package (page 82) to interviewing her hero, Nancy Pelosi (page 100)."

Photographer and director Melodie McDaniel captured cover star Reese Witherspoon (page 72) on Nov. 8 at the Paramour Mansion. "It's always a pleasure to shoot someone as personable as Reese," she says. "Her natural beauty radiated through my lens." All but one of the photographers enlisted for the 2019 Women in Entertainment issue were women. Adds McDaniel, "I love when women celebrate and support other women."

Emma Thompson, who co-wrote and co-starred in November's Paul Feig-directed Last Christmas, was enlisted by THR to pen an op-ed on navigating the male-dominated movie industry — and chose to spotlight "the good ones" like Feig (page 40). The two-time Oscar winner hopes others will read her essay and "follow his example, so that the Pauls of the world, the good ones, become the norm, not the exception."

Alanis Morissette topped the charts in 1995 with her hit album Jagged Little Pill. Twenty-five years later, a musical inspired by that LP has bowed at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. The singer opened up to THR about this moment in her career — and revisits the rage-fueled feminism that has now become an empowering force for another generation (page 35). Says Morissette, "The activist in me got really excited."

Influencer Gigi Gorgeous, who boasts more than 2.9 million YouTube subscribers and offers details of her transition to womanhood on the site, shared with THR the female alliances that have shaped her identity (page 90). Among them, she cites director Barbara Kopple, who helmed the 2017 documentary This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, and her own wife, model and LGBTQ activist Nats Getty, as examples of the strong women who surround her.

This story first appeared in the 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.