Austin Film Festival: Paul Feig, Marta Kauffman, Nancy Meyers Call for More Diversity

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Paul Feig

The 'Ghostbusters' director said he was tired of seeing female characters "play second banana to a guy."

Paul Feig, Marta Kauffman and Nancy Meyers called for more diversity in Hollywood during a panel Saturday at the Austin Film Festival, with Feig, director of Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters, saying he was tired of seeing female characters forced to play “second banana to a guy, and they’re simply the foil to be an asshole so that he can be funny.”

For Kauffman — who was honored at the event as Outstanding Television Writer and is known for hits such as Friends and Grace and Frankie — diversity needs to start with the writers. “We need some writers who aren’t white to bring entertainment to not only the community of whatever race or religion you happen to be, but so other people can take a look and go, ‘Oh, I get it!’ It humanizes everybody,” she explained, adding, “I mean that was our hope with the two gay characters on [Grace and Frankie] — for those that were afraid to connect, they would have a reason to connect.”

Feig, the fest’s Extraordinary Contribution to Film honoree, agreed. He detailed how Hollywood is “embarrassed,” which is leading to more diversity hiring within the industry.

According to Feig, Hollywood tends to go for what he calls “fads.” “Suddenly, now we’re into women, now we’re into this, and then it ends," he said. "But I think now they’re finally having a fire where people just aren’t putting up with it anymore. And we need every voice out there telling stories.”

Meyers, this year’s Distinguished Screenwriter recipient, said there also has to be change at the top. She told a story about being asked to speak in front of a group of mostly male film executives. The filmmaker said they wanted to know how they could replicate her success with pics such as Father of the Bride and Something’s Gotta Give.

“And at the end of it, I said, ‘Might be a good idea to get some older people here, and some more women and people of color, because I don’t think this room — although it represents Hollywood really, really well — it doesn’t represent the world,’” Meyers explained.

When asked what motivated him to empower females onscreen in his films, Feig credited the women in his life. He has been discouraged, he said, at the way family and career topics are portrayed in regards to women. “I know so many professional women who are happy and some of them might actually, my God, balance family with their jobs, and they’re doing really well. So that weird kind of moralization that kept women out for so long, I just wanted them to be able to see themselves in movies,” he said.

Kauffman agreed, saying that film and television “humanizes everybody.”

Her advice to up-and-coming filmmakers? “I would encourage those who can bring [diversity] to our fields to kick ass,” she said.