Sundance: Elizabeth Banks, Donna Langley Talk Female Empowerment in Film

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Donna Langley and Elizabeth Banks

Banks also waded into the pay disparity waters, telling the audience, “I like making money. Don’t you?”

Multihyphenate Elizabeth Banks and Universal Pictures chief Donna Langley offered a message of strength in unity at a Sundance Women in Film breakfast on Monday.

The two sat for a conversation before an audience of some 400 guests, mostly women.

“We are up against something, which is the entirety of human history — women have never had equality in the world, not even here in the great United States of America, we still don’t have it,” said Banks. “That’s a big thing to overcome. It’s not going to happen overnight, so we gotta have these models for the next generation.”

Banks made her feature directorial debut for Langley’s Universal with Pitch Perfect 2, setting multiple box-office records for a female helmer (the film cost $29 million and went on to earn $287 million worldwide). Still, female representation behind the camera continues to be woeful at just 4.1 percent among the 1,300 top-grossing films from 2002 to 2014, according to a Women in Film study.

Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam noted that 33 percent of directors at the festival this year are women. She also lauded Langley for being a game-changer as a study head. Among Langley’s stellar 2015 were two films directed by women: Banks’ Pitch Perfect and Samantha Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Banks also applauded Langley’s vision.

“We always hear that the movie business only cares about the young, white dudes. Have you single-handedly busted that myth — making movies for women and African Americans?” Banks asked Langley, noting the success of the latest Fast & Furious installment.

“It is a truly multicultural franchise, and though it appeals to mostly men, this movie we saw women come get on board,” said Langley. “I think it’s relatable to people all around the world, and I think that sort of speaks to the diversity. You know, we don’t sit down and say, ‘OK, let’s check the box on the African-American movie.’ It just doesn’t happen that way.”

Banks also waded into the pay disparity waters, telling the audience, “I like making money. Don’t you?” But it was the disproportionate paychecks as an actress compared to her male co-stars and lack of opportunity that led her behind the camera as a producer and director. As a producer, she is particularly aiming to empower more women.

“I’m very rarely disappointed by a woman that works for me and that works with me, and I think that speaks volumes about how hard-working and passionate woman are,” said Banks. “[I hope that] the next Liz Banks can say, ‘I want to be the next Liz Banks and not say I want to be Steven Spielberg.’ Just keep doing it.”