Sharon Stone tells the story of a director who asked her to sit on his lap so they could discuss her performance.
“Does Tom Hanks sit on your lap?” asked Stone.
Chloe Grace Moretz recalls entering her trailer — and finding a push-up bra and two ‘cutlets,’ i.e., artificial breast enhancements, waiting for her because the filmmakers felt she needed a little “help” in that area.
She was 16 at the time.
Natalie Portman, who has been in the business for 25 years and has more than 50 acting credits, says, “I’ve worked with two female directors on features — and one of them is myself.”
Rose McGowan talks about how as a young actor she would be focused on character and performance — only to realize the camera was squarely focused on her anatomy.
Welcome to Hollywood.
In the era of #MeToo and “Time’s Up,” of “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” and Shonda Rhimes, of the 50/50 by 2020 movement to achieve gender equity in Hollywood, there are unmistakable signs of progress in the heroic battle to challenge the old-school, sexist, male-dominated world of television and movies and to level the insanely tilted playing field.
We applaud the bravery of the women who have come forward to tell their stories of being harassed and mistreated and abused. We admire the actors and writers and directors and producers who have achieved great success against stacked odds.
We like to feel good about the way things are going.
And that’s exactly why we need to see the documentary “This Changes Everything,” which reminds us we’re still living in an entertainment world in which three of four major movie roles go to the men — the same percentage as in 1946 — and less than 10% of the top grossing films of 2018 were directed by women, representing a DECREASE from the previous year.
Turns out the title of the film is not self-congratulatory or a statement of bright-eyed optimism. It’s a sobering commentary about how the breakthrough success of movies from “Thelma & Louise” to “Boys Don’t Cry” to “Frozen” to “Hidden Figures” through the decades had people saying, “This changes everything” — only to see nothing really change.
Geena Davis, an executive producer of the film, talks about her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media commissioning a study of family films and children’s television over a 20-year period and finding that, for every female character with a speaking role, there were three males, and females made up just 17% of the characters in crowd scenes.
She also talks about her experiences as an actress, including her debut in “Tootsie” as a soap opera actress in her underwear talking about the lecherous male lead on the show: “He kisses all the women. … We call him ‘The Tongue.’ ”
Through much of the 20th century, little girls (as well as little girls AND little boys of color) watching TV and going to the movies almost never saw grown-up versions of themselves.
(When people ask me to name the movies I loved as a kid and a teenager, every title I mention, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “The Godfather” to “Jaws,” featured white men as the heroes or anti-heroes and white women as the love interests.)
“Filmmaking has told us no,” says Jessica Chastain. “Women shouldn’t be focused on or learned about.”
The occasional exception to this rule could have a profound effect.
Sandra Oh says the 1993 film “The Joy Luck Club” was “the first time I saw myself and my mother onscreen. … That affected me way beyond what the content was.”
Tiffany Haddish hilariously describes how much she enjoyed watching Diahann Carroll all decked out and dripping with jewels and slapping Joan Collins on “Dynasty” — and “not going to jail for it.”
At times, “This Changes Everything” gets a bit bogged down by all the charts and graphs illustrating the gender gaps in Hollywood and whether the focus is on actors or directors or production personnel. (Not to minimize the data by any means. I’m merely commenting on the challenge in presenting so many facts and figures in a visually arresting manner.)
But when we see visuals of movie scripts that define female characters by their looks — “not the best-looking girl in her class but definitely in the top five” — or when director Kimberly Peirce talks about how it took NINE YEARS for her to get another feature film after her brilliant debut with “Boys Don’t Cry,” these images and stories are striking examples of the institutional sexism in the industry.
“This Changes Everything” never pretends to be a straightforward documentary, laying out the facts from an arm’s length distance. It is a rallying cry and an invitation to join the movement for gender equality in Hollywood.
Then again, it’s not as if this is a cause lending itself to rational, ethical opposition. I don’t see how anyone with a working brain and a fundamental belief in a level playing field wouldn’t be in favor of gender equality.