Did you know that this weekend at UN Sustainable Development Summit, the UN will adopt a new expansive sustainable development agenda with 17 Global Goals that will set the world’s agenda for the next 15 years? The UN wants to “help rid the world of extreme poverty, provide an equal education for girls and boys, and protect our environment for generations to come.”
The global reach of Hollywood, with its movies and shows available in every corner of the world, has a tremendous impact on women and girls, because it comprises the majority of the media that they are consuming on a daily basis. Who is in charge behind the scenes has a huge effect on what we watch, the kinds of stories being told, and how women are represented on film and TV.
One of the ambitious goals of the UN Sustainable Development Summit is to achieve gender equality. Hollywood has a long way to go on this front, but change is underway, even if it’s slow in coming.
Women and girls who want to go into the film industry have their work cut out for them. It’s a boys’ club, especially when it comes to certain specialized fields such as directing. It’s a business where it seems that sexual harassment is seen as acceptable, even encouraged. Film deals are made on the golf course or bar, and the ladies aren’t invited because they aren’t one of the guys. They aren’t the buddies, but they are the professionals working twice as hard to prove that they can do the job, with their integrity intact.
It’s certainly no fun being a victim of Hollywood’s celebrated sexism, but it happens every day. As I was exploring careers in Tinseltown and interviewing for jobs when I was fresh out of film school, I had several unpleasant reality checks that tarnished the stars in my eyes. In one informational interview, a prominent producer of reality shows told me, point blank, that he didn’t think women could direct. He based his generalization on having hired one woman to direct an episode of his show, and for whatever reason he wasn’t pleased with the results. My attempts to change his mind about his conclusion fell on deaf and intractable ears. Chances are he had worked with at least one white male director who didn’t work out, but did that mean he felt that ALL white males like himself couldn’t direct? Of course not.
Then there was the interview I had with a famous actor for his film festival organization. He asked me my age (um, hello! That’s supposed to be illegal!), and upon finding out that I was in my late twenties, asked if I had kids. When I said no, he responded with a hearty, “Well, we’ve gotta get you pregnant!” I guess he was volunteering for the job. He pronounced this in front of his staff that was present for the interview. AWKWARD! I’m convinced to this day that I didn’t get the job because I am a woman of childbearing age.
These were just a few of the encounters I experienced that served as a serious reality check regarding what it’s like for a woman to work, or look for work, in the entertainment industry. I’m sure that industry wide, women have a million just like them, or far worse.
Yet in spite of Hollywood’s creepy, worm-infested underbelly, change is happening. There are many woman and girls who are succeeding. They are blazing trails and creating highly successful movies and shows that serve an audience of intelligent women like themselves.
It should be noted that there are thousands of men with strong character and integrity who support gender equality in the entertainment business and treat women with the utmost respect. Happily, the bad apples are outnumbered, and, as more women succeed, they are opening the doors to success for other women.
Nisha Ganatra, whom I first met at the Boston Women’s Film Festival, is one of the inspiring women helping to make gender equality a reality. She has directed episodes of Transparent on Amazon, a revolutionary show exploring a father’s journey to living his true identity as a woman.
Nisha has also created a number of acclaimed independent films, and just recently received a commitment from NBC to produce a pilot of her comedy Pre-Madonna, about an Indian high school student seeking to find her true self on the journey to adulthood.
Even a celebrated filmmaker like Nisha has encountered gender inequality. She shared in an interview last year with Village Q the dismaying reality that admitting to motherhood is a career killer in Hollywood; therefore, she avoids revealing that she has a child: “I’m always afraid it’s going to be held against me in some way. And it is. Somebody told me that when you’re a woman and you say you have kids, they assume you want to be home with kids. But when you’re a man and you say you have kids, they say oh we have to get him a job because he has a family to support.”
Her admission is a stark reminder of the challenges women still face in film and TV behind the scenes. Hollywood obviously has a long way to go towards helping women reach a work/life balance.
Nevertheless, Nisha’s body of work speaks for itself as a powerful testimony that women can write, direct, and wear any creative hat they choose. Her accomplishments render null and void the sexist comment by that prominent male reality producer. The fact is that the glass ceiling is cracking, and the shards are raining down on the heads of men like him. More than this, Nisha’s work on Transparent is even helping to open the doors for transgender professionals in the film and TV industries. Thanks to a commitment Executive Producer Jill Soloway made to the transgender community, at least 25 trans individuals participated on the cast and crew on the first season of Transparent, according to Village Q.
Let us hope that in the near future, the film and TV industries will foster a more welcoming environment for moms. In the meantime, women everywhere are delighting in seeing themselves and their stories reflected on the big and small screens, as women behind the scenes are fighting to get their projects made, and succeeding.