If you think that movies and television have a dearth of female characters who reflect your experiences—it’s not your imagination.
The documentary This Changes Everything gives audiences a look at how the tropes of “the girlfriend,” the “useless chick,” and the beauty who needs to “be saved” are still alive and well.
The film combines talking-head interviews with drill-down stats and the backstory on legal actions taken to force accountability from studio heads. It delivers the goods and makes a compelling case. By the closing credits, you may be seething.
Many celebrities comment in the film about the state of their industry. Reese Witherspoon boils it down to a simple equation. “Whose values are important and whose stories do you get to see?” The writer of Thelma and Louise, Callie Khouri, a film many thought would be a game-changer, confirmed that it didn’t really move the needle. Rather, she underscored the atmosphere of misogyny in Hollywood where “women are seen as ornamentation.” (So which movies really do show us as we are? Read this.)
My favorite soundbite came from Gabrielle Carteris, currently President of SAG-AFTRA. When trying to break into acting, she met a female agent who told her bluntly, “This business is about tits and ass—which you have neither of.”
Getting Good Role Models On-Screen
Featured in the film and serving as executive director, is Geena Davis, who realized that there were “not enough real-life role models” for young girls. The subtext was that fewer female characters on screen transmitted the message that women and girls were “less valuable than men and boys.”
Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, with the tagline of “If she can see it, she can be it.” Her approach was to dig into data to prove her suppositions about gender inequity, and the numbers reveal a real problem. At present, the Directors Guild is only 15.6 percent female. The second half of the movie looks at the use of legal action to challenge the status quo. Why were women (and minorities) being “disappeared” from the talent pool?
Pressure for change has been building, albeit slowly, according to the film. In 1979, six female directors formed the Directors Guild of America’s Women Steering Committee to tackle the issue. Maria Giese spearheaded action in 2013, by bringing in the ACLU on what she saw as a civil-rights obstruction. Undeterred by career blowback, Giese explained, “You can’t respond to fear.”
Watch the official trailer:
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