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Trailer Watch: Women Directors Step in Front of the Camera in “Seeing Is Believing”
8 hours ago
“I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know,’” says Leslie Hope, director of TV and docs, in a trailer for “Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct.” “I’m also not afraid to say, ‘This is what I want…Can you please make it the way I want? Because, by the way, I’m the director.’” Hope is one of the characters featured in Cady McClain’s upcoming documentary, which turns the camera on female filmmakers and interviews them about their career experiences, their goals, and the roadblocks they have encountered as women in the film industry.
The full feature doc version of “Seeing Is Believing” made its world premiere at the Soho Film Festival on June 19 and took home the Audience Award. McClain’s project, which was partially a crowdfunding effort, has been presented in many forms. In addition to the feature documentary version, the subjects’ commentary has been developed as a limited series and as individual interviews. McClain and her team are also writing a book from their conversations with directors like Hope (“Murdoch Mysteries”), Deborah Riley Draper (“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice”), Lesli Linka Glatter (“Homeland”), Marianna Palka (“Bitch”), Sarah Gavron (“Suffragette”), and Meera Menon (“Equity”).
“I am really excited about the audience reaction to this piece and thrilled that we just won the Audience Award at the Soho Film Festival. Viewers of the piece always tell me that they are inspired after watching it, which to me is a major win,” McClain told us. “The statistics and stories of how women are silenced are too many, and it makes me really happy to give something to them that will help them feel there is a way forward, and that there is hope.”
Check out the “Seeing Is Believing” website for a full list of the women interviewed for the project as well as “some good guys” who are vocally supportive of their female colleagues. You can watch the trailer below.
Trailer Watch: Women Directors Step in Front of the Camera in “Seeing Is Believing” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Guest Post: Why I Produced a Documentary About Getting Girls into Classrooms Around the World
9 hours ago
Guest Post by Martha Adams
How can the 130 million girls missing from classrooms around the world get the education they deserve? That’s all I wanted to ask the three Imams sitting across from me nearly a year ago, and the question we planned to explore in the documentary we were filming, “We Will Rise.” I had just arrived in this tiny village outside Marrakech to film with a 13-year-old girl named Hanane. We were unpacking our gear when there was a knock at the door.
The Imams sat on cushions on one side of the living room. Soukaina, a brilliant young linguist, and I sat on the other. Hot tea in glass cups sat cooling on the table in between. Soukaina began, meticulously selecting each word, while the men sat quietly listening.
I’ve spent a good part of the past seven years asking community leaders around the world how we can break down the barriers that have long prevented girls from becoming educated. I began this journey when I first joined Girl Rising to help produce a film on the power of girls’ education and ever since I’ve been on the look-out for extraordinary stories about trailblazing girls and the families and communities who support them. “Firsts” is what we like to call them — girls who are the first to read, to write, to graduate from high school. Girls who are the first to be valued as something more than a bride or a mother in waiting.
Soukaina explained to the religious leaders that we were a documentary crew accompanying Meryl Streep to Morocco for a CNN Film about Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative. We’d come to this home in particular because a father had decided to send his youngest daughter to school. His older daughters weren’t afforded an education so the question was: Why now?
It’s an important question to ask. This seemingly small shift in this one modest household may have a colossal impact down the road. Decades of research proves that educated girls marry later, have fewer children, and are able to earn significantly more. In short, educating girls is a critical step in addressing many of the most vexing development issues of our time.
The Imams were impressed that we’d come from so far. Now it was their turn to ask the questions: Who was Meryl Streep? Why had Barack Obama’s wife selected Morocco? What about the boys in their nation? They wished us good luck filming before saying goodbye.
Meryl soon arrived and, as if friends for life, joined Hanane’s mother in the kitchen, to prepare for the Ramadan feast. Tucked behind the wall that kept me out of frame, I listened to their giggles and beautiful attempts to cross the language barrier. Meryl was there to better understand how progress takes hold and in two days’ time she would join CNN’s Isha Sesay, actor/activist Freida Pinto, and the First Lady to host a town hall meeting for change-maker girls. The first half of the town hall would be covered by the national and global press and the 24 courageous girls, Hanane included, would have the opportunity to share their experiences facing down the various forms of gender discrimination they’ve encountered while growing up in Morocco. But such an event seemed implausible that evening, from the confines of Hanane’s home.
The sun now gone, Meryl and the family crowded around the table. Hanane’s grandmother was the first to chime in. When she was young not a single woman was educated. Today was different. She smiled, raised her hand in the air, as if waving in celebration, and proclaimed her support for her granddaughter. Meryl beamed then turned her attention to Mohamed, Hanane’s father. With his youngest son cuddled on his lap, Hanane’s father Mohamed told how they used to live in the Atlas Mountains and the distance was too far for Hanane to get safely to school. So they moved to this village, and while it was very expensive and he had to work two jobs, Hanane was now able to attend school.
Meryl listened as our cameras recorded the entire scene. She shared how education had made an enormous difference in her own life. She talked of life for her grandmother and assured Mohamed that this was a global issue affecting us all.
Hanane’s father, tired from one job and needing to go to the next, added one last reflection: his family had been trapped in a cycle of poverty. “If I don’t give my children a chance, the cycle doesn’t end,” he observed.
In saying goodbye, I asked if I could take a quick peek at where Hanane kept her things. One room had been closed off during our visit by only a thin tapestry, just two feet from where we were standing. In a hushed tone, Hanane told me we couldn’t go in that room: “My older sister is in there and she cannot be seen,” she explained.
I thought I misunderstood. Could she repeat that? This entire time, one of Hanane’s older sisters had been on the other side of this curtain?
Soukaina and I turned to her father. Mohammed explained that she was married to a conservative man who forbid her from being seen. Free of cameras and our heads covered, we promised we would be discreet but the answer was no.
Hanane’s sister heard this conversation, just as she had heard everything else that evening. My heart sank. One young woman on one path while her sister was on another.
The film team was distressed that night. We were strangers in this land, new to the complexities of this culture. But we held true to the belief that giving girls like Hanane a chance to be heard was, in fact, the right thing to do. That this trip, this film, this journey with the First Lady would in some way help fuel the world’s efforts to forever change the way nations value girls.
You can watch “We Will Rise” on iTunes. For more information about the film — and the issue of girls’ access to education worldwide — head over to CNN.
Martha Adams helped produce the film at the center of the Girl Rising campaign and CNN Films’ “We Will Rise.” She frequently speaks on the subject of girls’ empowerment, radical change, and the critical role storytelling plays.
Guest Post: Why I Produced a Documentary About Getting Girls into Classrooms Around the World was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Women and Hollywood
Jennifer Lopez to Topline and Produce Rom-Com “Second Act”
10 hours ago
Jennifer Lopez is returning to romantic comedies. The “Shades of Blue” actress and multi-hyphenate has signed on to star in and produce STXfilms’ “Second Act,” a rom-com about a woman over 40 beginning a new career. This news, reported by Variety, means Lopez may have another title to add to her list of much-loved films like “The Wedding Planner” and “Maid in Manhattan.”
“Second Act” will see Lopez playing “a big box store employee who reinvents her life and her lifestyle, which gets her the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as a college degree,” Variety summarizes.
The rom-com was penned by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas — a producer on several of Lopez’s projects like “The Boy Next Door,” “Shades of Blue,” and a couple Lopez concert docs — and Justin Zackham (“The Bucket List”). Peter Segal (“Shameless,” “50 First Dates”) will helm the project. Goldsmith-Thomas, Zackham, and Benny Medina will produce alongside Lopez.
“There are so many things I love about this project and script,” Lopez commented. “People try to put women to sleep at a certain age. ‘Second Act’ is a story that empowers the every woman to do more, to be more, and not limit their dreams. I am thrilled to partner with Stx as they continue to create and empower the female audience.”
“Second Act” is part of Stx’s push for more female-led content. The Jessica Chastain-led “Molly’s Game,” about Olympic hopeful turned high-stakes poker game player Molly Bloom, “Bad Moms” sequel “A Bad Moms Christmas,” and R-rated puppet comedy “The Happytime Murders” starring Melissa McCarthy are among the company’s slated women-centric projects.
You can catch Lopez next in NBC’s 2018 musical event “Bye Bye Bird Live!” She’ll also topline and exec produce the HBO film “Cocaine Godmother,” about the famed criminal Griselda Blanco. Lopez is also a series regular on NBC’s “Shades of Blue.” The third season of the police procedural will air Sundays beginning in 2018.
Lopez earned a Golden Globe nod in 1998 for her portrayal of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in “Selena.” “It was a meaty role, but it was few and far between, especially for Latinos to have a role like that,” Lopez has said about the film. “I think it’s still challenging for women, especially being Latina. Thinking about ‘Selena’ 20 years ago and to have a role like that, I was very lucky. I was very fortunate. But it’s still a struggle for women.”
Jennifer Lopez to Topline and Produce Rom-Com “Second Act” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Women Directors Win Big at La Film Festival
11 hours ago
Women-directed films accounted for 46 percent of the films screening at this year’s La Film Festival. The level playing field resulted in women directors dominating the fest’s awards ceremony. Both the top fiction award and top documentary prize went to female filmmakers, as did the Audience Awards for short film and fiction feature. Overall, nine of the 17 honors went to women or films helmed by women.
“Becks,” directed by Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Daniel Powell, took home the U.S. Fiction Award. The film centers on flailing singer-songwriter Becks (Lena Hall) whose career is unexpectedly revitalized after she moves back home to St. Louis. “When we wrapped ‘Becks’ I said that my life goal is just to get to do this again and again and again,” Rohrbaugh said in an interview with Women and Hollywood. “I can only hope that the work resonates with a wide audience because that will ultimately prove our worth.”
“I think [women directors] need to just keep pushing, and making stuff and moving forward,” she continued. “I’m writing another screenplay right now and will crawl through the mud to get it made.”
Amanda and Aaron Kopp’s animation-documentary hybrid “Liyana” was honored with the fest’s Documentary Award. “Liyana” follows five young orphans living in Swaziland and their collaborative creation of a new female-led African myth.
In an interview, Amanda Kopp described her film as “a celebration of the healing power of storytelling.” She added, “I was drawn to this story by the complex characters of the kids in the film and by the visual possibilities of their lives and their imaginations.”
Savannah Bloch received the La Muse Fiction Award for “And Then There Was Eve,” a story about a woman grieving her husband and trying to move on from his death. Karen Moncrieff’s supernatural drama “The Keeping Hours” and Mari Walker’s trans coming-of-age story “Swim” won the Audience Awards for Fiction Feature Film and Short Film, respectively.
All of the female fest winners are below. List adapted from Film Independent.
U.S. Fiction Award
La Muse Fiction Award
Audience Award for Fiction Feature Film
Audience Award for Short Film
Special Jury prizes
Women Directors Win Big at La Film Festival was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” Poised to Become Top-Grossing Live-Action Film Directed by a Woman
12 hours ago
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” is poised to make herstory yet again. The Gal Gadot-led superheroine film is quickly approaching a milestone: it’s about to become the top-grossing live-action film directed by a woman. Diana Price’s origin story “will eclipse the $609.8 million earned worldwide by Phyllida Lloyd’s ‘Mamma Mia!’ (2008) to become the top-grossing live-action film of all time from a female director, not accounting for inflation,” The Hollywood Reporter writes. Jenkins already holds the record for highest domestic opening for a female director for the critically acclaimed blockbuster.
“Wonder Woman” passed the $600 million benchmark as of Wednesday at the worldwide box office, taking in $601.6 million. It will probably surpass “Mamma Mia!’s” numbers today, Friday.
“‘Wonder Woman’ also has a strong shot of passing up [Jennifer Nelson’s 2011 animated film] ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’s’ $665.7 million to become the top-grossing film of all time from a female filmmaker with solo directing duties,” THR predicts. “In terms of a movie from female and male co-directors, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck’s ‘Frozen’ (2013) is at the top of the box-office list with $1.28 billion in global ticket sales.”
“Wonder Woman” is just the second women-directed film to be released with a budget of $100 million-plus. The first was Kathryn Bigelow’s 2002 thriller “K-19: The Widowmaker.” When Jenkins was asked a question about the responsibility of stepping behind the camera for the most expensive film ever helmed by a woman she said, “I can’t take on the history of 50 percent of the population just because I’m a woman.” The “Monster” helmer explained, “I’m just trying to make the greatest version of ‘Wonder Woman’ that I can for the people who love the character as much as I do and hope that the movie lives up to all the pressure that’s on it.”
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” Poised to Become Top-Grossing Live-Action Film Directed by a Woman was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Barbra Streisand and Yvonne Rainer Film Retrospectives Announced
13 hours ago
Film retrospectives will honor two icons of the stage and screen this summer in New York City. An exhibition celebrating Oscar-winning actress and singer Barbra Streisand, called “Simply Streisand,” will be held June 30-July 6 at the Quad Cinema. “Talking Pictures: The Cinema of Yvonne Rainer,” will feature screenings of the dancer, choreographer, and director’s work July 21–27 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (Fslc).
“Simply Streisand” is a collection of Streisand’s “evergreen big-screen work” in honor of the legend’s 75th birthday. Streisand made her feature film debut at age 20 in “Funny Girl.” She won a Golden Globe and Oscar for the role of Fanny Brice. “Streisand’s screen presence was larger-than-life,” a press release details. “Her breathtaking singing voice and extraordinary comic chops turned a series musicals and comedies into smash hits.”
Streisand-led films like “Funny Girl,” “A Star Is Born,” “The Way We Were,” and “Hello, Dolly!” will screen at the retrospective. “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” “Yentl,” and “The Prince of Tides” — all helmed by Streisand — will also be shown.
Opening up about her lack of Best Director Oscar nods, Streisand recently said, “There were a lot of older people [voting]. They don’t want to see a woman director. I don’t know how many women wanted to see a woman director.” She added, “I directed because I couldn’t be heard.”
Check out the Quad’s website for “Simply Streisand’s” full schedule.
“Talking Pictures” will screen the radical work of Rainer, who completed her first film in 1972. Her “cinema signaled new possibilities for film language, retooling narrative generally and melodrama specifically with a disjunctive audiovisual syntax, restless political intelligence, deft appropriation, and deadpan wit,” a press release summarizes.
Rainer herself will attend the retrospective to discuss her career and work with writer Lynne Tillman. Their conversation will serve as the centerpiece of the film series.
All of the films Rainer directed — such as “Lives of Performers,” “Privilege,” and “Film About a Woman Who…” — will screen. Films that feature Rainer as subject and those that influenced her own filmmaking style will also be included. Among them are “Paul Swan” and “Madame X: An Absolute Ruler.”
Visit the Fslc website for the entire schedule and lineup for “Talking Pictures.”
Barbra Streisand and Yvonne Rainer Film Retrospectives Announced was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Trailer Watch: Marion Cotillard Longs for Her Lover in Nicole Garcia’s “From the Land of the Moon”
22 June 2017 1:01 PM, PDT
“From the Land of the Moon”: Genevieve Jacobson (Cmpr)
“All I do is wait,” Marion Cotillard writes to her lover in a new trailer for “From the Land of the Moon.” “I need you to talk to me,” she begs. The trailer suggests that many of her letters have gone unanswered, but still she persists. She refuses to give up on love.
Nicole Garcia’s period drama sees Cotillard playing Gabrielle, a free-spirited woman from a small town who dreams of romance and true love despite pressure from her parents to embrace a more stable, conventional relationship.
The spot for the French-language romance doesn’t reveal much of the film’s plot, but an official summary helps fill in the blanks. Gabrielle’s “parents marry her to José (Àlex Brendemühl), an honest and loving Spanish farm worker who they think will make a respectable woman of her,” the synopsis details. “Despite José’s devotion to her, Gabrielle vows that she will never love José and lives like a prisoner bound by the constraints of conventional post World War II society until the day she is sent away to a hospital in the Alps to heal her kidney stones. There she meets André Sauvage (Louis Garrel), a dashing injured veteran of the Indochinese War, who rekindles the passion buried inside her. She promises they will run away together, and André seems to share her desire.”
But Gabrielle and André won’t be able to run away together if he refuses to correspond with her. Gabrielle threatens that she won’t continue to write to him, but wonders, “What will I do? What can I do?”
In addition to directing, Garcia penned the script for the film. It’s an adaptation of Milena Agus’ 2006 best-selling novella of the same name.
“From the Land of the Moon” received eight nominations at the César Awards — France’s equivalent of the Oscars — including Best Director, Best Film, and Best Actress.
Garcia’s previous directing credits include “Going Away,” “A View of Love,” and “Charlie Says.” She’s also an actress. “My American Uncle,” “Alias Betty,” and “Little Lili” are among her acting credits.
“From the Land of the Moon” opens July 28.
Trailer Watch: Marion Cotillard Longs for Her Lover in Nicole Garcia’s “From the Land of the Moon” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, and Phoebe Robinson to Star in Clubbing Comedy “Ibiza”
22 June 2017 12:01 PM, PDT
Gillian Jacobs is going to Spain with “SNL” alumna Vanessa Bayer and “2 Dope Queens” podcast co-host Phoebe Robinson. The three will star in the Netflix comedy film “Ibiza,” per The Hollywood Reporter. Jacobs stars as woman who travels to Spain on business and “finds herself on a wild ride of partying and clubbing, where she falls in love with a world famous DJ and realizes there is more to life than showing up to a job she hates.”
No word on Bayer or Robinson’s roles yet.
“Ibiza” is written by Lauren Kahn and will be directed by her frequent “Funny or Die” collaborator Alex Richanbach. Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and Kevin J. Messick are producing alongside Good Universe. Production will begin in Europe in July.
The comedy was originally developed for Sony before being sent to Netflix.
Jacobs stars as recovering addict Mickey on the Netflix series “Love.” She recently wrapped “Life of the Party,” a college-set comedy starring and co-written by Melissa McCarthy. The film hits theaters May 11, 2018. Jacobs also appears in “Magic Camp,” a fantasy comedy from Disney that opens April 6, 2018. “Don’t Think Twice,” “Girls,” and “Community” are among Jacobs’ other credits.
Robinson worked as a staff writer on “Girl Code.” The comedian and actress’ screen roles include “Broad City” and “I Love Dick.” You can catch her next in Stefanie Sparks’ comedy “In Case of Emergency,” currently in post-production. Robinson’s book, “You Can’t Touch My Hair,” was published last fall.
Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, and Phoebe Robinson to Star in Clubbing Comedy “Ibiza” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Gaming Company Ubisoft Launches Fellowship for Female Screenwriters
22 June 2017 11:01 AM, PDT
Fan art of Hibana, a character from Ubisoft’s “Rainbow Six Siege”: Ubisoft’s Twitter account
Are you a female gamer with filmmaking ambitions? If so, gaming company Ubisoft has introduced the perfect fellowship for you. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Ubisoft’s film division will select two women screenwriters for a program “designed to highlight female voices in the film industry.”
In addition to six months of professional consultations, the fellowship participants will receive one-on-one mentorship and access to Ubisoft’s library of potential feature films. Ubisoft Motion Pictures’ creative exec Margaret Boykin and vp/head of development Matt Phelps will be leading the program.
“We want to open up more opportunities for women in the action genre,” Phelps added. “This focused fellowship is designed to promote inclusion and provide a fresh take on our material.”
Unisoft is the publisher and creator of video games like “Beyond Good and Evil,” “Assassin’s Creed,” and “Just Dance.” Movie adaptations of Unisoft games “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell,” “Tom Clancy’s The Division,” “Watch_Dogs,” and “Rabbids” are currently in development.
No details yet on the fellowship’s dates or application requirements. Keep tabs on Unisoft’s website and Twitter account for program news and updates.
Gaming Company Ubisoft Launches Fellowship for Female Screenwriters was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
New York State Senate and Assembly Pass TV Diversity Bill
22 June 2017 10:01 AM, PDT
“Broad City,” which is set and filmed in NYC: Comedy Central
The New York State Senate and Assembly have passed new landmark legislation: the TV Diversity Bill. Spearheaded by State Senator Marisol Alcantara and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, the bill would “commit the state to incentivize companies to hire women and people of color to write and direct television in New York,” a press release announced. One of the core tenets of the legislation is a tax incentive to encourage companies to employ women and people of color behind-the-scenes.
The TV Diversity Bill is backed by the Writers Guild of America, East (Wgae), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and all of New York State and NYC’s entertainment industry unions and their supporters.
Although the bill’s success in the Senate and Assembly is good news — and could set a precedent for other states hoping to add TV production to their local economies — it isn’t official quite yet. The tax credit must be approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo and added to the state budget. Luckily, the bill’s authors and advocates “are committed to seeing it through.”
“People in the TV industry have understood for years that enhancing the diversity of writing and directing improves the stories that appear on screen,” commented Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Wgae. “The missing link for policymakers has been putting money at the point of hire, and this legislation is an important step in that direction.”
According to a 2016 study conducted by Dr. Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, employment of women behind-the-scenes on TV has flatlined, without any significant progress over the past decade. The 2017 Diversity Report found that the amount of people of color working offscreen on television series has also stalled, and the number of non-white digital scripted show creators has actually decreased since 2016. Obviously, the TV Diversity Bill is much-needed not only in New York, but on television production sets everywhere.
Visit the Wgae website for more information on New York’s TV Diversity Bill.
New York State Senate and Assembly Pass TV Diversity Bill was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
“Queen Sugar” Season 2 Premiere Scores Series-High Ratings Among Women Aged 25–54
22 June 2017 9:01 AM, PDT
All hail the “Queen.” The second season premiere of Own’s “Queen Sugar” drew 2.3 million viewers as well as a 0.7 18–49 rating and a 2.09 rating among women 25–54 on Tuesday night. As Deadline points out, that means the series scored a new ratings high among female viewers aged 25 to 54, a core demographic for Own.
The premiere episode, “After the Winter,” was watched by 14 percent less viewers than last year’s series premiere. However, the number of viewers in the coveted 18–49 were the same as the series’ debut.
Created by Ava DuVernay, “Queen Sugar” follows the three Bordelon siblings (Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Kofi Siriboe) as they try to revive the family sugar cane business after their father’s death. It is based on Natalie Baszile’s novel. DuVernay served as showrunner on the first season; Monica Macer has taken on the role for Season 2.
The drama series has set itself apart in the Peak TV era by employing only women directors to helm its episodes. Tanya Hamilton (“Night Catches Us”), Victoria Mahoney (“Yelling to the Sky”), So Yong Kim (“For Ellen”), and DuVernay were among the first season’s directors. “After the Winter” was directed by Kat Candler. Other helmers working on Season 2 include Cheryl Dunye (“The Watermelon Woman”), Aurora Guerrero (“Mosquita y Mari”), DeMane Davis (“Lift”), and Amanda Marsalis (“Echo Park”). DuVernay will helm an episode this season if her production schedule on “A Wrinkle in Time” permits.
“For us, [hiring only women directors] is not a trend, this is not a publicity stunt. This is our choice,” DuVernay has said. “Just like it’s their choice never to think about hiring a woman,” she added, referencing series like “Game of Thrones” that are helmed entirely by men.
“Queen Sugar” airs Wednesday nights on Own.
“Queen Sugar” Season 2 Premiere Scores Series-High Ratings Among Women Aged 25–54 was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Exclusive: “This Is Us” Star Milana Vayntrub Shares Her Refugee Story in “Lives of Women”
22 June 2017 8:01 AM, PDT
“Lives of Women”
“I think that my refugee experience was very different than a lot of people coming to this country now,” says Milana Vayntrub in an episode of Indigenous Media’s new digital portrait series “Lives of Women.” Best known as Sloane Sandburg on NBC megahit “This Is Us,” the actress was born in the Soviet Union. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was just three years old.
“We had a lot of help when we got to America,” Vayntrub explains. She and her family received assistance with health care and education programs.
“There are moments in your life where you realize you could do nothing, but if you do, you’ll probably regret it forever,” she observes, seemingly referring to the current administration’s hostile attitude — and policies — toward refugees, and her refusal to stand by silently.
Watch the episode to hear Vayntrub open up about her childhood experience as a refugee. She also explains how following her “karmic duty” led her to pay back an organization that helped her family.
Created by Rodrigo Garcia (“Albert Nobbs,” “In Treatment”), “Lives of Women” feature 60-second episodes of women telling personal and revealing stories. “I was interested in doing something where we’re not looking at extreme lives or lives that are outrageous but lives that everyone can connect to,” Garcia has said. You can check out more episodes on the project’s YouTube page.
Exclusive: “This Is Us” Star Milana Vayntrub Shares Her Refugee Story in “Lives of Women” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Watch: Trans Stars Speak Out in “Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors”
22 June 2017 7:01 AM, PDT
“Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors”
Elle Fanning-starrer “3 Generations” and Eddie Redmayne-led “The Danish Girl” are just two recent movies starring cis-gender actors playing trans characters. Both films sparked controversy, and understandably so: trans characters are rarely depicted onscreen, and when two high-profile projects came along, trans actors weren’t cast to tell the stories. So, why is that a problem? Allow a new video from GLAAD and ScreenCrush to break it down. “Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors” features some of the industry’s top trans actors explaining how on-screen depictions of trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people have the potential to do great harm or good.
“You know we’re real people, right?” asks Alexandra Grey (“Drunk History,” “Transparent”). Trace Lysette (“Transparent”) adds, “We’re not all serial killers and hookers,” an acknowledgment of how trans characters are often depicted. The video emphasizes that there are trans lawyers, doctors, teachers, and actors — but we rarely see trans characters with these jobs in film and television, which is a problem, especially because for “many young or closeted trans people, film and television is the first — or only — time that they see themselves.”
“Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors” includes some important statistics: In 2015, just one trans character appeared in a major studio film, and that same year only 16 percent of Americans knew a trans person. That means that the remaining 84 percent of people didn’t have any actual experience with trans people — just what they saw in the media. And the media often reduces trans people to punchlines and plot twists.
The vid also addresses some questions and concerns about casting trans actors — such as the claim that no trans actors have big names, and thus can’t carry a film.
The video is part of ScreenCrush’s franchise “Our Hollywood,” which “highlights the experiences and perspectives of minorities working in film and television.” “Our Hollywood: Trans Actors” is the first series, and explores “the past, present, and future of transgender visibility in the industry.” The series will roll out across June — Lgbtq month.
Watch: Trans Stars Speak Out in “Why Hollywood Needs Trans Actors” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Study: CAA Finds That Diverse Films of All Budgets Fare Better at Box Office
21 June 2017 12:01 PM, PDT
A recent study and corresponding database from Creative Artists Agency (CAA) found that diversity does, indeed, sell. As the Los Angeles Times writes, the research suggests that racially inclusive movies — whether they are blockbusters or indies — consistently earn more at the box office than their non-diverse counterparts. Overseen by CAA’s Christy Haubegger and Talitha Watkins, the study concludes “that across every budget level a film with a diverse cast outperforms a release not so diversified.”
CAA conducted the study in response to the MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics report, which found that the number of non-white moviegoers is increasing. Forty-nine percent of 2016’s movie tickets were bought by people of color, although they represent 38 percent of the population.
Analyzing 413 movies that were released between January 2014 and December 2016, the study considers the ethnicities of the top 10 billed actors of each film, 2,800 individuals total. For the 10 highest-grossing films in 2016, people of color comprised 47 percent of the opening weekend’s audience. Seven of the 10 top-grossing films boasted majority non-white audiences on their opening weekends.
What’s more, “truly diverse” films — what CAA calls a film with a cast that is 30 percent non-white or more — earn more than non-diverse films no matter the budget. As for audience members, “the average opening weekend for a film that has a ‘truly diverse’ audience, pegged at 38 percent to 70 percent non-white, is $31 million versus $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.”
The CAA study’s findings align with the 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report, which stated that movies with diverse casts boast the highest median global box office and the highest median return on investment. The report also noted that diverse films from 2011 to 2015 outperformed expectations at the box office.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” led by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, was the most successful movie studied by CAA. People of color represented 40 percent of the 2015 blockbuster’s cast and 38 percent of its audience.
CAA will officially unveil its research and database today at Amplify, its private leadership conference in Laguna Beach. The conference will bring together an inclusive group of artists and leaders “with an eye to accelerating the growth of diversity trends.” “13th” director Ava DuVernay, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington, and former White House advisers Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett are among the attendees.
“The hope is that seeing real numbers attached to the success of the inclusion of more voices and diverse casts will be further motivation for studios, networks, and others to be really conscious of the opportunity,” said CAA prez Richard Lovett.
Below are some study highlights:
For the top 10 grossing movies of 2016, 47 percent of the opening weekend audience were people of color.For the top 10 grossing movies of 2015, 45 percent of the opening weekend audience were people of color.Seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies from 2016 delivered opening weekend audiences that were more than 50 percent non-white.Four of the 10 highest-grossing movies from 2015 delivered opening weekend audiences that were more than 50 percent non-white.Films with a “truly diverse” cast outperform non-diverse films at the opening weekend box office.The average opening weekend for a film that has a “truly diverse” audience is $31 million, compared to $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.A more diverse cast brings a more diverse audience, which brings in more money.The best-performing movie featured in the study was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”The whitest genres casting-wise are horror and fantasy.The most diverse genres are comedy and thriller.Caucasians are more likely to flock to drama and romance; black people to biopics and thrillers; Hispanics to horror and animation, and Asians to fantasy and animation.
Study: CAA Finds That Diverse Films of All Budgets Fare Better at Box Office was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, & Reese Witherspoon Make THR’s Most Powerful People in Entertainment…
21 June 2017 11:01 AM, PDT
Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Ava DuVernay are all collaborating on one of 2018’s most highly anticipated films, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Winfrey and Witherspoon star in the DuVernay-directed adaptation of the beloved sci-fi novel, set to bow early next year. The trio of A-listers have something else in common: they’re among the 24 women to make the cut for The Hollywood Reporter’s Most Powerful People in Entertainment List.
The number of women in this year’s THR 100 marks an improvement from last year’s, when 19 women appeared on the list. Women — such as TV titan Shonda Rhimes, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, and producer/ host Ellen DeGeneres — earned spots on the list for acting, producing, directing, and fronting studios. Here are some highlights from the feature:
Witherspoon in “Home Again”
The best advice Witherspoon has received about power: “I had the privilege of working with Oprah Winfrey on a movie for three months this year, and she taught me so much about business. She does not waste a minute of her time, and she does it all with grace and style and humor. She is hustle personified.”
What Witherspoon has learned about her job from her kids: “My kids help me understand emerging platforms and the opportunity there to reach a broader audience. It inspired me to expand my production company into digital and mobile content for women and create a dialogue on social media with my fans.”
The best advice Jenkins has received about power: “I learned to watch the simplicity of shifting power dynamics from [producer] Brad Wyman, who used to break it down for me daily while we were making ‘Monster.’ He has one of the cleanest grasps on power of anyone I’ve ever met because it is totally unfettered by emotion or his own agenda. He’s a pessimist but could always be talked into pointing out the only available avenues for optimism when pushed. I learned a lot from him about the dry simplicity of strategy and patience.”
The object on Jenkins’ desk people would be surprised to see there: “An Avid. I don’t edit my films myself, but I need access to all takes, music, and ways of doing things at all times. It’s the writer in me who wants access to fiddle and learn.”
How Trump has changed Jenkins’ job and life: “I think he has made the messages and discussions I want to have more in-focus and pertinent than ever.”
Who DuVernay would switch jobs with in Hollywood for a day: “[Netflix’s] Ted Sarandos. I’d like to know how it feels to be the industry’s biggest disruptor and have those deep pockets too. I’d make it a shopping day.”
How Trump has changed DuVernay’s job and life: “He’s devastated me in many ways, but each of those ways has made me more determined than before.”
Diane Nelson: Wall Street Journal/YouTube
Who Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment, would switch jobs with in Hollywood for a day: “Patty Jenkins. To feel demand for your talent, regardless of gender, and knowing you are creating films that are going to leave lifetime imprints.”
The best advice Nancy Dubuc, President/CEO of A+E Networks, has received about power: “I can’t say there’s been any specific advice that I could quote. But, so many people that I admire, especially those women who have climbed the ranks, from superagents to gifted storytellers and mentors — all taught me by example to respect your use of power and never assume it’s a given, certainly as a woman.”
See below for a complete list of women on the THR 100. Head over to THR for more words of wisdom from the most powerful women in Hollywood.
98. Reese Witherspoon (Actor/producer)
94. Patty Jenkins (Director)
75. Meryl Streep (Actor)
70. Ava DuVernay (Director/producer)
62. Melissa McCarthy (Actor/producer)
44. Nancy Dubuc (President/CEO, A+E Networks
43. Ellen DeGeneres (Host/producer)
41. Jennifer Lawrence (Actor)
37. Shonda Rhimes (Writer/executive producer)
27. Jennifer Salke (President, NBC)
21. Bonnie Hammer (Chairman, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment)
16. Dana Walden (Co-ceo/chairman, Fox TV Group)
9. Oprah Winfrey (CEO, Own)
Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, & Reese Witherspoon Make THR’s Most Powerful People in Entertainment… was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Ana Asensio’s SXSW Winner “Most Beautiful Island” Acquired By Orion and Samuel Goldwyn
21 June 2017 10:01 AM, PDT
Orion Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Films have snagged the North American rights to SXSW winner “Most Beautiful Island,” Deadline reports. Directed, written, produced by, and starring Ana Asensio, the psychological thriller follows a particularly challenging and eventful day in the life of an undocumented young immigrant trying to escape a tragic past.
Luciana (Asensio) leaves Spain with the hopes of creating a new life for herself in New York. She’s been paying her rent by taking on illegal jobs. “As Luciana’s day unfolds, she is whisked through a series of troublesome and unforeseeable extremes,” Deadline summarizes. She’s offered a gig at an exclusive party, and “before her day is done, she inadvertently finds herself a central participant in a cruel game where lives are placed at risk, and psyches are twisted and broken for the perverse entertainment of a privileged few.”
“I wanted to write a story that I felt — and feel — close to so that I could make the events and the emotions as authentic as possible,” Asensio explained in an interview with Women and Hollywood. “‘Most Beautiful Island’ was inspired by a combination of real experiences that I and other foreign females encountered in New York City when we first arrived.”
“Most Beautiful Island” was named the winner of this year’s SXSW’s Grand Jury Award in the narrative feature competition, but making the film was an uphill battle for Asensio. “Being my first film, everything was a huge challenge for me — writing the script, convincing producers, pushing my vision, directing the actors, and acting myself in the film,” the multi-hyphenate said. “However, the most challenging aspect looking back was having to make important decisions on the spot when things didn’t go precisely the way I expected.”
Ana Asensio’s SXSW Winner “Most Beautiful Island” Acquired By Orion and Samuel Goldwyn was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Common Sense Media Unveils “Positive Gender Representations” Seal
21 June 2017 9:01 AM, PDT
“Hidden Figures” received Common Sense Media’s “positive gender representations” seal: Fox 2000
Since 2003, Common Sense Media has suggested suitable children’s entertainment to parents and educators. In addition to rating TV series and movies based on age-appropriate content and the prevalence of positive messaging, Common Sense will now also be grading media based on its depiction of gender. Per The New York Times, Common Sense has implemented a new “positive gender representations” seal, which denotes “that reviewers judged it to prompt boys and girls to think beyond traditional gender roles.”
After surveying about 1,000 parents across the country, Common Sense found that most were concerned about how representations of gender could influence their kids. In particular, “African-Americans were the most worried about what their children watched. More than white or Latino parents, they expressed concern about boys shown as violent or aggressive, girls’ obsessing about their appearance, and the way African-American girls and boys are portrayed.” Thus, the new gender metric was developed.
A few titles that have received the gender seal of approval so far include “Hidden Figures” and “Bones,” which portray women in Stem professions, an area where women in real life are often shut out. Other recipients include “Wonder Woman,” which depicts powerful female fighting in Wwi, and “MasterChef” and “Billy Elliot,” where males’ love of cooking and dancing are celebrated.
Best Picture winner “Moonlight” also received a recommendation, even though it includes scenes of drug use and violence. “I can’t think of any title that has prompted more talk about what it means to be an African-American young man, about opening up more possibilities, than that movie,” explained Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media’s executive editor for ratings and reviews.
While most of the titles that have been graded thus far center on cis characters, Common Sense is planning to rate representations of transgender characters as well. However, no series or film has been graded on their trans portrayals yet.
Common Sense Media also warns that the new seal isn’t the final judgment on a show or movie’s overall worth. “Just because a movie doesn’t get the seal doesn’t mean it’s not funny or entertaining or not worth your family’s time,” Bozdech said. “We’re just looking to call out the ones going above and beyond.”
A nonprofit media watchdog group, Common Sense reportedly boasts five million unique web users per month and connects with 45 million American households each month via its leases with cable companies. Check out the organization’s website for more information on the gender seal.
Common Sense Media Unveils “Positive Gender Representations” Seal was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Patty Jenkins Working on Treatment for Next “Wonder Woman” Film
21 June 2017 8:07 AM, PDT
“Wonder Woman” has grossed over $578 million worldwide — so far — so it comes as no surprise that a sequel is being developed for the Gal Gadot-led blockbuster. But earlier this month news broke that the film’s herstory-making director, Patty Jenkins, was not signed on to helm the next installment of the franchise. Fortunately it seems like it may only be a matter of time until the “Monster” director is locked in — Variety has revealed that she’s already working on a script for the sequel. Allan Heinberg (“Grey’s Anatomy”) penned the first film.
Johns promised that he and Jenkins have a “cool idea” for the followup, and Variety offered more details about the plot. Unlike the first “Wonder Woman,” the sequel won’t take place during Wwi. It is, however, likely that the story will be set in the past. “It will take place somewhere between 1917 and 2017,” Warner Bros. Pictures President and Cco Toby Emmerich teased.
Jenkins has said that she wants the sequel to be set in the U.S. rather than Europe.
“Despite these confirmations of her involvement, however, Warner Bros. Pictures has not yet announced if Jenkins will direct the next ‘Wonder Woman’ film,” Variety writes. The delay is worrisome, but given the overwhelming success of “Wonder Woman” — and the good press for Warner Bros. for giving a female filmmaker the opportunity to tell this big-budget female-led story — we can only assume that the studio is working to get Jenkins signed on. And hopefully sweetening the deal with a huge raise.
Jenkins holds the record for highest domestic opening for a female director. Diana Prince’s origin story raked in $100.5 million during its opening weekend.
Patty Jenkins Working on Treatment for Next “Wonder Woman” Film was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Interview: Costume Designer Stacey Battat Talks Creating the Fashions of “The Beguiled”
21 June 2017 7:04 AM, PDT
Costume designer Stacey Battat’s latest film is “The Beguiled,” which happens to be her fourth collaboration with filmmaker Sofia Coppola. Starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, the film is a Civil War-set psychological thriller that focuses on a Southern girls’ boarding school and the chaos that ensues when a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) arrives. The film has been generating a great deal of buzz since its debut at the 2017 Cannes International Film Festival, where Coppola won a Best Director prize.
Battat’s career as a Hollywood costume designer started in 2007 on Zoe R. Cassavetes’ indie film “Broken English.” Battat has since worked on a number of films including “Freeheld,” “Still Alice,” “What Maisie Knew,” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” She has also designed costumes for a host of TV projects including “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Girls.” “The Bling Ring,” “Somewhere,” and Netflix’s “A Very Murray Christmas” are her previous collaborations with Coppola.
Women and Hollywood spoke to Battat about her costume choices, working with Coppola and “The Beguiled” cast and crew, the research it took to bring these strong but embattled women to life, and how costume design is the one Hollywood profession dominated by women.
“The Beguiled” opens in limited release June 23, followed by a wider release June 30.
W&H: What was it like to work on a period piece set in the Civil War?
Sb: This was my first period movie. I had worked on a period TV show (“Z: The Beginning of Everything”), but [working on a film] is a big difference in a lot of ways. It has to be authentic. You can’t decide at the last minute that you wish a costume is red because you have already made it or rented it. That’s not an option. You have to really decide what is going to happen in advance.
W&H: Coppola has an atmospheric style in this film and your costume choices seem to fall right in line with its palette and lighting. What was your collaboration like with her and the other designers?
Sb: We always sit down and talk before production begins. So Anne Ross, the production designer, Sofia, myself, Philippe Le Sourd, our cinematographer, and film editor Sarah Flack sat down to talk about what kind of mood we wanted to create for this movie. I think we work together in a congruous way. It’s also nice to work with the same people over and over because you develop a similar language.
In this particular case, we wanted the film to be eerie but also beautiful. We talked about the film being ethereal, about the characters feeling like ghosts that had been left behind, about the clothes having a diaphanous quality, about light passing through the trees.
W&H: How did you research the Civil War era, and how did you find the fabrics and laces used to make the clothing?
Sb: I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and visited their textile center. I looked through fabric books from that era and was able to get a good grasp on what kinds of fabrics were available in the 1860s and bought material in retail stores. The buttons and lace are older. I scoured stores to find them.
W&H: How did the social etiquette of the time period play into your design choices?
Sb: The women had to stay covered. I put myself in their mindset and found out they were raised to essentially please men during that time period. I wanted to know what it’s always like to leave before the party is over and what was it like to always want a man to do something for you. I think that these things informed my decisions in a certain way but not in a specific way.
Walking around in a corset is complicated. It’s a different thing. You must breathe and stand differently. You can’t slouch. I think wearing one helped the actresses get into character.
W&H: Can you talk about each actress and what their costume brought to their specific character?
Sb: I wanted Nicole Kidman to feel in charge. I tried to accomplish that by not putting her in very colorful clothes, by putting her in more sedate prints, not flowered but polka dots and stripes.
I wanted Kirsten Dunst to feel romantic. She had come from a city, so in my mind, she was more sophisticated than the other girls. I tried to accomplish that by putting her in diaphanous fabrics.
I wanted Elle Fanning to feel flirty. I hope that the ruffles on her dresses accomplished that.
I wanted Oona Laurence to feel like her clothes were too big because she was either hungry or they were hand-me-downs from other girls at the school.
I put a lot of panels in Angourie Rice’s clothes to show she was still growing. Her fabrics didn’t always match the print, like a light green stripe to lengthen the sleeves of the dress she was wearing.
I wanted Addison Riecke to feel young. She was really funny, and I didn’t know her delivery would be so funny when I was making her costume. I wanted her to feel young and charming.
Emma Howard really looks like she’s from that period. I didn’t have to do a lot. She looked like she belonged to the 1860s.
Sb: Dressing a man in that time period is just easier. There were a lot more constraints to the women’s clothing.
W&H: This film’s production took 26 days. What was it like working in this timeline on an independent film’s budget?
Sb: I had really great team. We were dressing seven to eight people at a time, and we managed to get into a good rhythm. I had the most incredible tailor in New Orleans named Patty Spinelli. I had an incredible costumer named Jennifer Watson. I had the best intern in the world. I feel like these people and support streamlined the production process.
W&H: What is it like being a female costumer designer in Hollywood?
Sb: The one thing I will say is that we are the one profession in Hollywood that is primarily female. I mean, no other area of the profession is. Camera operators, production designers, DPs are generally men but costume designers are generally women — across the board.
Certainly being a woman in Hollywood has certain drawbacks but also merits. I know there is a lot of disparity in the way women are paid as opposed to men, but when I hear about my friends who are lawyers talking about the crazy misogyny that happens in their workplace, I think about how glad I am to be a woman in Hollywood. I wish there were more women filmmakers. There should be more women directors, and more women directors of photography.
Interview: Costume Designer Stacey Battat Talks Creating the Fashions of “The Beguiled” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Holly Rosen Fink
Cross-Post: Lillian Hellman’s Regina Giddens: The Theatre’s Original “Nasty Woman”
20 June 2017 2:01 PM, PDT
The following has been reposted from The Interval with the author’s permission.
When I set out to write a piece on “The Little Foxes,” I headed right to the Drama Book Shop in New York City, to browse and research all things Lillian Hellman. Shockingly, there were no biographies of her in stock or on order. She was not even included in the Drama Book Shop’s most basic book series outlining the lives of accomplished American playwrights. I perused Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores with large theatre sections, but all to no avail. The most recent Hellman biography (less than five years old and provocatively titled “A Difficult Woman”) was even hard to obtain on Amazon; I had to purchase it through a third party seller. Not only are Hellman biographies in short supply, so too are Hellman revivals. Her plays have only been brought back to Broadway six times total, as opposed to the 25 Broadway revivals for Arthur Miller, or the 31 Broadway revivals for Tennessee Williams. To this day, she has never won a Best Play or Best Revival of a Play Tony Award. The sixth and current Hellman revival is of her most acclaimed play, “The Little Foxes,” which is about the unconventional Southern matriarch Regina Giddens, who manipulates her brothers’ moneymaking scheme with grit, ambition, and business acumen.
Of course, Hellman was a fairly unconventional woman herself. Born into a Southern Jewish family, Hellman was, as a woman and a Jew, automatically placed in the periphery of society, twice over. Nevertheless, she grew up to become a popular playwright, spinning successful stories depicting strong women. Independent and outspoken, at the time of her first Broadway hit she was a divorcée engaged in a fairly public love affair with a married man. Hellman was even blacklisted in the McCarthy Era for refusing to cooperate with the Huac [House Un-American Activities Committee], instead famously claiming, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” But these things were part of her notoriety and celebrity appeal, not the cause of her downfall. Despite her apparently unladylike lifestyle, Hellman was adored throughout the middle of the 20th Century. Her reputation only became irreversibly tarnished in the 1970s, when a fellow female writer accused her of plagiarism. By the time of her death in 1984, this once celebrated woman had fallen into a state of semi-obscurity in comparison to her contemporaries.
A recent New York Times article by Jason Zinoman (in response to an article by Washington Post critic Peter Marks) questioned whether Hellman actually belonged in “the same elite club of 20th-century masters” as Miller and Williams. Zinoman concluded that Manhattan Theatre Club’s current revival of “Foxes” would be an opportunity for the piece to prove itself. (He neglected to mention that this Mtc production is the only revival of a play on Broadway this season that was written by a woman. Furthermore, it is the first time a woman has produced this play on Broadway; a woman has still never directed it.) It is absurd to think that nearly 80 years after “Foxes” debuted, the play is still fighting to prove its worth. For the record, reviews of the Mtc revival from The Washington Post, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter described “Foxes” as “worthy of exalted rank in the American canon,” “astonishingly well-constructed,” and “too seldom revived on Broadway,” respectively. Even The New York Times review — albeit not by Zinoman — conceded that “Foxes” certainly “comes pretty close” to deserving “a place in the first rank of American theater.”
Curious to know how earlier productions of “Foxes” had been received by theatrical critics, I downloaded some reviews from The New York Times archives. Three Broadway revivals ago, a 1981 article by Frank Rich described Regina, the tour-de-force protagonist of “Foxes,” as a “malignant southern bitch-goddess.” The same paper that refused to print the full title of the play “The Motherfucker with the Hat” in 2011 had no problem printing the word “bitch” 30 years earlier. These days, the word “bitch” is used fairly casually (and it is certainly not likely to be considered as potentially offensive as “motherfucker”), but it is still a derogative, gendered word for which there is no male equivalent. “Motherfucker” might well be the next closest thing.
A 2014 article by Justin Peters on the Times’ “profanity policy” quoted Standards Editor Philip B. Corbett, who explained that Times writers “are prepared to make exceptions if the use of a vulgarity is newsworthy or essential to the story, or if avoiding it would deprive readers of crucial information.” The position of standards editor had not yet been created at the Times when Frank Rich published his 1981 review, but the profanity policy was based on rules from the paper’s style guide at the time. Was it “essential” to refer to Regina as a “bitch”? Would readers have been “deprived crucial information” if another word had been used instead? Not likely, considering that Brooks Atkinson managed to review the original production for the Times back in 1939 without resorting to profanity (although the character of Regina was described there as “heartless,” “ambitious,” “avaricious,” “malevolent,” “calculating,” “hateful,” “rapacious,” “cunning,” and “odious.” Synonyms for bitch, perhaps?).
Just as there is no male equivalent for “bitch,” there seems to have historically been no real equivalent critical response to similarly strong, complex female characters in plays by the men who made up Zinoman’s “elite club of 20th-century masters.” In the Times’ 1945 review of the original “Glass Menagerie,” critic Lewis Nichols is almost an apologist for Amanda, to whom he frequently refers not by name but as “The Mother.” He sympathetically describes her as “a blowsy, impoverished woman living on memories,” and “trying to do the best she can for her children.” Brooks Atkinson’s Times review of the original 1947 “A Streetcar Named Desire” is similarly apologetic. He glosses over the darker sides of Blanche’s personality, tactfully considering her to be “one of the dispossessed whose experience has unfitted her for reality.” Both Amanda and Blanche, creations of the male imagination, are given far more credit and understanding than Regina. Granted, these women do not appear to be quite as greedy as Regina; Amanda wants security for herself, through her children, while Blanche wants to return to her glorified past. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Regina wants to make money in order to go to Chicago, where she envisions leading a freer, more cosmopolitan life.
Perhaps a more fitting comparison would be to “The Crucible,” which features the selfish, destructive Abigail (though even she can be viewed empathetically if one believes that she acted out of desperate love for John Proctor). However, there is barely any mention of the character Abigail — and none at all by name — in the original 1953 New York Times review of “The Crucible,” written, once again, by Brooks Atkinson. The actress who played her is only briefly referenced, as “the malicious town hussy,” one in a long list of supporting performers. In contrast, Ben Brantley observed how the “frustrated lust in [Abigail’s] condemnation of her fellow townspeople [turned] self-serving duplicity into self-deluding mania,” and devoted multiple paragraphs to that character in his review of the 2002 Broadway revival.
“Malicious” and “hussy” are certainly words that fit right in with the sexist criticism of Regina Giddens, but they are a far cry from the litany of negative barbs ascribed by Brooks Atkinson to Regina. It’s as though it were easier in this case for Atkinson to take the strong, rebellious woman out of the equation, erasing the love triangle at the play’s core. Isn’t that “depriving readers of crucial information,” more so than profanity? Ought we give Atkinson credit for not altogether excluding Regina from his “Foxes” review, or should we criticize his seemingly limited ability to recognize when unladylike women are central to the plot of a play (and only when the playwright is female too)? Either way, the bar seems pretty low.
It was only when I left off scouring mid-20th century theatrical reviews of plays by men and went further back in time, to Scandinavia in the late 19th century, that I discovered a true equivalent to the critical response to Regina. The playwright was Henrik Ibsen and the central character in question was Nora Helmer (ironically, there is a new sequel to “A Doll’s House” on Broadway this season; it was far better received by critics than was the original source material). When “A Doll’s House” first premiered in Denmark in December of 1879, critics attacked Nora’s moral character. As archived and translated by the National Library of Norway, the Danish newspaper Illustreret Tidende wrote that “her faults were many; she was used to making herself guilty of many small untruths, she taught the children falsehood, she was imprudent and wasteful; her ideal nature she kept hidden, almost willfully.” Such intense scrutiny of a woman’s behavior feels more suited to the muckraking journalists of the early 20th Century, or of 21st century Republican political ads targeting opponents, than theatrical criticism.
In contrast, a century later, “A Dolls House” had become an established classic and Liv Ullmann was described as giving “a rich, many-layered performance that has about it the quality of a moral force,” in Clive Barnes’ review of the 1975 Broadway production. Critics in 20th century America didn’t judge Nora as harshly as they had when the play originally debuted, and yet they seemed to apply those 19th century standards to Regina Giddens in “The Little Foxes.” It would seem that the harsh response to Regina’s character was more in line with the critical response to Nora in 1879 than it was to reviews of Nora, or Blanche DuBois, or Amanda Wingfield, or any other strong female character in a mid- to late-20th century production of a play written by a male playwright.
But it is not my intention to throw shade at 19th century Danish critics, nor at The New York Times. They aren’t the only ones fond of derogative words when it comes to Regina. Elizabeth Hardwick of The New York Review of Books called her a “greedy bitch” in reference to the 1967 “Foxes” revival. While she acknowledged that Regina and her brothers (her fellow co-conspirators in the financial scheme) were “the very spirit of ruthless Capitalism,” Hardwick used the far weaker word “coarse” to describe the brothers, in parallel sentence structure to Regina’s “bitch” adjectives. It is as though she is implying that ruthlessly capitalistic men are coarse while ruthlessly capitalistic women are greedy bitches. It seems Regina’s unladylike behavior has historically perturbed some female theatre critics as well as male. And lest any readers think that the current “Foxes” revival has escaped the clutches of such language, Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard used the phrase “queen bitch” to describe Regina (while simply referring to her brothers as “greedy”) in his review from April 2017.
To be fair, 21st century critics have spent more time pondering Regina’s psychology and motivations than in the past, when most of the character’s (limited) praise had to do solely with how great actresses played her. In 1939, Atkinson grudgingly admitted Regina “has to be respected for the keenness of her mind and the force of her character,” but attributed all the credit to Tallulah Bankhead’s superior acting skills. In 1981, Rich praised Hellman for “throw[ing] her actors the prime red meat of bristling language,” and appreciated Elizabeth Taylor’s ability to find the humor in Regina. In the 1990s, Ben Brantley proclaimed that despite her horrific behavior, “[f]ew heroines of American theater are half as much fun as Regina Giddens.”
By 2010, critics seemed slightly more aware of the depths yet to be discussed in Regina’s character. Brantley briefly noted “a bottomless hunger that goes beyond her articulated desires,” in Elizabeth Marvel’s 2010 interpretation of Regina, and compared her to a Wall Street executive, though the majority of his review focused on an interpretation that infantilized Marvel’s Regina, depicting her as a “presexual, premoral 2-year-old, a squalling, grabby little girl.” New Yorker critic and 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner Hilton Als wrote an analysis of Regina that had sarcasm practically dripping off the page like wet ink: “Life can be hard on a privileged white woman. Just look at Regina Giddens and all the drama that Lillian Hellman forces her to cope with,” he wrote. Perhaps despite himself, however, Als revealed he occasionally sympathized with Regina, stating that “one feels a pang, every once in a while, for Regina’s dark hopes. How far could she — or any woman — really go in a small Southern town in 1900?” He even suggested that a successful revival, unlike the one he was reviewing, might “marr[y] contemporary feminist politics to Hellman’s insight into the ways in which class and race and need can eat away at an ambitious woman.”
It wasn’t until 2016, when Peter Marks detected “a humanizing rationale” in that “gorgeous enigma,” proclaiming Regina to be “less than a hero but more than a villain,” that the character really found nuanced understanding. For the most part, the reviewers this spring seemed to agree. There were, of course, a fair amount of articles trying to heighten the competition between Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon, who alternate nightly in the lead role of Regina and the supporting role of her sister-in-law Birdie. For reference, I refer you to headlines such as the oddly worded “Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon Are Doing What ‘Men Do All the Time’ in ‘The Little Foxes’” or the erroneous “Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon were both up for the lead role Broadway’s ‘The Little Foxes.’ They both got it.” In truth, Linney was offered the role and she suggested that her friend Nixon come on board to share it with her. It would’ve been nice to see more headlines focusing on and commending their friendship, as opposed to the supposed drama, between these two respected actresses.
Regina, at least, seems to be getting her due in this revival, despite Deadline’s “queen bitch” name calling. Variety’s Marilyn Stasio described Regina as “one of the strongest female characters in all of American drama,” and, “a spirited modern woman cruelly restrained by the social conventions of her time.” Entertainment Weekly’s Isabella Biedenharn praised Laura Linney as Regina for “allow[ing] the audience to feel the pain of knowing what she could have accomplished, the deals she could have closed, if she were born a man.” These depths and dichotomies were explored even further in Alexis Soloski’s insightful New York Times review of the current revival. She wittily opened her piece with the observation that “Regina Giddens is a flower of Southern womanhood. That flower is a Venus flytrap.” Soloski went on to call Regina “one of the stage’s great antiheroines,” noting how her behavior stems from the fact that she is a woman with “greater ambition and less opportunity to satisfy it than any of her kin.” Soloski did not gloss over Regina’s questionable behavior, but she urged readers to “admire her flair and her grit,” even while “loath[ing] her politics and her methods.”
When I saw “Foxes” back in April, I was struck by an exchange between Regina and her brother Ben, in which Ben tells her she’d “get farther with a smile.” How could that line not stand out, given all of the memes, tweets, late night comedy sketches, and articles all over the world devoted to discussions of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s smile through the 2016 presidential campaign? The New York Times must have been intrigued by this exchange as well. They created a video feature titled “How Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon Smile at Their Enemies.” In the video, Nixon says she considers the ensuing smile that Regina gives her brother Ben to be “almost a perversion of a smile. It’s a smile of hate.”
Times critic Soloski called Regina’s smile “weaponized” and considered her ultimately victorious. Unlike similarly formidable theatrical antiheroines Clytemnestra and Lady Macbeth, who were also willing “to sacrifice some essential femininity, rejecting wifely and maternal instincts” in order to pursue their desires, Regina’s “comeuppance never comes.” She actually gets what she wants. As Soloski wryly stated, the play “leaves her finally in command of her body and her fortune and her future. That’ll get her farther than a smile.”
But how far have we come since 1879, 1939, 1967, or 1981, if we are still calling ambitious female characters “bitches”? If our most revered papers still crudely and unnecessarily objectify women’s bodies in theater reviews and judge respected female directors for being “too serious”? If men are still primarily the ones writing, directing, and reviewing a majority of plays about women that make it to Broadway?
To take things outside the arguably narrow sphere of theater, how far have we come since Hellman’s Huac blacklisting America if it is still acceptable for male politicians to interrupt (#manterrupt) one of the few female senators during multiple Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, and to silence their female peers in congress because “she was warned, she was given an explanation, nevertheless she persisted”? How far have we come if we as a society call female presidential candidates “nasty women” who need to smile more and who deserve to be locked up for minor email scandals while we permit men to commit treason many times over while remaining heads of state?
Not very far indeed.
Cross-Post: Lillian Hellman’s Regina Giddens: The Theatre’s Original “Nasty Woman” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Women and Hollywood
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