2017 Was a Year of Reckoning in Hollywood. Will 2018 Be the Year of Change?



Harvey Weinstein at a post-Oscars party last year. Credit Axel Koester/Corbis, via Getty Images

“Do you think this will change things?” More than one person has asked me that question over the past few months. What they — what so many of us — want to know is whether the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against some of the biggest men in the entertainment industry will have lasting repercussions. Invariably, I say yes, though with hesitation. I yearn to believe that both these accusations and the anger that’s surged in their wake will make a difference. But I wonder how this anger can be directed to effect real change, specifically in an institution that’s been as historically rigged against women as the American movie industry. Because anger alone isn’t enough.

What now? Sexual predators can be fired; assaulters presumably punished. These measures may bring relief and perhaps justice to victims, and they may scare abusers from doing more harm. But we are talking about the movie business, an industry that has systematically exploited some women while shutting others out of positions of power. Integrating more women into this male-dominated sphere may not automatically right the balance. At the same time, we know that the board of the Weinstein Company was all male, and John Lasseter, now on leave from Pixar (for undisclosed “missteps”), has presided over a company that produces overwhelmingly male-driven stories.

Until this year, the industry’s biggest scandal in recent memory had been the 2014 Sony hack. Memo by memo, the disclosures peeled away some of the institutionalized thinking that helps perpetuate “the big lie” of women’s inferiority, as the film critic Molly Haskell put it in her 1974 book, “From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies.” The Sony hack revealed pay disparities between female and male performers (and male and female executives), and suggested that women were not even discussed for prime directing gigs. (None seem to have been considered for “Ghostbusters.”) At the time, Amy Pascal was the co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and ran Sony Pictures, but, then, there have been female chiefs of major Hollywood studios since 1987 when Dawn Steel became the first.

In July 2014, months before the Sony hack, I interviewed Ms. Pascal. (She was fired in 2015.) Several weeks later, I also interviewed Hannah Minghella, a Sony executive who, the hack would reveal, was being paid considerably less than a male colleague with the same title. Each woman expressed concern about female directors. Ms. Minghella was especially thoughtful and articulate. “I don’t think there is a deliberate or conscious action to prevent women from becoming filmmakers,” Ms. Minghella told me. “But I think it’s going to require deliberate and conscious action to change it because good intentions for 30 years or more now have done nothing to change the numbers.”

Ms. Minghella was right about good intentions, which some movie people have plenty of. The discrimination in the entertainment industry isn’t about oversight or a matter of one man giving another a job. It is about systemic bias, some of which can be traced back to the old studio days. From roughly the late 1920s to the mid-1960s, only two women directed for the big studios. And while the studios tended to treat all actors like chattel (some more prized than others), women were treated especially harshly because the same sexism outside the industry can be as unforgiving inside it. We know some of the victims. We also know the immortal female stars who helped build the industry.


Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in “Carefree.” Their films provide pleasures complicated by sexism. Credit Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In her book, Ms. Haskell brilliantly articulated the contradictions that haunt the movies, with their dispiriting truths and transporting fictions. And she wrote of the contradictions that also haunt us: “Through the myths of subjection and sacrifice that were its fictional currency and the machinations of its moguls in the front offices, the film industry maneuvered to keep women in their place; and yet these very myths and this machinery catapulted women into spheres of power beyond the wildest dreams of most of their sex.” Moguls like Louis B. Mayer perpetuated the big lie, but stars like Bette Davis also set us free.

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