Beauty and brains: Hollywood’s successful leading ladies
The ladies have got the beauty and the brains.
LOS ANGELES – Despite its reputation as a progressive industry, the entertainment business continues to face strong condemnation for its treatment of women.
Last week former Disney CEO Michael Eisner sparked outrage after he told the Aspen Ideas Festival audience that “in the history of the motion-picture business, the number of beautiful, really beautiful women – a Lucille Ball – that are funny, is impossible to find.” The polarizing remarks came on the heels of the widespread Sony email hack late last year, which also exposed sexist views toward women within the upper executive ranks of Hollywood studios.
In one leaked email obtained by the Daily Beast, famed “Newsroom” creator Aaron Sorkin reportedly suggested that male film roles have a greater “degree of difficulty” than female ones, while big stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams received smaller paychecks than their male co-stars in “American Hustle.” And of the seventeen Sony executives earning at least $1 million per year, just one was a female.
So has Hollywood really moved forward from its Golden era patriarchal studio system? Or is it stuck in an old-fashioned boys club where the men make bank and women are afterthoughts?
“Hollywood continues to be a highly imperfect industry in which sexism – and the over-sexualization of girls and women – is still very much present. That being said, it seems insane to think that nothing has changed in more than half a century,” Sabrina Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Independent Women’s Forum told FOX411. “Hollywood will always be an image-conscious industry, and there is probably little getting around that. Audiences like good-looking people. But the more women soar to the top and demonstrate their talent, the less weight we will place on women’s appearances.”
But simply snagging those opportunities seems to remain the hard part. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women in entertainment and media make on average 15 percent less than their male counterparts, while the women direct just 4-8 percent percent of the movies put out by major studiosl. A 2014 Women’s Media Center study concluded that in television only 26 percent of show creators, 38 percent of producers, 11 percent of directors, and 30 percent of writers are women.
Storylines continue to be lambasted in the media too, with the likes of “Jurassic Park” being criticized for sexist content and undertones. Two months ago, sexism concerns even prompted the American Civil Liberties Union asked state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring customs of Hollywood agencies, networks and studios.
On that note, perhaps one thing that has changed over the past few years is the amount of attention the issue is now receiving and the number of stars speaking out. The issue generated a great deal of attention at this year’s Academy Awards, with winner Patricia Arquette devoting much of her acceptance speech to urging American taxpayers to join the fray in pushing for “wage equality” and “equal rights for women in the United States of America,” while the likes of Reese Witherspoon pushing the “Ask Us More” campaign in the quest for women to be interviewed in greater depth than just questions about what they are wearing.
Jennifer Aniston recently claimed that “we’re very much a sexist society,” and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron reportedly refused to star in 2012’s “Snow White and Huntsman” unless her paycheck equaled that of her non-Oscar-winning co-star Chris Hemsworth. Earlier this year Zoe Saldana took aim at Hollywood studios for spending big bucks “perking up male superstars in a movie” with contracts laden with private jets and penthouses, yet declining to include financial compensation for nannies in actress contracts.
“Years ago, they likely would have feared never getting hired again for speaking their minds about this issue,” said Glenn Selig, President & CEO of Selig Multimedia, adding that the extra attention may only bring about short-term changes. “But we all know the focus will move to something else. Once the heat is off, it will likely be business as usual again.”
Los Angeles-based film director Gabriela Tagliavini concurred that the business has a long way to go when it comes to giving females both behind and in front of the camera equal footing – noting that the biggest challenge in her field stems not from knowing how to direct, but getting a foot in the door.
“We’re just going to have to show we can make the money. I make commercial movies for that very reason,” Tagliavini added. “Unfortunately, female directors have to do more to prove themselves, but I’m up for the challenge.”