Transcript: The Movies Show: Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan Episode 25
February 24, 2013
The following is a transcription of Women's Media Center Live with Robin Morgan, Episode 25, "The Movies Show" with guests Melissa Silverstein, Keri Putnam, Kathy Bates, and Jane Fonda. A podcast of the show is also available for download.
Announcer: You're listening to Women's Media Center live with Robin Morgan, on 1580 AM; a CBS station.
Robin: Welcome to Women's Media Center live, I'm Robin Morgan. You are listening to us on CBS Radio Station 1580 AM in the Washington DC area, or you're streaming us on the web at WMClive.com. That's the site where you can also find links to podcast of all our previous shows. We want to hear from you too; tweet us at #wmclive or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get your popcorn popped because this week we go to the movies. It's award season and festival season so where are the women? Well, they're here. We covered the Athena Film Festival in all its feminist glory and Sundance, which is experiencing girl power. Then, for a close up at of sexism in Hollywood we talk with actress Kathy Bates and Jane Fonda. This week we also have news you can use and a surrealism corner too. But first we have to go inside the headlines.
Hilary Rodham Clinton is no longer our Secretary of State. With all due respect to John Kerry, I already feel less safe. These four years while carrying out Obama's foreign policy and doing rapid response to global crisis; Hilary has quietly built her own agenda. Dramatic wins were denied her; no peace in the Middle East, no rapprochement with Iran or North Korea. She pivoted instead, choosing to make a zillion small incremental changes in more countries than ever visited by a US Secretary of State. Changes at the human level. As Stephanie McCrummen pointed out in the Washington Post; those choices include promoting a milk cooperative in Malawi and attending an environmental summit in Nuuk, Greenland. Unglamorous events in overlooked places.
"I'm very happy that my 100th country was Latvia," Hilary told students in Riga. The Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves, is an initiative she launched to get 100 million homes to use clean burning stoves, instead of toxic fires. It's reducing carbon, it's improving women's security, and it's saving millions of lives. No wonder her husband calls her 'a walking NGO.' Doable, sustainable, non-pompous, small steps; a woman's touch.
Swanee Hunt, Founding Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School, compares Hilary's legacy with that of that Secretary of State George Marshall, who won the Noble Peace Prize for what came to be called 'The Marshall Plan,' aid to rebuild European economies and contain the spread of Soviet communism after World War 2. It was a new security paradigm; humanitarian, strategic, pragmatic. The Hilary doctrine is all that, and more. It establishes the empowering of women as a central force for a more stable world.
Will John Kerry sustain her vision? Does he grasp that, as the book "Sex and World Peace," empirically proves after a 12 year global study; the best predictor of a state's peacefulness is not what we've been told. Not wealth, not democracy, not natural resources, not geopolitical or ethno religious identity. The best predictor of a state's peacefulness is how well its women are treated.
Hilary has tried to establish continuity to women's centrality in foreign policy. She created the position of ambassador at large for global women issues. She saw to it that the President signed a memorandum making the post permanent. Last March, she issued a document titled; "Promoting Gender Equality to Achieve Our National Security and Foreign Policy Objectives." A dull, wonky name for a revolutionary manifesto. It makes mandatory, the US State Department's inclusion of women in everything from budget plans to peace negotiations.
Me, I think about reading her Wellesley commencement remarks written at age 21, they end with a commitment, "To practice with all the skill of our being, the art of making possible." For decades, she's been learning how. Take that well earned rest, my sister, but only for a while. Women are waiting and so is history.
Now to our first guest. Melissa Silverstein founded the now go to blog for all things feminist and movies. "Women in Hollywood,' it's called on indiewire.com. She is also a co-founder and the artistic director of the Athena Film Festival; a celebration of women and leadership at Barnard College in New York City. Taking place right now from February 7th to 10th, check out, all one word, athenafilmfestival.com.
Welcome Melissa to Women's Media Center live, it's good to have you with us.
Melissa: Glad to be here.
Robin: Now, I don't know where to start, but let's start with the Athena Film Festival which was your baby. You made it happen and it is now an established and huge thing. Talk about it, what it's doing this year.
Melissa: Well, the Athena Film Festival is in its third year. I'm one of the co-founders with Kitty Kolbert who runs the Center for Leadership studies at Barnard College. The goal of the film festival is to highlight women's leadership both in the fictional world and in the real world. What we have put together is 36 movies, we have 11 documentaries, 10 features and 15 shorts, that all tell the story of women's leadership. What makes the Athena Film Festival unique is that have films directed by men and women, but at the core, at the center of each story is a woman leader.
Robin: This is just, this is so special. I mean having attended it and come away feeling like I had entered into the future or entered into a really fair world. It's a cultural shock to come back to the now.
Melissa: Well, we love it and we're really proud of it. One of the things that we do is we kick off the festival not with an opening film but with an awards reception, where we honor women in the entertainment business. This year we are honoring Gale Anne Hurd who is a long time producer who is kind of an outside, out of the box, typical female producer, produces action and genre film. With the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement award and ... Laura Ziskin was a producer in Hollywood who passed away last year.
Our other awardees include the fantastic Ava DuVernay, the director of "Middle of Nowhere," and Rose Kuo who runs the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Pat Mitchell, The Paley Center for Media, and Molly Haskell who wrote the landmark book "From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies."
Robin: I always feel that you are the non-blood daughter, in terms of feminism and films of Molly Haskell.
Melissa: I only could wish to aspire to be as thorough and thoughtful as Molly Haskell.
Robin: Well, your new book, "In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing," is a very important contribution on that front. Say, when it came out, it just newly out, right?
Melissa: Well, yes. It's out two weeks now, my goal when I started the website 'Women in Hollywood,' which is ... I blog on the indiewire network, was to raise awareness of the great contributions women are making in the entertainment business and cover it kind of with a feminist lens. What I have discovered over the couple of years that I've been working on this site is; how we need to amplify women's voices, especially women directors. We live in a world where women are less than 10% of the top grossing directors. Really, they don't have enough of a voice and we don't get to see their visions out there. What I did was take 40 interviews, 40 plus interviews that had appeared on my site over the first couple of years and I put them together in an e-book. There is ... with each director, there is a bio, there are links to their trailers, links to their imdb site as well as the interview.
The objective of this is for people to go, "Oh yeah, there are a lot of women out there." You can download it very simply on ... go to inhervoice.net and it's two or three clicks and you have the book on your computer. You can read it on a PDS, you can also download it to all your readers and if you want to actually get a copy which you can get a copy, you have to get that through Amazon but then you can't see the hyperlinks.
Robin: Oh, then you miss the hyperlink. This is very important, I mean not only because you know your way around social media and the net, but because Hollywood seems to have woken up to, "Oh, a woman director," so we give her the Oscar one year and then we only know that one.
Melissa: There are no women nominated for best director this year.
Robin: I see, so we're back to ...
Melissa: We're back to nothing.
Robin: We're back to nothing.
Melissa: Only four women in what 76 years have been nominated and only one woman have won.
Robin: The guy at Cannes, I remember said something like, "Well, we just can't ..." he "It was the film version of we just can't find qualified women."
Melissa: Exactly! To build on that the Cannes piece is, I've been working with international UNIS film festivals, around the world through my work and through the work of the Athena Film Festival. This year for the first time, we're all getting together in Berlin and we're going to have a discussion on the status of women directors.
Robin: That's fantastic, when is that take place?
Melissa: That takes place February 15th at the Berlin Film Festival and I'm happy to get people who will be in Berlin to join with us.
Robin: But, this is not ...
Melissa: The objective of this is to really continue to raise awareness of the lack of gender parity. One of the things that I've learned from talking with women directors, and I focus on women directors because that is the most important, high-profile position in the industry.
Melissa: That there is a sense that people do not trust women. They don't trust women to have big budgets, to be able to direct films with big budgets.
Robin: It's a ...
Melissa: They don't trust women experiences as films, that's why there are so many less films with women leads. There is a sense that women are less than and this can't continue in order for us to be able to see stories that are relevant to the entire world.
Robin: Yes. Also the director is a command and control position. That's where the rubber meets the road.
Melissa: Exactly, and it's the most visible position. When you see people talking about their movies, you see the director talking about the movie. You see the director talking about the vision. What's interesting in watching the kind of evolution of Kathryn Bigelow in this "Zero Dark Thirty" controversy is that at the beginning, a month ago, she was doing all these interviews with Mark Boal. Now, it shifted and she's doing a lot more on her own, commanding her vision.
Robin: Uh huh.
Melissa: I firmly believe a male director never would have been paired as much as the two of them were. Part of it is just the way that they've worked.
Melissa: But part of it was her discomfort in these kinds of things and also her being a woman. I'm convinced.
Robin: Yes. Well, it's been very exciting to see what you've done with women in film developed from an individual blog, Women in Hollywood, and commenting on what films actually were to women. How women were portrayed in what was good and bad in a different ... to this presence, as an artistic director of a festival, as a co-founder, active in the international film festivals and now a book author.
Melissa: People can sign up for a weekly update of the films that are opening that are directed by women and that are women-centric up on the website, which you can see on indiewire ...
Robin: But if they need to do a search, it's just Melissa Silverstein and women in Hollywood and they'll get there eventually.
Robin: Thank you again for being with us on Women's Media Center live. We'll pause briefly here at Women's Media Center live. I'm Robin Morgan and I will be back in just a minute, with the woman who keeps Sundance on its toes. Don't go away.
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Robin: We're back, with our next guest Keri Putnam. Executive director of the Sundance institute, which discovers, develops and supports filmmakers, presents the annual Sundance Film Festival and has just issued a blockbuster study on where women are in film.
Welcome Keri to Women's Media Center live.
Keri: Thank you, it's great to be here.
Robin: Well, it's lovely to have you here.
Bravo for this report; "Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers," which was commissioned by Sundance Institute and Women in Film, Los Angeles. With four wonderful researchers out of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This is the first of its kind study, isn't it?
Keri: It is. We were very interested at Sundance Institute because there have been some studies, notably by Martha Lauzen, about women representation behind the camera in the studio world. Those percentages have consistently been pretty ... dismal, actually.
We were curious at Sundance about how women were faring in the independent world. I mean we have some interesting space on our own numbers at the festival and in our developmental programs but we really wanted to take a comprehensive look at the field, which had never been done before and theorize that perhaps in independent film there were fewer gatekeepers and therefore potentially fewer barriers to success behind the camera. We're curious insofar as the representation was, and equal what some of those obstacles were and what the opportunities were for us to create programmatic activity to support women.
We were very pleased and thrilled to be working with Stacy Smith and her team at USC Annenberg. She is one of the leading experts on diversity and media, specifically on gender and media. I think the study has yielded a lot of very productive and sort of useful data that we'll take forward from here. We do know that women are doing far better in independent film than they are in the studio world, the mainstream studio world. For example, at the Sundance Film Festival over the past 10 years, from 2002 to 2012, nearly 30% of the filmmakers ... and by that we mean directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors were female.
Keri: That compares to statistics hovering around the 5% range in the feature world.
Keri: Across all the categories, we really are faring better in the independent film world but as you drill into the data you begin to see, not only we're not a parity but there are some significant less in the set we can draw from where the obstacles start to appear.
Robin: Yes. Stacy sent an email right now that I'm looking at right now where she herself, your chief researcher said a couple of especially compelling findings; women are supporting women behind the camera. I guess this is mostly in the independent world. Two, Sundance supplies and reinforces the pipeline of women directors from independent films to studio films.
Keri: It is extraordinary, that was in statistics we certainly didn't go looking for but we were pleased to find. I think this would ...
Robin: You should be.
Keri: ... certainly apply to Sundance Institute and probably to many of the other not for profit organizations that support new filmmakers. Over the 1,100 top grossing movies of the past 10 years, 41.5% of the female directors that contributed to those movies had been supported by Sundance Institute in the past. Speaks to the needs for emerging filmmakers of diverse backgrounds and genders to be supported early in their careers and be given mentorship and a pipeline ... to getting their work seen.
Robin: Yes, the pipeline is all important. She also said, Stacy also said, "As commerce moves into the film space, females move out." That's interesting.
Keri: Yes, and that was probably the most disturbing, perhaps not the most surprising but certainly the most disturbing clear finding in the study, where we looked at the percentage of women that were coming in, let's say with scripts to our labs. We saw that we were nearly at gender parity in many cases, certainly in documentaries. Even in feature film we were approaching gender parity in our labs. But when it came to ... in the competition for feature films, which tends to be first time films from directors. We saw in a narrative competition a drop off from our developmental programs, I think that was about 16.9% over the past 10 years in narrative films.
Keri: But interestingly women were 34% of directors in documentary films, so we can come back to that why is it more easy, why is it easier for women to become directors and filmmakers of documentaries and narratives.
Keri: But as the sort of level of production finance and the level of cast and the level of mainstream financing involvement increased, for example, in our premier section of the festival we saw that percentage drop off both in documentaries and in narratives. Indeed, if you sort of trace the line from first films with Sundance to second or third films through to studio films, you do see a steep drop off of women as budgets get higher and the casts are more high profile. I think that's ... that Stacy refers to that as the fiscal cliffs, which I think is a great term and a useful one and something that we'll be looking closely at trying to find program to help address in the coming years at Sundance.
Robin: Keri, I have to say that the two things that most impressed me about the study, and by the way, the study can be downloaded both from the Sundance institute website and the Women and Film website.
Keri: That's right.
Robin: Please get it. Get it and read the whole thing because it will make your hair curl if it's straight and straighten it if it's curly. But the two things that impressed me the most were that you ... sort of take away. Identified five major areas identified as hampering women's career development in film, and then went into opportunities that exist and that Sundance was committed to doing to change the situation. You want to go into those?
Keri: Absolutely, they include, as I mentioned earlier with the fiscal cliffs, gender and financial barriers, where women just have harder time accessing financing, also male dominated industry networking which is sort of a similar ... aspect of the same problem, and stereotyping on set. Interestingly, work - family balance was not the first, second or third mentioned ...
Robin: Of course.
Keri: ... reason why women are not reaching parity. We thought that was sort of important, because a lot of people may assume that is the primary issue but we didn't find it to be so. But it was also important for us, at Sundance when I take for women in film as well, to not just focus barriers but really look at the opportunities. Look at what works, look what can guide us to creating programmatic activity going forward that will help we hope familiarize these challenges. That includes mentoring and as I mentioned earlier, early support for women as they're emerging in their careers through the sorts of programs Sundance offers at its labs and granting program.
Also, improved access to finance across the board. We don't finance production here at Sundance, we do offer grants, but we do ... we do work with a lot of allied organizations that are stepping into the finance space. We're hoping to be creating some partnership to create opportunities for women directed and women produced films to find new sources of financing.
The third key opportunity was ... in part, what we're doing here today, which is raising awareness of this challenge. I think many people may not be aware of this disparity that exist, but I think in a world where the stories that we hear in the media, not just on film but on television and on the internet. The stories that we hear really shape our culture and shape our perception of ourselves and one another, to have this sort of disparity we think does nobody any good. It's better to have the full range of voices telling the stories that we all share.
Robin: The Women's Media Center's mission is to make women visible and powerful in the media, and I must say that I congratulate Sundance and women in film because this report goes a long way toward helping do that. Be sure to download it from Women and Film website and from Sundance Institute. Thank you Keri, for being with us today.
Keri: Thank you so much, it's really been a pleasure.
Robin: This week we have some news you can use. Two little items; One, right around and during Oscar night, Women's Media Center has a setup a hashtag, so that you can hear, find out and contribute to all sorts of insights about women and Oscars and film. It's simply #oscarwomen. Join us during Oscar night and just before and around that time.
The other little item is St. Valentine's Day is coming up. If you're into that sort of thing, here's a way to make it revolutionary. Information on marriage equality. If you and your same sex lover want to become legalized, nine states have the freedom to marry for same sex couples. They are; Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Washington State and Vermont. Plus Washington DC.
In 2012, the legislature in New Jersey passed a freedom to marry bill and work is, even as we speak, underway to override the Governor's veto (hiss boo), but they're overriding it.
New Mexico and Rhode Island explicitly respect out of state marriages of same sex couples, they don't have their own but they respect it.
Well, nine states now offer broad protection short of marriage; Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island allow civil union, while California, Oregon and New York offer broad domestic partnership, there's a lot of options there. Happy Valentine's Day.
Now, it's break time. This is Women's Media Center live and so far I'm still Robin Morgan. We'll return shortly with the politics of Hollywood and a simply great actor, Kathy Bates.
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Robin: Welcome back. While we greet Kathy Bates, who has been nominated for numerous Oscars, Tonys, Golden Globes and eight times the Emmy, and who was the winner of an Emmy, a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for best actress. She is also that rarity, a great character actor who is a star to and an award winning director too.
Welcome Kathy Bates to Women's Media Center live. It's an honor to have you here.
Kathy: Thank you Robin.
Robin: I have to start by just thanking you for artistry over the years. It's not a big surprise that you have an Oscar and an Emmy and a SAG award and a Golden Globe and a Tony, I got to see you in "Night Mother," on Broadway and was destroyed by it. It was an amazing performance.
Kathy: Oh thank you. I'm very ... that play will always a beacon for me. I was so grateful to have been a part of that experience. I wish I could claim that I won the Tony Award for it, but Anne and I were both nominated for the Tony and Jessica Tandy took it that year for "Foxfire." But we were both so excited to be part of The Tony Award that year. I'm talking of course about Anne Pitoniak who was in the play with me ...
Robin: Yes, both of you were brilliant.
Kathy: It was a magnificent experience for both of us.
Robin: Well, you can tell that in my memory, you won the Tony. You were crowned in actress heaven. How are we doing, we women, these days in the power structure of Hollywood, which like most others is pretty much pale male, as actors, in particular as older women actors. Also, as directors because you are both.
Kathy: I'm more excited nowadays than I was then about, certainly the role for women. I've been watching young actress come up like Jessica Chastain. I see actress that are passionate about their craft again. I think we went through a period where actress were feeling that there was no need to study or ... or really work at a craft. It was about being a success and about making money. It was about limousines and dresses and all kinds of other things that really don't have anything to do with the craft itself.
Kathy: It seemed like we went through a bit of a period there where ... there was a large number of people in the press and in the media who were spoken about as being actors, when really they weren't actors. They were models or singers or whatever.
But I'm happy to see there's so many wonderful women actors who stayed at it. Annette Bening for example, I think it's getting better. I think it's still pretty pale male when it comes to directors, unfortunately. I see very few, of course there's Kathryn Bigelow, who's really stepped up there and does the kind of hard ... films that ... we've seen other men ... do over the years. That's kind of hard, about fighting, about war, about those kinds of subjects. About male bonding and we don't see that much in a lot of the young female directors, I think that are coming up now necessarily.
Robin: Right. It'll be interesting when we someday win an Oscar for a female director who actually can do a film about female bonding and still win the Oscar for it, instead of ... you know what I mean.
Kathy: Yes I do. I think there's still a gender divide in this country, if you will, at just so much of the areas. I think usually civil war in politics, I think there are a lot of divides right now that are keeping us from understanding one another and emphasizing. Certainly with the NRA and the gun battle now, I think there's a big divide in this country about that. What I really wish is that we could go back to school all of us and educate each other in a way that emphasizing. I think that would really be the key. It's not about the guns, it's not about the weapons. I think it's about the hate.
Robin: I think you're right.
Kathy: I still feel that a lot ... I feel some divisiveness, I wouldn't say necessarily in Hollywood. But I do feel that there's a lot of divisiveness when it comes to women and gender, certainly globally. The news out of India recently it's been shocking and a wakeup call for all of us.
Robin: Yes. On our recent ...
Kathy: All of these things, I think occupied my mind more than the movies. I do feel that it's tough for women and I think ... even our President said in his inaugural address that it's time for women and our daughters and our ... to receive equal pay for equal efforts. That here we are in the beginning of the 21st century ....
Robin: Having to say that ... that's right, having to say that.
Kathy: It hasn't happened. I don't know that it's fair in Hollywood, I don't have the chance to look at the books, but I know in my own experience I've had cases where even though I was playing the lead in a film, someone else got the money. I don't know why that happens and it's not fair. We have to change the culture.
I think even for ... you see it's not just Hollywood, it's not just the gun debate, it's not just these different issues and different ... drawers that we put things in. We really have to educate. I feel instead of putting arm guards at schools, we need to put people in schools who can teach kids to emphatise.
Kathy: Teach kids not to bully and teach kids to appreciate each other's gender and to ... for there to be a real democracy in this world.
Kathy: Then there won't be any need for, I mean I remember ... I had the honor of meeting Gloria Steinem at my alma mater many years ago and I gave the speech for the graduates there. She ... I talked about walking in other people shoes, that's what I did for a living. That's what you have to find out when you're an actor, you have to; what is it like to walk in somebody else's shoes? She said it was subversive.
Robin: That's right.
Kathy: Why is it a subversive, you say that, because if you can emphatise with someone else, then you can't, it's not so easy to kill them.
Robin: That's right. It's not possible in fact. Yes.
Kathy: It's not possible. I think that's one of the gift that women can bring to the culture. A global culture, a democratic culture. That can help with so many issues, even besides Hollywood and ... See I've always felt in Hollywood that we reflect society. We reflect what's going on in the world.
Robin: You influenced it too. You influenced it greatly as well and that's incredibly important. The old thing," If you judge somebody by the choices that they've made," and I looked at the choices that you've made in your roles whether as a star or a character actor. They all, in some way or another, really resonate with that message. They seriously do. I don't know if you know, but Gloria together with Jane Fonda and me are the three co-founders of the Women's Media Center. One of the reasons, well the primary reason is to get out that message that you've just articulated. To change the media so it reflects the real democracy and promulgates it. Because that, we're up a tree or up the creek without a paddle.
Kathy: Yes. I commend you on the work that you're doing there and I've spoken to Jane recently about it. One of the programs that you have that I'm very interested in is one where you teach women to speak well when they're in these situations like myself, to be able to articulate and to be good speakers when they're talking about their particular field. To be trained to do that and I think that's a wonderful opportunity for so many women, because I think many women, I think we all ... I think many women need to still find their voices. I count myself among them even though I play characters. When it comes to just being myself, I need to be able to speak about my feelings and be clear about my thoughts. I think it's a wonderful program that you have.
Robin: We've progressive women's voices. We found that even the most incredibly articulate woman about, maybe their own field, when they turn to trying to articulate their passionate political feelings or societal feelings. I don't mean electoral political necessarily, are intimidated because we're made to feel that we're not experts. I don't think you have to worry about that, but I'm glad you think the program is important. We're very proud of progressive women's voices.
I'm very proud that you spent time here with us on Women's Media Center live, it was a real honor. I look forward to many years more of extraordinary performances from you. Any help that we at Women's Media Center can be to you in any way, you know who to call.
Kathy: Thank you so much Robin, it's been a pleasure speaking with you this morning. Keep up the good work you're doing and please let me know if there's anything more I can do for you.
Robin: Thank you so much.
Now we have to enter the surrealism corner. This is where I always want to sing, "Dada dada dada dada," but today in the surrealism corner, what we're looking at is actually real. It's science.
Did you know that men's eyes are more sensitive to small details and moving objects while women are more perceptive ... excuse me, to color changes. This is a new study that suggest that men and women actually do see things differently. There are marked sex differences in vision between men and women, this is a study out of the City University of New York.
A recent large review of the literature concluded that in most cases, females also have better sensitivity and discriminate and categorized odors better than males. This means we can smell a rat when there's a rat around. Previous research had found that we focus differently too. An experiment at the University of Southern California; researchers found that men are more likely to fixate on the mouth of a person in conversation and also are more likely to be distracted by movement behind that person. While women, tend to shift our gaze between the speakers eyes and body, we watch for body language too, and the eyes. We're more likely to be distracted by other people, researchers found.
That's your bottom line. We've suspected it; men and women do indeed see things differently. Dada dada.
Time for another pause, I'm Robin Morgan here with Women's Media Center live, seeing things differently. When we come back, Jane Fonda has the statistics on Hollywood patriarchy and she's ready to share.
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Robin: We are back again. This time with my sister co-founder of the Women's Media Center. Actor, producer, activist, fitness guru, author and all around wonder woman. I’ve got to get her those magic bracelets and that see through airplane. Jane Fonda.
Welcome back Jane, to Women's Media center live, very good to have you back again.
Jane: Well thank you for having me back, Robin. I love being on your show. This time we're going to talk about women in movies and film.
Robin: We are, because it's the Oscar season and this is our show on everything from the Athena Film Festival to Sundance to ...
Jane: Sundance ...
Robin: ... to Hollywood.
Jane: Where this year half of the directors were women.
Jane: Which is very exciting.
Robin: Yes. But what's it looking like in the center of the world, otherwise known as Hollywood?
Jane: Well, as the film scholar Ruby Rich has written in an article for the UK Guardian, you see central women today directing films is like playing against the house in a Vegas casino; the odds suck and the game is rigged.
Robin: Oh ...
Jane: I mean Hollywood is a tough nut for women. There's been some improvement this year over last year. Women directed 9% of the top 250 domestic grossing films, which is up from 5% the year before. There's a 4% rise.
Jane: But increasingly, women are directing and writing and editing and shooting documentary films ...
Robin: That's where our numbers have really gone up.
Jane: That's where our numbers have gone up; 39% of documentaries at all the high profile film festivals last year were directed by women, that's up considerably. But the playing field isn't level. There's a bias against women's abilities and bankability. It has absolutely nothing to do with talent. It's not the studios only hire men for their big films because men are more experienced. "Men have made these big films before so we'll hire them again," but that's not true. Plenty male directors with only one low budget film under their belts have been hired to direct big budget franchise films. Marc Webb, who made this tiny little film, I don't know if you saw it, it was a sweet film, "(500) Days of Summer."
Robin: I have no idea ...
Jane: They gave him a $ 230 million film of Amazing Spiderman to direct.
Robin: I see.
Jane: Or Carl Rinsch who has, he'd only done one short film. He'd never even done a feature. He got to direct $ 170 million film "47 Ronin." Another guy, Rupert Sanders, directed "Snow White and the Huntsman," and he'd had absolutely no prior feature experience. It's ...
Robin: It's not experience.
Jane: It's not experience.
Robin: Well, perhaps it's that the director's chair is perceived as a place of command and control.
Jane: They hire ... the familiar gender.
Jane: Regardless of what the experience has been.
Robin: How do we get into the pipeline? What happens when we graduate, say , from film school?
Jane: Well, Teri Schwartz is on the board of the Women's Media Center, she's had ... she's the President of UCLA.
Jane: Film school. It's a very prestigious film school, and she said, that when they, and it's a coed school, and the men and women graduate, the men get agents and managers immediately and the women don't. It's starts right at the beginning.
Robin: Yes. If we can't even get in the pipeline to get the experience than how come we're criticized for not having the experience. It's tautological.
Jane: Yes. It's catch 22.
Jane: The fact is that making short films and making documentaries does not become a pipeline for women to then rise up to the bigger ... to the bigger studio features.
Robin: It's in danger of becoming a ghetto in fact at this rate.
Jane: Yes. They only take gambles with people who look like the majority of those already directing studio features.
Robin: What about ...
Jane: We have to have a whole attitude change out here. It's important because ... I mean films are such a central part of our culture. I mean ... films do so much for creating consciousness and awareness of ourselves and the society that we live in. What happens is that the point of view in this major facet of culture is all from the man’s point of view.
Robin: Yes, and it not only ... I mean, films reflect but they also define reality. Not just our culture anymore but the whole world. I don't think that we can underestimate the enormity of this as, frankly, propaganda. You are the most principled member of the Academy that I have ever encountered. I know that you dutifully make a point of seeing every single film that's nominated. Which I think is amazing, amazingly admirable. You take it very very seriously. Is there anything in particular that you can recommend this year that you found ... either showed women in some actual light or just was a damn good film.
Jane: Well there's so many good films this year. I mean one of my favorites was "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
Robin: Uh huh.
Jane: It's just ... hauntingly, beautiful and original. It's like a fable. The central female character at the time was six and she's nominated for an Oscar.
Robin: Yes. That's wonderful.
Jane: Beautiful film. I think "Silver Linings Playbook" is a fantastic film. Jennifer Lawrence is the real deal. I mean she is a force, she is so ... embodied. She's so present as an actor. She was nominated a couple years ago for "Winter's Bone," I mean she's very young, she's 22 years old.
Jane: She started in "Hunger Games," but she's wonderful in Silver Linings Playbook. I love Django.
Jane: "Django Unchained," have you seen it?
Robin: No, I haven't. I have resistance going I must say to that much violence. I loved early ... Tarantino. But some of the later ones have been a turn off, but I should see it because ...
Jane: Just because it's fantastic. It's a visceral experience of slavery, done in the context of the Spaghetti Western, so there's humor. But it's operatic, it's over the top, it's exaggerated, everything is ... the blood and the gore, it's all exaggerated. But people are coming out of that theater saying, "Oh my God, I never realized that slavery was that bad."
It's a real ... it's a visceral lesson in slavery. In the same cineplex you can go see "Lincoln," which is a head trip.
Jane: A history lesson of how government works. It's also a very good film. But the two, the fact that these two films are playing together at the same time is really ... I think, really interesting.
Robin: It's quite a double blow.
Jane: To go back to the women as directors, there have been a lot of really really successful movies directed by women; Hurt Locker, When Harry Met Sally, Mamma Mia, Bridesmaid, Lost in Translation, Zero Dark Thirty, It's Complicated, the animated film Brave.
These are all done by women. Women are perfectly capable of making extremely successful ...
Robin: Of course.
Jane: ... and large movies. But they're, it's just too rare. We have to keep talking about it. Where are the women? Why aren't there more women? Why can't we do something about it?
Jane: Is it ... hard to raise money?
Jane: I don't think we can force Hollywood to do quotas or anything like that, but ...
Robin: What do you think it is? Is it that we need more women producers to hire women? Is it that we need more women investors to say, "I want a women investor?" I mean, "I want a women director."
Jane: We need financial institutions that are willing to back women starting their own media companies. We need women in decision making positions who can, they can green light movies and they don't depend on the man upstairs.
Jane: To green light their movies. Women and leadership, it's always comes back to that in every business sector whether it's movies or ... financial or whatever it is we need women in decision making positions that can say, "Yes, you're a woman and I'm going to give you a $ 200 million film to direct."
Robin: Yes. We've only got a few seconds left but say a little bit because I know people will always want to know what's happening with Jane Fonda.
You're in the Sorkin series still? In "Newsroom?"
Jane: Yes, we just shot an episode for the new season. I played Matthew Reagan as a cameo in a film called "The Butler," speaking about movies about race it's a very beautiful beautiful movie that'll come out in a year. Well, it'll come out next fall I think. It's a true story about a boy who grew up on slave plantation and ended up being a butler in the White House, starting with the Truman administration all the way through the Reagan administration. Forest Whitaker played the butler and Oprah plays his wife. A lot of stars play the First Ladies and Presidents. I played Nancy and it was a lot of fun. I'm told, in spite of our differences, that she was very happy that I played her.
Robin: I 'm sure it's one of the high points of her life.
Thanks for your take on Hollywood and women. Thanks for being on Women's Media Center live.
Now it's time for fighting words.
Sometimes, the morning newspaper can make your teeth grind with one article, yet somehow give you hope with another. Well a recent New York Times roller coaster ride left me with sociopolitical whiplash.
Item number one; was that the Indian government is approving new legislation on sexual violence against women. Although it has to be ratified by parliament within six months, the law takes effect immediately. You see, politicians are scurrying in response to nationwide street protest about police and government incompetence in sexual assault cases. Triggered by the recent New Delhi gang rape that resulted in a young woman's death.
The new law makes punishable as crimes the following; voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and trafficking of women. It has provisions requiring female officers be present in interviewing survivors and it mandates punishment ranging from seven years in prison to the death penalty in cases where the victim dies or is left in a vegetative state.
Indian feminist groups are urging the President not to sign this, "Piecemeal and fragmented," law. That's what they called it. Which was rushed into passage they say to mullify public outrage, not to have a serious impact. Glaring omissions include a lack of ... for marital rape and no prosecution of military personnel who commits sexual assaults. Many women's advocate also objected to the introduction of the death penalty.
I sympathize with Indian feminist who are unsatisfied by so little, so late. But it's true that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Of course, it's also true that the bad is the enemy of the good. Protection is some of rapist who are husbands and/or military personnel is frankly, appalling, so is the minimalism with which the law addresses police behavior. Sometimes even police rape in the police station, which re-victimizes the survivor when she seeks help. Which, consequently, fewer and fewer women do.
The Delhi based lawyer's collective, found evidence of judicial bias against women in domestic violence in sexual assault cases and recommended an official mechanism to monitor the judiciaries’ performance. Is that in the new law? Forget about it. Only now is India seriously addressing acid attacks and trafficking? Pause for sound effects of grinding teeth [sound effects].
Then there's item number two; an article about how librarians, Muslim scholars, at archivist and most movingly, ordinary citizens in Timbuktu had hidden ancient scrolls from the Islamists when they came marauding across Mali, chopping off the hands of accused thieves, stoning rape survivors, calling them adulteresses, banning music, destroying the long held sacred tombs of Sufi mystics and saints and burning the famous Library of Timbuktu. But the ancient scrolls from the city's golden age were saved. Text on Islamic philosophy, on astronomy, on botany, medicine, poetry, 8,000 scrolls kept by one family alone, handed down generation after generation. They'd all already been hidden.
Residents of Timbuktu have been through this before many times from when Songhai Emperors invaded Mali to when France colonized it. Unable to save themselves from the sadistic so called 'justice' of mutilation or stoning, these people managed to save artifacts of learning. How fanatics fear education. How they cherished their ignorance. The Islamists yahoos are like the Old Testament's Yahweh, forbidding the tree of knowledge and wrathful at any disobedience. Well, they're gone from Timbuktu for now and the scrolls are safe.
Of course, if we could only convince Indian politicians to understand that female human beings are at least as indispensable as Timbuktuans understand their trove of human knowledges, that would be nice.
That's it for this week. You've been listening to us on CBS station 1580 AM Radio in Washington DC. Or you've been streaming us on the web at wmclive.com. Which also has podcasts of previous shows. Remember to email us at email@example.com. Or tweet us at #wmclive. Portions of this program were taped earlier. Views expressed here do not represent the WMC.
Here is the family for Women's Media Center live; WMC producer and for this program executive producer, Julie Burton. Senior producer Cristal Williams Chancellor. Technical director Michelle Kinsey Bruns. Production Assistant Nora Eakin, and our founding sponsor Regina Kulik Scully. I'm Robin Morgan. Thanks for being with us.
Join us next week when we'll continue to celebrate Black History Month. What is that, one month out of a pale male year? Anyway, we'll celebrate with a stellar quartet of talent and intellect. Barbara Smith, Salamishah Tillet, Bonnie Thornton Dill and Johnnetta Cole. Only here on Women's Media Center live.