How the women of Hollywood call out gender inequality
Sexism is still alive and well in Hollywood. Studies conducted throughout 2015 showed that there are still ridiculously few films being made with female protagonists; that there are even fewer being helmed by female directors; that when there are no women in directing and producing roles, there are likely to be fewer in below-the-line positions as well; and that basically all gender statistics in all areas of filmmaking are terrible, but among animated films, they’re slightly less terrible.
Every year, research institutions conduct very similar studies, all of which produce very similar findings; the stubborn existence of gender inequality in Hollywood is hardly news. But filmmakers and actresses speaking out against industry sexism — that’s headline-worthy, and it’s happened with unprecedented frequency as of late.
All of the women (plus a few men) below have called Hollywood on its sexism in recent months, and more and more A-listers join them each week. Tinseltown had better prepare itself for some major change — the women of Hollywood are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take this anymore.
Arquette kicked off the year of calling out sexism with her impassioned Oscars acceptance speech (she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood, in which she played a hard-working single mom) this February. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all,” she said as Meryl Streep and J.Lo cheered her on in the audience in the most GIF-able moment of the telecast. In September, she continued to speak out, giving an interview about her experiences with sexism in Hollywood and taking part in a discussion on the subject between actresses and female showrunners for The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the many revelations that came out of last year’s Sony hack was the information that Lawrence’s back-end compensation was significantly lower than her male co-stars in American Hustle, despite her unquestionable position as the cast’s biggest box-office draw. Lawrence made waves in October when she published an essay about the Hollywood gender wage gap, writing that she “failed as a negotiator” in part because she “didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,'” as so many women are labeled when they speak their minds.
While it’s true that Lawrence, who headlines two robust franchises, doesn’t personally need more millions (which she admits in the essay), the fact remains that women are paid significantly less than men — at all salary ranges — for absolutely no reason, and she used her considerable platform to bring attention to it. After all, when even the highest-paid actress of 2014 (and EW’s Entertainer of the Year for 2015!) is still not compensated the same as her male costars (and is making less than two-thirds as much as 2014’s highest-paid actor, Robert Downey, Jr.), something is amiss.
Ava DuVernay and Catherine Hardwicke
The need for more women in film exists both in front of and behind the camera, and this spring, after two years of extensive research, the ACLU called for an investigation of discriminatory hiring practices in the industry. In October, the EEOC assumed the responsibility of investigating the issue, and A-list female directors DuVernay and Hardwicke applauded the move. “It’s important that this battle is fought on all fronts,” the Selma director and Barbie doll inspiration said. Hardwicke believes that “this can all change,” and “we can end this boring, repetitive conversation” — though she’s grateful that the conversation is finally happening.
2015 was Schumer’s year — and she spent it speaking out (always hilariously, sometimes profanely) on women’s issues. She wrote and starred in the summer hit Trainwreck, a raunchy rom-com with an unapologetically flawed, sex-positive female protagonist, and befriended Lawrence, with whom she is writing a (female-driven) screenplay. Episodes of her biting sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer more pointedly addressed women’s issues, tackling Hollywood’s cruel beauty standards in the sharp 12 Angry Men parody, in which a jury of men debate whether Schumer is hot enough to be on TV, and the “Last F—able Day” sketch, in which Schumer, Arquette, and Tina Fey celebrate Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “Last F—able Day.”
Schumer summed it all up with characteristic bluntness when she hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time in September. “People keep asking me, they say, ‘Amy, is it an exciting time for women in Hollywood?'” she said in her opening monologue. “And I’m like, ‘No.'”
The Girls creator and star has always been an outspoken feminist, but in 2015 she really upped the ante. In a speech at Variety’s Power of Women luncheon in April, she spoke candidly about having been sexually assaulted, saying she wanted to use her platform to empower her fellow women and fellow survivors. She also set up a pilot at HBO, a comedy about second-wave feminism in the ’60s, and launched a newsletter, Lenny, which has already published an interview with Hillary Clinton as well as Lawrence’s essay. This spring, she participated in a Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion with a group of other TV comediennes, including Schumer, all of whom opened up about their experiences with sexism in the industry.
The star of two female-driven historical dramas in 2015, Mulligan took an active part in the conversation surrounding gender inequality. While promoting the romantic Thomas Hardy adaptation Far from the Madding Crowd this spring, she called out the “massively sexist” industry for the lack of good roles it has to offer women. Later in the year, while discussing her women’s-suffrage drama Suffragette (which was also written and directed by women), she said, “stories about women are largely untold.“ Finally, accepting an award for her role in Suffragette at the Hollywood Film Awards in November, Mulligan delivered a rousing speech, concluding with the call, “Let’s create a gender equality in our industry.”
The beloved actress, who also appeared in Suffragette with Mulligan, has long fought for gender inequality in all areas of the business, and 2015 was no exception. This spring, Streep funded a new screenwriting lab for women writers over 40, and made comments over the course of the year calling out the lack of female film critics as well as the lack of female protagonists. This summer, she sent a letter urging Congress to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, and in February, of course, she enthusiastically cheered Arquette for her Oscars acceptance speech.
Davis is known for being an advocate for gender equality and diversity in media, as seen with the founding of her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2006, which conducts yearly research about the representation of women in film and seeks to improve the gender balance of what we see onscreen. This year, Davis co-founded the diversity-focused Bentonville Film Festival and continued to speak out about gender inequality in Hollywood, saying in an interview that little progress has been made over the course of her long career in the industry.
Not only has there been little improvement when it comes to sexism in Hollywood, as Davis said, it’s actually gotten worse, according to Thompson. “When I was younger, I really did think we were on our way to a better world,” Thompson said in an interview this summer. “And when I look at it now, it is in a worse state than I have known it, particularly for women, and I find that very disturbing and sad.”
The queen of Thursday nights, who is known for her diverse casts and strong female characters, said in an interview that in the film world, “everyone has amnesia all the time.” When movies made for women and about women succeed, “somehow it’s a fluke,” Rhimes observed. “There’s such an interest in things being equal and such a weary acceptance that it’s not.”
Chastain was among the many who applauded Lawrence’s essay on the wage gap, saying “there’s no excuse” for unequal pay, and “everyone should talk about it.” She has also spoken out about the need for complex and dynamic women onscreen. “If the female character isn’t as interesting as the male character, I’m not interested,” she said in an interview in September, pointing out that female action heroes need not wear a skintight catsuit to be powerful. And her dream role? “People ask me if I want to be a Bond girl,” she said in October. “No, I want to be the villain.”
Gyllenhaal brought attention to Hollywood’s problem with women over the age of 25 when she said in an interview that she, at age 37, was told she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. “It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry,” she said. “And then it made me laugh.” This summer, she joined other Emmy contenders (she was nominated for her role in miniseries The Honorable Woman) for the Hollywood Reporter actress roundtable (which also included history-making Emmy winner Viola Davis).
Just a few months after Gyllenhaal’s comments, Hathaway chimed in on the ageism issue as well. In an interview in September, the 32-year-old Oscar winner said she’s begun losing age-appropriate roles to younger actresses, though she admitted, “I can’t complain about it, because I benefited from it.”
Accepting the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Media Awards this March, the Scandal star spoke about the need for greater representation in our culture. “Having your story told as a woman, as a person of color, as a lesbian or as a trans person or as any member of any disenfranchised community is sadly often still a radical idea,” Washington said. “There is so much power in storytelling, and there is enormous power in inclusive storytelling, in inclusive representations.” Spoken like a true gladiator.
Everyone’s favorite Imperator is a leader and example for women in the industry as well as those who inhabit the desiccated landscape of Fury Road. When she reprises her role as Snow White and the Huntsman’s Evil Queen in 2016’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Theron will make the same salary as her co-star Chris Hemsworth — but only because she insisted on equal pay. “Girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing,” she said in an interview following news of her successful negotiation. “It means equal rights. If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way.”
The teenage star of Disney’s Girl Meets World speaks to a new generation of budding activists using their preferred platform: social media. Rowan gave her voice to women’s issues this year when she published an essay about intersectional feminism to her Tumblr, and later joined forces with Instagram to help launch the #MyStory initiative, encouraging women to tell their own stories. Co-hosting an Instagram event promoting the initiative, Rowan told EW, “You’re told, when you’re a kid, like, ‘You can change the world’ — but it’s a difficult thing to speak out.”
Watson cemented herself as a leader among celebrity feminists when she delivered a powerful speech at the U.N. last fall, and she has continued to fight against sexism — in the film industry and beyond — in 2015. This spring, in a Facebook chat promoting her HeForShe campaign, which encourages male and female solidarity in the fight for gender equality, Watson said, “If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you.”
Upon the release of her new movie, The Intern, filmmaker and noted interior design enthusiast Meyers gave a long interview in which she commented on both the lack of female directors and female-starring films. “Let’s not assume women don’t want in on [blockbuster] movies,” Meyers said. “Women can direct dinosaurs.”
The supreme leader of all things GOOP said in an interview for Variety’s “Power of Women” issue that “it can be painful” and “it feels sh–y” to be paid less than her male co-stars, because “your salary is a way to quantify what you’re worth.” At the luncheon celebrating the magazine’s female-powered issue, Paltrow also commented on the language used around actresses who actively pursue their careers, saying that when she was starting out, calling a woman “ambitious” was just about as damning as labeling Julius Caesar as such — but she believes things are changing for the better. “Fear of how we are perceived seems to be waning and things are being brought to life,” the Oscar winner said. “We are empowering each other.”
McCarthy, who will star in her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot in 2016, said she stopped reading bad press after a critic viciously attacked her appearance in a review of her 2014 comedy Tammy. McCarthy called out the journalist at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, but is still disturbed by the sexism that plagues the industry and the media. “It’s an intense sickness,” she told EW. “For someone who has two daughters, I’m wildly aware of how deep that rabbit hole goes.”
In an interview this spring, the Clouds of Sils Maria actress didn’t mince words when it came to the industry’s gender problem. “Hollywood is disgustingly sexist,” Stewart said simply. “It’s so offensive it’s crazy.”
When Babs appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment issue in December, she recalled her directorial debut, Yentl, for which she won the Golden Globe for best director — making her the only woman to have received the award. “We’re just measured by a different standard,” Streisand said about the language used around women in the industry – female directors are “aggressive,” making “vanity productions,” she observed of situations where men might be described as “committed” and “brilliant.”
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey
Best friends and vocal feminists, Poehler and Fey hosted the Golden Globes for the third and final time this January, and their introductory monologue was full of jokes skewering the sexist industry. Later in the year, Poehler discussed some of her experiences with Hollywood sexism in an interview where she said that powerful men in the film business often ask her where her kids are. “It’s such a weird question,” she said. “Never in a million years do I ask guys where their kids are.”
While promoting her family drama Infinitely Polar Bear this summer, Saldana, who gave birth to twins last year, said in an interview, that “it will never be the right time for anybody in your life that you get pregnant,” explaining that the people behind the projects she had signed onto “had a panic” and that she was nearly written out of one. Furthermore, she added that it was a struggle to get childcare included in a recent deal, though studios often will agree to “’perking’ up male superstars in a movie.” In another interview, she recollected, “A producer once told me he hired me for the way I held a gun while wearing panties.”
Blunt’s fierce performance as an FBI agent investigating a Mexican drug cartel in Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Sicario — a role that was nearly rewritten for a male actor — has put her, as she describes it, on the short list of women who can be strong. “Surely not another girl can wield a gun,” she joked to Indiewire. If only so many studio execs didn’t actually think that way.
Hayek joined the conversation this spring when she spoke on an all-female panel at the Cannes Film Festival. Industry power players “don’t see us as a powerful economic force, which is an incredible ignorance,” Hayek said, adding that there used to be a long-standing belief in Hollywood that female audiences are only interested in seeing romantic comedies. “It’s simple ignorance,” she reiterated.
Britton didn’t explicitly call out the sexist industry with an accusation or anecdote of discrimination she’s faced; rather, her support of gender equality took the form of a parody commercial for the best beauty product of all — feminism! “When used regularly, feminism has been known to produce amazing results,” she says in the ad, concluding with the selling point, “It’s not what’s on my head. It’s what’s in it.” Britton also tweeted her support of Schumer’s Friday Night Lights parody “Football Town Nights,” which preaches, “clear eyes, full hearts, don’t rape.”
Soon after the publication of Lawrence’s letter, the Oscar hopeful (in the running for her role in Todd Haynes’ Carol) went on record to say it’s “frustrating” to find out she’s getting paid much less than her male costars. What bothers her the most, however, is “the terminology that’s used to describe actresses who have a point of view,” she said, echoing Lawrence’s sentiment. “The thing I find so frustrating is calling women spoiled brats and b—es.”
When People named Bullock as 2015’s World’s Most Beautiful Woman, the Oscar winner said part of why she accepted the honor was to use the platform to bring attention to women’s issues — particularly to how women are treated in the media in regards to their age and appearance. “I feel like it’s become open hunting season in how women are attacked,” Bullock said in an interview, “and it’s not because of who we are as people, it’s because of how we look or our age.”
Following the news of the American Hustle pay disparity and Theron’s stand for an equal salary, Greer published a thoughtful essay about her experience with Hollywood’s gender wage gap this spring. She commented on the fear of being labeled “difficult” as well as the limited offering of good roles (Greer is widely known for playing protagonists’ best friends that the phenomenon has been named after her). “The fact is that in 2015 a man is still getting paid more money to do the same job a woman does, in Hollywood and everywhere else,” she wrote. “And no matter where you live or what you do, that’s bulls—.”Judy Greer Is The Best Friend from Funny Or Die
Maslany, who finally got some long-awaited Emmy love this year, said in an interview that she doesn’t think there’s a single woman in the industry who hasn’t encountered sexism. “Sometimes you can’t even tell that it’s happening because it’s so ingrained in the way things are structured,” the Orphan Black star(s) said. “It’s so pathetic.”
Add Seyfried to the list of women who have spoken about the wage gap: In an interview this summer, she revealed that she was once paid one-tenth the salary of her male co-star, despite being “pretty even in status.” Like Lawrence, she attributed this disparity partly to her own character, being “easygoing and game to do things,” but acknowledged that it’s hard to fight for equal pay. “You have to decide if you’re willing to walk away from something,” she said, “especially as a woman.”
Collette, whose films Miss You Already and Krampus both came out in the fall, commented on both the Hollywood pay gap and need for more female characters onscreen in a conversation with HuffPost Live. “Creativity is genderless. Money is genderless,” the actress said, and later added, “There should be stories for all. As humans, we need to see ourselves.”
McGowan isn’t shy about calling out Hollywood’s bulls—. After tweeting a shamelessly sexist casting note (“push up bras encouraged”), which she described to EW as “normal to so many people” and “institutionally okay,” she was dropped by her “wussy acting agent” for the move. This spring, addressing the Sisterhood of the Traveling Producers, she delivered a speech listing seven different actions women can take to combat sexism in Hollywood. She told her contemporaries to “suggest traditional men’s roles be turned into ones for women” and “if someone yells at you or puts you down, stop them in their tracks.”
Speaking at 2015’s Women in the World Summit this spring, Mirren expressed her support for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, as “it’s so incredibly important” for girls to see women in positions of power. She also discussed the pay gap, her experiences with sexism in the industry, and the lack of female representation onscreen. “People often say, ‘It’s so terrible that women don’t have great roles in movies,’” Mirren said. “I say: Forget that. That doesn’t matter. Change roles for women in life, and you will find the roles for women in drama.”
Blanchett has called out ridiculous gender imbalances in Hollywood multiple times, from fashion-focused red carpet reporting to unequal numbers of Best Actor and Best Actress nominations at the Spirit Awards; this year, she contributed to a conversation for The New York Times in which various A-listers weighed in on “the stubborn sexism of Hollywood.” But quite frankly, she’s kind of over the whole debate at this point. “It just feels like the industry has the same conversation every year — and I think that’s a fabulous conversation,” she said in an interview this fall, but added, “We’ll be back here like Groundhog Day next year having the same f—ing symposium.”
This November, Witherspoon delivered a speech at Glamour’s Women of the Year event, where she addressed a room full of inspiring women. “Films with women at the center are not a public service project,” she said. “They are a big-time, bottom line-enhancing, money-making commodity.” She concluded, “I believe ambition is not a dirty word” — and encouraged the attendees to follow their own. Earlier this year, Witherspoon spoke out in favor of the #AskHerMore campaign, which seeks to promote red carpet reporting that focuses on women’s work rather than their wardrobe. “It’s hard being a woman in Hollywood or any industry,” Witherspoon said on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars, where she was a nominee for her role in Wild. “This is a movement to say we’re more than just our dresses.”
Following the ACLU’s call to investigate discrimination against female directors, Bigelow — the only woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Director — expressed her support of the initiative. “Gender discrimination stigmatizes our entire industry,” she said in a statement. “Change is essential. Gender neutral hiring is essential.”
Lest we forget, there are quite a few forward-thinking men in Hollywood who are, in fact, evolved to the point of viewing women as more than second-class citizens. Mark Ruffalo, who played Bruce Banner/the Hulk once again in this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, fielded some of the sexist questions usually aimed at his costar Scarlett Johansson on that film’s press tour, as well as tweeting at Marvel that there ought to be more toys of Johansson’s character, Black Widow.
Jennifer Lawrence’s American Hustle costar Bradley Cooper expressed his support of her wage gap essay. “There’s a double standard in the whole world,” he said. “So anytime there’s a place where a voice can come out and be outspoken, that’s great.” Lawrence’s American Hustle director David O. Russell also responded, saying, “I support her and all women,” and her Hunger Games costar Josh Hutcherson applauded his friend as well, adding, “I’m really proud of her.”
Tom Hardy and George Clooney both made clear that they have no problem with women taking the spotlight in what would otherwise be male-centric movies. When asked whether he thought this summer’s feminist action movie Mad Max: Fury Road, in which he played the title role, “was supposed to be a man’s movie,” Hardy replied, evidently baffled as to the point of the question, “No. Not for minute. It’s kind of obvious.” Clooney, who produced and was originally supposed to star in this fall’s political satire Our Brand is Crisis, decided with the rest of the creative team to gender-swap the lead role (Sandra Bullock was ultimately cast) — and suggested that more people start doing the same.
Paul Feig, who is known for his female-centric comedies Bridesmaids, Spy, and the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, said this fall that Hollywood’s gender inequality is “a bigger problem than a glass ceiling on paydays.” Alan Rickman, too, embraces the feminist label. “I always think feminist just means common sense,” he told EW while discussing this summer’s period drama A Little Chaos, which he directed. “And do I live in a world and certainly in a business that is incredibly unfair to women? Yes, I do.” (The film’s star, Kate Winslet, ever the elegant English rose, finds all this talk of financial matters “a bit vulgar,” but said, when asked about Lawrence’s essay, “I admire people who publicly stand up for themselves.”)