We’re still struggling with gender inclusivity in various entertainment industry jobs. A recent study titled “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2017” found that women made up only 18% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers in the top-grossing 250 U.S. films released in 2017. Progress is happening too slowly; that figure is only up 1 percent from the previous year. But is the news all bad? Should we be excited about the improving gender inclusivity for female, trans, LGBTQ, and gender non-binary people in Hollywood? Here are a few ways to think about gender inclusivity:
Hollywood is getting more open about money
Grey’s Anatomy star, Ellen Pompeo, recently did a bombshell interview with The Hollywood Reporter about her struggle to become TV’s highest-paid actress (she now makes $20 million a year). Even though Pompeo is the title role on a show that’s earned over $3 billion dollars for Disney (ABC’s parent company), she had to fight to earn as much as her male counterparts. While most of us will never see that kind of money, it’s important for everyone in Hollywood to establish themselves as tough negotiators. People often stay quiet about how much they earn, and the silence and secrecy surrounding salaries helps old, sexist practices stay in place. Pompeo was able to fight for what she deserved with the support of Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes.
Michelle Williams, star of the film All the Money in the World, also made headlines for her own money fight. When Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty (Spacey was ousted after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced), Michelle agreed to reshoot her scenes without taking a fee beyond a union-required per diem, as is often the norm. But her co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million, even though the two actors both had to reshoot their scenes and are represented by the same agency. (Wahlberg later donated the sum to Time’s Up, the legal defense fund established by women in Hollywood to aid working-class women who are victims of sexual harassment and assault.) “Today isn’t about me,” Michelle said in response. “My fellow actresses stood by me and stood up for me, my activist friends taught me to use my voice, and the most powerful men in charge, they listened and they acted.” The outcome is a powerful example of how openness can help us fight gender pay inequality — and if we keep walking in the direction of openness, we’ll see more change.
Stories are slowly becoming more diverse
With the addition of more networks and streaming services – and different kinds of people behind the camera – we’re getting more variety in the stories we see on screen. Even the Roseanne reboot will include a gender non-binary character as one of Roseanne’s grandchildren. The nine-year-old Mark is being called “gender creative.” This is not the first gender non-binary character on TV since Showtime’s Billions has already featured such a character. But it’s the first one on network television.
Still, it’s an ongoing struggle. Conventional knowledge says that certain stories are “niche” and will have trouble appealing to a broad audience. For example, the real-life gay drama teacher who inspired the upcoming NBC show Rise is going to be portrayed as straight. Showrunner Jason Katims said he felt like he needed to make the story his own, but the change has angered many in the LGBTQ community. What details are acceptable to change when you’re adapting a true story or using a real-life person as inspiration?
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story showrunner Tom Rob Smith says he’s aiming to expand LGBTQ representation by portraying complicated characters. “If you want quality, the quality means that some of your stories are going to be disturbing and jagged and not all just upbeat and positive representations of people.”
Changing workplaces mean changing stories
We’ll continue to see a broader variety of characters in movies and on TV with more people behind the scenes empowered to tell these stories. Ensuring equal pay is one way to help new artists rise up the ranks and stay in Hollywood. Curtailing workplace sexual harassment is another. It’s a cycle: when people see themselves represented on screen, they might be inspired to tell their own important stories — and if Hollywood improves its working environments and expands its idea of “mainstream,” people can thrive in the industry and tell more stories.
“I’m pretty encouraged right now,” Robert Redford told Variety of the movement to end sexual harassment in Hollywood. “What it’s doing is bringing forth more opportunities for women and more opportunities for women in film to have their voices heard and do their own projects.”
Ultimately, the road to gender inclusivity in Hollywood is a bumpy one — but the bumps are how we know that things are actually changing.