By Pat Mullen
“Twice I’ve worked with a female director,” says Natalie Portman, “and in one of those cases, the director was myself.”
The state of women’s representation in Hollywood receives a timely assessment in Tom Donohue’s documentary This Changes Everything. Portman’s statement on the dearth of female directors might inspire a gasp from the audience, as it audibly did during the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. However, this fact is nothing new – it’s just been buried by Hollywood complacency as men occupy a disproportionate share of key creative positions and speaking roles in the movies.
This Changes Everything reiterates many of the talking points raised during the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns. The overwhelming star power of the film speaks to the urgency of the conversation, featuring a who’s who of women in Hollywood including Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Taraji P. Henson, Sharon Stone, Chloë Grace Moretz, and the queen of acting herself, Meryl Streep. Donohue, who previously went behind Hollywood’s curtain in the doc Casting By, delivers a perfectly serviceable by-the-numbers talking heads piece that lays out the situation and offers a rallying cry for change.
Whatever the film lacks in revelations or finesse, it offers women a platform to join the discussion. The chief voice in the film belongs to Oscar winner Geena Davis, who discusses her experience changing the game for Hollywood with Thelma & Louise, and then changing it again a decade later with her research into women’s representation through the Geena Davis Institute.
Davis explains her research into the scarcity of representation for female actors and characters in children’s films. The results, released previously and much publicized in industry trades, reveal that Hollywood doesn’t consider little girls when they make movies for children. Representation matters, Davis argues, because seeing oneself reflected on-screen builds confidence and teaches kids what they can do with their lives. The film smartly cites the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and the legion of little girls it inspired as a Hollywood success story on the power of inclusion.
Davis also talks about how the hard data of her research gave quantifiable proof about industry-wide discrimination. However, various talking heads describe the failures of convincing the Directors Guild of America and major studio heads to be proactive throughout the years. The film finally finds a degree of focus as Donohue examines these case studies of women who took the industry to court to challenge discriminatory hiring practices.
But there’s also one odd underlying factor of This Changes Everything: it’s directed by a man. Donohue nevertheless performs admirably and approaches the topic through the lens of intersectional feminism, drawing diverse actors and directors into the conversation to highlight dynamics of race and sexuality that are also sidelined by boardrooms full of straight white dudes. Meryl Streep says late in the film that change will happen when men step up and lend their support. Maybe that’s irony of This Changes Everything: it took a man to make it, which reinforces just about everything said in the film.
You can catch this important documentary October 6.