For the Annual Review we look back at the biggest conversations of 2015 through the lens of entertainment and one of the loudest battle cries this year was for gender equality - in Hollywood, and in society as a whole. Here we look at the ladies who led the charge and why women in Hollywood should keep their voices raised.
Allow me to open this with a bold statement, if I may: 2015 was a good year for the women of Hollywood.
Make no mistake. The status of and opportunities afforded to women in Hollywood are by no means fair or equal. There is still a world of work to be done in terms of gaining equal pay, abolishing sexist casting practices, increasing opportunities for women (both in front of and behind the camera), and more. But the tide finally started to shift this year when the women of Hollywood took a page from the book of the outspoken riot grrrls of twenty years ago. Female celeb after female celeb looked around at the state of the entertainment industry and spoke out about the great many things that need to change. Taking turns supporting one another, women were loud when it came to rattling the old boys' club of Hollywood, and, what's more, they didn't stop.
It was crucial that, along with the women on the lower rungs, women at the top of the Hollywood food chain took charge of the fight. It's those women who can turn around and extend a hand to the ones below helping to pull them up.
And few names in Hollywood are bigger than Jennifer Lawrence. One of the buzziest entertainment stories of the year was the industry golden girl penning an essay in Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter about her firsthand experience with the wage gap in Hollywood. In her straightforward way, she described what it was like to learn that she had gotten paid considerably less than her male costars on American Hustle, though she, just like costar Christian Bale, and unlike costars Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper, had an Oscar by that point.
But perhaps the most telling part of her essay was where she addressed the issue that women so often struggle with in a professional setting: She didn't speak up for herself because she was scared of being labeled as "difficult" or "spoiled" - kisses of death in Hollywood for a young actress. Which is why it was so important that she bluntly stated that that perception is wrong and damaging to women and she is done with it:
“I’m over trying to find the “adorable” way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard. Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.”
One can also look to the example set by the most powerful woman in television, Shonda Rhimes. The powerhouse writer-producer has built an empire with hits Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, and she has done it by putting women of color, like Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, in the lead roles. It is a small space that she has created for her fellow women of color in an industry that is exponentially more unfair and biased against black women than even their white female colleagues.
In her memoir released this year, The Year of Yes, Rhimes continued to be a voice for women standing their ground. She encouraged women to take a word normally reserved for men achieving great things and apply it to themselves, making "badassery" an official word in our new lexicon and one that absolutely describes the female leads of her series.
“I strive for badassery. Men do it all the time. Take the compliment and run. They don’t make themselves smaller. They don’t apologize for being powerful. They don’t downplay their accomplishments. Badassery is a new level of confidence in both yourself and those around you.”
And it wasn't just straight women that fought for more roles, fair pay, and equal rights, either. The LGBTQIA women of Hollywood were vocal about the state of the industry, as well, with none speaking with a louder voice for longer than groundbreaking trans actress Laverne Cox. The self-identified feminist for all women has been a beacon for often-overlooked issues and barriers that trans actresses face in the industry.
When Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman earlier this year, it was Cox who gently pumped the brakes on the hype train surrounding Jenner's coming out, important as it was. She eloquently reminded everyone that she and Jenner had certain privileges not afforded to the less powerful, including other trans women in Hollywood.
“Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have now have. It is those trans folks we must continue to lift up...I hope, as I know Caitlyn does, that the love she is receiving can translate into changing hearts and minds about who all trans people are as well as shifting public policies to fully support the lives and well being of all of us. The struggle continues…”
Cox's words underscore the fact that the women of Hollywood are taking part in a much larger fight. This year, we've seen a groundswell of activism across the U.S. and even across the world from women fighting for true equality, not just in the industry, but in every industry and in their daily lives. Lawrence's struggles with standing her ground at the negotiating table and Rhimes shining the spotlight on the challenges that women, and particularly black women, face are also part of the tapestry of the broader social movement that reached critical mass in 2015.
Because of the dozens of women in the industry this year who spoke up and spoke out, even at the risk of career backlash, other, younger actresses coming up in the business will be more aware of what they can ask for and what they deserve. The words of the trailblazers are already starting to shape Hollywood for the better.
They're right to be so vocal. They're right to demand more fairness, equality, and respect. That's not just a social or moral issue, but also a cold, hard business one. Simply put, if women were removed from the industry equation, Hollywood would collapse.
This was the year that Mic published a study conclusively proving that not only do movies about women make more at the box office on average than movies focusing on men - a lot more as it turns out, but also that years with more female-led movies in the top ten raise the average yearly box office returns for the entire industry.
Just take a look at Lawrence's Hunger Games franchise, whose last film in the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is currently in theaters and making a steady climb at the box office. In 2012, the first Hunger Games film came in third in the domestic box office, behind only fellow cultural juggernauts The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Its sequel, Catching Fire, did even better, being the highest-grossing domestic film of 2013, and last year, if one accounts for the fact that American Sniper didn't have its full release until January, Mockingjay - Part 1 also clocked in at number one. The franchise has made over a billion dollars domestically in just three years, and has more than doubled that internationally. That is an eye-popping number.
2015 was the year that women dominated as the collective face of the entertainment industry, despite having far more limited opportunities and roles than men. Four of the top ten blockbusters so far, Inside Out, Cinderella, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, and Pitch Perfect 2 were female-led. Three others (Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) featured female co-leads that kept pace with or outshone their male costars. We can expect that when Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens opens in a few days, it will by far smash the box office record for biggest movie of the year, possibly ever, and the face of the world's most universally impactful franchise will be Daisy Ridley.
Female-led properties rode the zeitgeist this year, too. Mad Max: Fury Road, with Charlize Theron the clear lead despite it being Tom Hardy's name in the title, was an cultural phenomenon and feminist anthem. Emily Blunt's turn in Sicario, a role that studios initially wanted director Denis Villeneuve to rewrite for a man, was buzzed about. Women even stole the spotlight in smaller films, like Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and again in The Danish Girl.
The ladies of the small screen held their own, too, with Marvel's Agent Carter and Jessica Jones, Supergirl, Quantico, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Jane the Virgin, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Blindspot all debuting this year and becoming juggernauts of social media buzz, ratings, or both.
There are other signs that the tide is turning, too, as more and more people pick up and carry the banner of gender equality. Disney has been at the forefront of changing the way women are treated. Along with their aforementioned movies and television series featuring kick-ass women, they're slowly addressing the problems of equal pay and hiring practices: Scarlett Johansson received the same pay as her male counterparts in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and just a few weeks ago, Marvel hired screenwriter Stephany Folsom to take a crack at rewriting the script for Thor: Ragnarok. It's part of Disney's new commitment to treating both female creators and audiences equally. While it's just one studio making the commitment, it's a step in the right direction when that studio is the largest and most successful one in the world. If Disney can recognize the value and power of giving women a place in the sun, then so can other studios.
The struggle does indeed continue, but that's not to say Hollywood isn't slowly changing, thanks to the determination of its women. As more and more progressive newcomers chip away at the status quo; old ideas will keep dying to make room for new ones. A larger cultural shift has started to happen; their efforts have finally started to visibly bear fruit.
Just think, if the Riot Grrrls of Hollywood continue to riot, then the next decade just might be the one in which we see true gender equality in an overwhelmingly unequal industry.
This article was originally posted in Moviepilot Magazine – Annual Review where we look back at the biggest conversations of 2015 through the lens of entertainment.