Hollywood Is The Most Successful Propaganda Machine Of All Time

Hollywood, women

Hollywood’s fake news marketing campaign against women has worked

The dinosaurs are happily making movies and TV shows, seemingly unbothered by the shadow hurtling toward them.

The shadow is a meteor and the meteor is Bad Artists.

Bad Artists — the white men who have so successfully narrativized and marketed patriarchy and white supremacy and the women who act like them to get their jobs — have turned Hollywood into a massive scaled algorithmic propaganda machine that affects us so deeply we’re almost unable to see it.

* * *

Hollywood has run a massive advertising campaign at scale targeting almost every human in the developed and some of the developing world for the past one hundred years.
Hollywood has a feed through which it’s been disseminating fake news to every screen on earth — multiplex theaters and mobile phones, through massive tentpole movies and the tiniest web series and the advertising campaigns and the merchandizing and the PR tours and the talking points that accompany these money-making ventures — trying to reach as many eyeballs as possible and as repetitively as possible (franchises and long-running series) because this is where the real money is.

Fake news? But that’s not fair — they are making fiction.
They (we) are spreading fake news, just like the social networks, because we are making propaganda that presents a fake reality. We create a picture of reality as created by white men (almost exclusively) and in which patriarchal white experiences are the preferred experiences, the dominant experiences, the situation worth preserving, the good ole’ days, “traditional” values. And because this fake news is the way we zone out after work and entertain our children, this becomes our culture.
The people who get to create Hollywood’s fake news get to create our culture.

* * *

Empirical studies show that marketing doesn’t happen instantly and it doesn’t happen when you’re being told it’s happening. Any given marketing push might push your perception of a brand 1–2%, but that push can have profound effects at scale over populations. It can change the outcome of an election.
Hollywood’s hundred-year marketing campaign for misogyny, racism and the maintenance of white supremacy and patriarchy distributed to eyeballs worldwide could have moved perceptions at least 1–2% or far more in favor of white supremacy, patriarchy, and ultimately fascism.
Add the compounding effect of algorithms — the fact that an increasingly profit-driven corporate environment coupled with more sophisticated data science allows platform owners to show audiences more of what they think they already want to see (preferences) based on what they have been conditioned to like by those same platform owners. Hollywood’s algorithms are clumsy and old-fashioned, run by bloated expensive marketing departments who have rusty old prediction tools to go by (including their gut). Newer tech companies use real algorithms, which make their ability to serve you more of what you already like faster, more dangerous and more powerful. The effect of the old-fashioned marketing department’s gut instinct just compounds faster. Facebook learned that fake news out-performed real news for enagement and so was willing to continue knowingly serve fake news to users, primarily on the far right, compounding and distorting perceptions just to make money. They knew they were ginning up the fascism machine. For money.
You have a generation of tech bros who grew up on the first kind of algorithmic social feed showing them more of what they already knew and liked (Hollywood marketing patriarchy directly to them and their tastes) going on to create an even more dangerous and powerful version of what Hollywood taught them was ok — with everyone denying responsibility for their actions when their propaganda machine enabled the rise of fascism in America.

* * *
In the aftermath of November 8, 2016, people pointed to a lot of causes of the Trump victory, but I didn’t see very many people talking about gender.
One of the greatest lies we’ve witnessed lately is the collective delusion that Obama’s election and popular terms as President meant that white supremacy in America wasn’t as virulent as ever — and maybe even growing.
But 53% of white women voted for Trump!” people were saying, meaning, gender wasn’t a factor here.
There were certainly many factors, including voter suppression, DNC failure to appeal to struggling Americans, Russia interference, the media’s false equivalence between a qualified candidate and a dangerous one, Facebook and other monetizers of fake news, the FBI’s interference with Comey’s agenda-driven investigation into a fake email scandal, and mainstream media outlets’ willingness to allow themselves to become a “host body” for far-right disseminators (like Trump strategist Steve Bannon) of investigative attacks against Clinton that fanned the illusion of scandal using the trustworthiness of places like the New York Times as cover.
But if you take a higher level view, at least some of these causes were really about gender.
We are talking about a culture that despises women. A culture that wants women to stay in our places as the quiescent, submissive, underpaid or unpaid permanent underclass that serves men and allows men to continue staying in power. This culture gave Steve Bannon his huge ratings on his long-running Hillary Clinton “narratives” (a Hollywood word if I’ve ever heard one) in his early days at Breitbart News, eventually leading him to establish an entire institute funded with millions to scour the dark web for his “investigations” and plant the results in the New York Times and other legitimate news organizations.
Steve Bannon — the self-professed neo-nazi that Trump has made his chief strategist — is a bad artist.
This woman-hating culture enabled the media’s false equivalence between an accused sexual predator and someone accused of deleting emails — or at least helped perpetuate it. The media are bad artists.
Most people don’t know that they hate women. It’s just a low-level feeling that surrounds them. Men are good until proven otherwise, and women are only good if they stay in place. If they successfully perform roles that look and feel traditionally female. And if they don’t, time to jump on social media to share those feelings. Where we’ll be greeted with algorithms that aggregate other reactions that compound the gut feeling I already have from my misogynist culture. Yeah, it really does feel bad that she’s stepping out of line. She must be crooked and a liar, like the New York Times said.

Both men and women have these gut reactions. They are not limited to women they see in the news or above themselves. They feel that way toward people at work, people they’re considering for jobs. When women experience it, it’s called internalized misogyny.

* * *

Patriarchy is invested in women taking the women’s jobs. Because so long as men get to keep the men’s jobs and women stay in their assigned roles — the women’s jobs — everything looks and feels like it’s more or less the same. We get pats on the head and the women’s jobs and limited power that they dole out to us. But they won’t give us real power. What they won’t do is give us real platforms. They won’t let us do the important work, or be paid enough to be able to take risks required to do that work on our own. They won’t let us make or direct or write the prestige pictures or shows that people actually pay attention to.
It’s one thing to hire a woman in some woman job and it’s another thing to give a woman power. Give a woman a platform where she can shape a narrative directly and actually reach large numbers of people.
Women find it very difficult to get financing, in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, everywhere, for this reason.
I’ve been more and more outspoken about sexism in Hollywood over the past year or two. My agent told me that male writers had said to him “do you really represent Julie Bush?” and to me the unspoken piece was — are you sure? A threat. Consciously or unconsciously, the body politic working to remove a threat to the status quo.
I don’t know who these male writers were, but we can safely call them bad artists.
Artists aren’t threatened when other artists question authority structures. Artists don’t work to shore up the power structures that serve them personally when other artists speak about being oppressed by those power structures.

* * *

We may look back on this as the Troll Election. People online joked that the comments section is now establishing an authoritarian regime.
But what makes a troll? A troll is someone who feels so disempowered by those he perceives is usurping power or status he feels should rightfully be his that he relieves his anxiety by passive-aggressively attacking the perceived usurper online.
Women are the overwhelming targets of troll abuse. You could frame this entire election through the lens of an ambitious woman seeking a job and a psychopathic troll inflaming the gut-level fears of his followers, manipulating the media, engaging sock-puppets to do his dirty work, and launching “investigations” to stop her.
I have experienced all these kinds of troll attacks.
When I published my first Medium piece — Women in Hollywood: A Shitshow — a screenwriter I had considered a twitter friend for years declined to share it because he said he didn’t feel it was well-written. He said he’d share the next one, once I made my point more clearly, because he’s the biggest supporter of women there is. Within a year he was trolling me so hard I had to block him on twitter.
Everyone knows that Hitler was a bad artist as a young man — and the joke goes that maybe we could have prevented the Holocaust by buying some of his paintings. I have a joke that online trolls are bad artists — frustrated little Hitlers so stopped up by the emotional and spiritual demands of actually making something they turn instead to online authoritarian regimes where they police strangers’ behavior and punish them for not falling into line. Or they run for President and win.

* * *

People are saying great art will come out of this catastrophe.
Cuz you know what lead to this? Bad art.
If Hollywood hadn’t been so busy hiring bros just because they were white and male, we wouldn’t be in this position now.

We wouldn’t have been systematically conditioned by virtually every entertainment we experience to think that women are less than, white is better.
Bad art lead to this.

* * *

When we talk about what stars to attach to projects, we talk about how meaningful they are. How much they’re worth. How meaningful a star is usually has not that much to do with their actual acting ability and more to do with how well they’ve managed to game the system — how well they’ve chosen their projects, how well their reps have put them up for good work and steered them away from bad work, how much audiences like them. And how much the buyers like them, meaning the people who write the checks. It’s subjective filter on top of subjective filter, and women always come out “less meaningful” (women of color even “less meaningful”) even though box office studies show projects starring women bring in more money.
Screenwriters and directors go through a similar filtering process, and the results are every bit as subjective. A filter that’s the actual work itself (perhaps the least impactful filter). The ability to game the system filter. The hangability filter (how much do producers and executives wanna hang with this writer or director? This is a real criterion that hiring decisions are made on.) The previous projects filter (which depends on large part on what jobs the person had access to, via her reps putting her up or execs being willing to consider her for certain kinds of projects). The filters go on and on, and then people wring their hands about why and how 90% of studio movies are written by men and 96% of studio movies are directed by men.

* * *

Billy Ray, head of the negotiating committee for our union the WGA, made a joke on the Scriptnotes podcast to the effect of — I fantasize that in twenty years there will be a Nuremberg Trial for everyone in Hollywood responsible for destroying cinema. Something like that. I think his point was more about the corporatization of America’s homegrown art form, and the abandoning of art. But he’s a mensch and I think he would agree that part of the problem has been the powerful’s failure and unwillingness to diversify. Their products are actively falling behind the demographics of their audience, as they say to themselves — but there aren’t any women or people of color qualified to take the job (after they have systematically marketed against those people being interested for the past thirty years, as I was dissuaded as a child, or they rely on the reps to “educate” them on who to hire.
They treat Hollywood like an ATM that’s never gonna run out. We’ll keep handing out deals to the same bad artists cuz the scripts don’t matter, the content (barf) doesn’t matter … we know how to put the numbers together to squeeze profit out of garbage. We have the same contempt for our audience that we’ve taught them to have for us. This is gonna last forever! We’re not striking axe blows into the golden goose, one terrible movie at a time … right? Guys?
We make art but that memo hasn’t reached many of us.

* * *

I was bulimic as a teenager. I would vomit blood routinely.
Now I see that constant vomiting was the only rational, sensitive response to what I was experiencing.

If you weren’t regularly vomiting blood (or pick your pleasure) you were probably a bad artist. You grew up to be a bad artist.

* * *

I was exquisitely tuned to feel what was happening around me. I didn’t have the language then — I hadn’t yet been radicalized — but my body was tuned to my own oppression. And because I had neither the language to describe my experience nor the platform to be believed, I was vomiting multiple times a day.

Girls are socialized to relate to our emotions, boys are socialized to tune them out. (And this is its own tragedy — by all means boys deserve to be socialized to enjoy full access to their emotions and those of the people around them. This is an important goal of feminism.) Art, if it’s anything, is creating something that allows someone else to experience an emotion. Girls have been shut out from making art, from the earliest stages (by culture, marketing, by not being invited in at every stage of the process, by internalized misogyny, by non-stop messaging put out by the Hollywood propaganda machine and others telling them “great artists are white and male.”
Hiring and promoting only white men to be artists makes for bad art, inflates and feeds bad artists. I understand this is a radical statement.
Years ago I wrote a blog post called “You have become radicalized.” Becoming radicalized is the necessary precondition to becoming an artist. If you have not become radicalized, you have not yet become an artist.
You are making bad art. You are a corporate artist. You are serving the powerful. Consciously or unconsciously, you are serving what you perceive to be your good and selling out art, cinema, the rest of us, the whole damn thing.
You deserve to be standing up there at that Nuremberg Trial.

* * *

Know that every time you see a man win an Oscar, direct a huge movie, he should have an asterisk by his name. I got here by affirmative action. I am running in a rigged race where half my potential competitors are hamstrung into helping me fucking win.

* * *

The night of the election, I heard about a breakup on the street in NYC, where a girl said to her boyfriend who didn’t vote — sobbing — “You broke it.
You broke it, Hollywood.

Women In Hollywood: A Shit Show

Hollywood, storytelling, women

The brilliant Danielle Henderson at Fusion asked me to participate in a comprehensive article she was writing about the shit show that is women working in Hollywood. The numbers are embarrassing if this were 1919 — oh but wait, women were doing much much better in Hollywood in 1919 than they are today in 2015.

Here is the full text of my interview.

Right now, I’m writing Robert Ludlum’s THE SIGMA PROTOCOL for Universal. It’s BOURNE meets THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR or THE CONVERSATION. But a totally separate universe from BOURNE. I couldn’t be more in love with it.

In Hollywood, it’s rare to be told directly that you can’t get a job because you’re a woman (though that does happen). Studio execs will say amongst themselves “I don’t want a woman on this” and an exec who gives it to you straight will actually let you know that that’s what the consensus is, so you don’t have to wonder what the real deal is.

I wrote that blog post you referenced after a former boss said publicly that he doesn’t like hiring women writers because they don’t write men as well as men do. The numbers of who gets hired to work in rooms make it obvious that more showrunners than just him feel that way, but he said it publicly.

However, these are dramatic examples. The common, everyday experience for a woman in Hollywood is to be subtly, silently backed away from, shut out of networking, mentoring and socializing opportunities which for men, may lead to jobs months and years down the line. Or at the very least surrounds them with a culture of belonging that puts them in the right mindset and around the right people to keep moving up in their career. I continue to feel shut out of that system — which is vital in terms of career development in Hollywood — to this day.

Or — I’ve been offered the opportunity to direct my first feature film. Everything in me wants to direct. But there’s this awful knowledge, that there are virtually zero opportunities for women to direct studio movies. If I divert time and energy toward developing my directing career, am I facing a brick wall? Can I afford to move my career in a direction that is possibly a complete dead end for me, because of my gender?

So to go back to your question — it’s not like there’s always some big scary sexist going YOU CAN’T HAVE THE JOB BECAUSE YOU’RE A WOMAN! Most often it’s invisible, and it happens way behind closed doors. Or it’s silent and implicit and understood. And you have to really look and reflect to see it even happening at all. And most people working at the highest levels of the industry do not seem to care enough to do that.

Amy Pascal freely admitted to paying Jennifer Lawrence less than her male counterparts on AMERICAN HUSTLE, saying “I run a business. People want to work for less money, I pay them less money. … Women shouldn’t be so grateful. Know what you’re worth. Walk away.”

She thinks what she’s saying is “I can get away with paying you class of people less because you’re just bad negotiators. It’s your own fault for not manning up.”

There are many research studies that pertain to this, but here are three that spring to mind: In one study, the same exact play was given to readers to evaluate, but with male names on the cover or female names. The male names were given much higher ratings. In another study, elementary children’s tests were graded anonymously, and the girls outscored the boys. When the tests had names attached, the boys outscored the girls. And in another study, rats were put in cages with arbitrary labels attached to them — “smart” and “dumb.” The rats that had been placed in the cages labeled “smart” ran the maze almost twice as fast as the rats placed in the cage labeled “dumb.” The researchers theorized that their handlers unconsciously treated the “smart” rats differently — stood closer to them, talked to them differently, had higher expectations for them, thought about them differently.

In Hollywood, there are rats called actors, writers, directors. And we are all put in cages by our agents and managers, by our producers and our studios. Some of the labels on our cages say “action franchise” or “good writer.” Other labels say “black” or “white,” “female” or “male.” If you are the rat in the cage that says “white” and “male” on it, you better believe your handlers are standing closer to you, talking to you differently, having higher expectations for you, thinking about you differently.

Negotiating any job offer is a process of trying to act on imperfect information and trying as much as possible to perfect that imperfect information. How much does the other party have and how much do they want? But in Hollywood, it’s not like there’s a totally equal movie right down the street you can “walk away” to if you don’t like their offer. You may have another offer lined up, but is it as good a movie? Is it a project you’re as in love with? If you’re a writer or director, did you just spend months or even a year(s) doing free work for this studio on this project to get to the point where you’re negotiating? Pascal’s advice to “know your worth” and “walk away” is insulting because it both puts her negotiating partners in the “lose-lose” position (i.e. “I lose if I take the shitty deal and I lose if I walk away from the offer.”) and because her advice assumes absolutely no responsibility on her part or the part of her studio for dealing fairly in these matters.

In 2014, just 8% of the directors Pascal hired were women (and that number is inflated by indies her art-house divisions acquired at film festivals — without these, the number would be closer to the 4% studio average). How is a director supposed to know her worth in that climate? When she cannot get hired to begin with? And the picture isn’t much better for women screenwriters either. I’ve heard from studio execs that reps don’t even put their women clients up for jobs the execs would be willing to hire them for, or the reps don’t push them hard enough, or the reps might think their dude clients are more of a home run for tentpoles, etc ad nauseum. There are so many failure points in the process of a woman getting paid in Hollywood before the point where she is able to “walk away” from a deal.

Which brings us back to the rats in our cages. No talent (rat) is ever negotiating directly with studio heads. Our agents are talking to them, and if they’re any good they have deep relationships with these people that extend way past any one project or client. In a different kind of industry, your market value might be determined by years on the job or programming skills or whatever. But in Hollywood, what determines your market value? Yes, for actors there’s some highly dubious scoring about whether international likes them (and foreign sales agents’s and financiers’s personal opinions and biases come into this big time). And for writers and directors, there’s your quote, meaning what you made on your last movie. And there’s how your last movie performed. All that goes into the negotiation. But beyond that, it’s just how much they like and want you. And how much someone else likes and wants you. Like any market valuation. There’s no app to consult or fair practices guide. It’s all just movie magic. If your rat handlers (reps) believe enough themselves — and do a successful enough job convincing your studio bosses that you are worth more than what they are offering, you may get more. But both sides have to believe it and feel like they are winning in the deal. But there’s no logic determining who is worth what. Is that actress worth more than that actor? Shrug. Will that writer do such a better job than some other writer that they’re worth this amount more? Which brings us back to those studies with the men’s and women’s names on the scripts, or the kids tests with the names on them …. Your agent has to believe you’re worth this much more. And your studio boss has to believe it. And you have to believe it. All this before Pascal’s “know your worth, walk away” leverage point.

And here is the key to all this: once the reps come to the talent with a negotiated deal, it’s all but a done deal. Like I said, negotiating is about imperfect information. In this case, it’s about the client not being privy to all the different loyalties and conversations and other projects in the pipeline and other clients and other (possibly better) movies she might do that usually she doesn’t even know about, trade-offs, promises, and unconscious biases that might have made both the reps and the studio boss stand a little further back from you the rat, talk a little different about you the rat, lower expectations for your chances of running through the maze. A great rep will push hard to strike the very best deal they can (and I love my reps). But Hollywood deal-making is the most psychological game there is. Your reps usually present the deal to you as “this is the best we could get and this is it.” Very few women actors, writers and directors are going to navigate the months-long slalom of getting to that point and then walk away. Because who’s to say whether there’s a better deal elsewhere (your agency won’t tell you that) or whether the studio actually will pay more (is Pascal saying we’re supposed to walk to find out?)

So when I get the advice from one of the most successful women in Hollywood history — a woman who has run a major studio for the past six years and thus has had control over all this — if you “want to work for less, I’m going to pay you less” I have to say it’s devastating.

But your quote is one negotiating threshold that’s hard to argue with. It’s a number. (Although studios do sometimes try to bully you into accepting less than your quote, but that’s another story.) What drives your quote up is getting jobs. I am very happy with the job I have right now, and I am not out looking (today). But speaking for all women writers and directors — and women actors who don’t see any roles for them out there — we do know our worth. We are not walking away. We are ready to drive those quotes up. Help us do that Amy.

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This is the amazing article Danielle Henderson originally interviewed me for, which resulted in this piece. In it, she contextualizes everything I say with recent statistics and in depth analysis. Go read it!

There Are No Rules

Hollywood, women

I was meeting with a high-level producer in December. We were talking about wealth inequality. He was saying how the 23-year-old inventor of Snapchat had been offered $4 billion for the company — and turned it down — and he couldn’t believe this. I can believe this. I’ve seen all the graphs that show the algebraic curves of audience attention moving to mobile. Snapchat IS more valuable than old world companies. It holds more attention. The producer couldn’t accept that emotionally. It doesn’t make sense according to how the world used to work, even a year ago (but how could Snapchat be more valuable than Instagram?).

The world doesn’t change linearly. It changes slow then fast.

I interrupted him as all this clicked together in my head — “There are no rules,” I said. “You know that from the way this town works.”

The idea that a company that makes nothing could be valued higher than companies that have actually made stuff and sold it for a hundred years is almost unimaginable. But it makes sense. Because we don’t value stuff anymore. We no longer value intellectual property. What we value is attention. Whoever marshals, aligns, focuses that attention – those people control value.

Rules informally and retroactively (and usually unspokenly) come to be understood by those who have come to dominate a given marketplace for their own benefit – so they may perpetuate the good thing they’ve got going. If you examine any set of unspoken rules that a community informally adheres to, you’ll find it helps keep dominant groups dominant and non-dominant groups out. In my own community, this looks like rules about what a director looks and sounds like – what a screenwriter is supposed to look and sound like and what they’re supposed to talk about (hint: pretty much the opposite of me – should be less female (and yes, I’ve gotten this note) should be less angry, less pointed, less sharp, less full of rage, less sad, less confused, less honest, you need to watch that edge Julie, less dwelling on thoughts of killing.

The point is – any group enjoying the benefits of the rules don’t want you to suddenly realize there are no rules – the panopticon doesn’t exist – the prison bars are in your mind – you were trained since birth to only go as far as your tether and now you never venture further. They don’t have a fucking tether and they like that you do. They enjoy countless benefits from that. Mental freedom. Emotional freedom. In a town like Hollywood – where the most ruthless and sociopathic, and less dramatically, those most willing to take risks and try new things and just ask for what they want and forge relationships with the cool people (white men) and keep testing and testing and finding some way outside-the-rules thing that just might work – those who recognize there are no rules fastest win. Rules are for white men and all others who enjoy the benefits of unconscious cognitive biases – the beautiful, the wealthy, the physically perfect. Everyone else needs to step outside that pack racing to the middle as fast as possible and instead race out to the far reaches and establish an entrenched position. And hold it with fire.

When I was home in Georgia for Christmas, I visited a 26-year-old woman in prison. She started having kids as a teenager. By her mid-twenties she had three children, received no help from their father and was basically homeless. She appealed to every social service agency for help and was denied for one reason or another. (The agency for homelessness said they didn’t see her being stable in three months so she wasn’t worth helping.) She found a job delivering sandwiches for a local sandwich shop – which is where she met her new boyfriend. When she got denied every other form of assistance – and against her own better judgment – she and her kids moved in with him. Her baby died shortly thereafter. There are conflicting autopsy reports – one says blunt force trauma to the head, the other says asphyxiation. The jury never thought she actually killed her baby – but they convicted her of failing to prevent her baby from being killed. She is now serving multiple life sentences in state prison. Her other kids have been taken away and adopted by strangers. The baby is dead. She’ll spend the rest of her life in prison – at the age of 26.

Do you think she believes there are rules? Would she have been better off with a larger perspective on the way things really work – the way rules cut in favor of dominant groups and against people like her – appearing to punish the guilty and reward the virtuous while in reality all these rules do is keep everyone in their place – the Dickensian impoverished mother of three punished for her poverty and the wealthy never ever punished for their crimes no matter what they do cuz that feels icky to us, as if we’re shitting on the American dream.

There are no rules. Nothing makes sense. Question what the world tells you – explicitly and implicitly. Jump outside the pack. Question everything.

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This should go without saying but — there are no rules in screenwriting either. Great storytelling is all that matters.

What It Means When A Producer Says They Don’t Hire Women Writers

Hollywood, women

 

As a producer, the quality of your information is the only thing you have.

 

That’s all you do. You aggregate information. You find one piece of information and you pair it with another piece of information and then that becomes a movie. Or a TV show. Or a web series. Or a new network.

 

You find one piece of information (a premise you build a show around, a book, an article, an old movie to remake, a thin joke) and you pair it with another piece of information (a writers’ room full of writers, a director you’ve been watching grow her career with indies, another idea you think will give the first idea longer legs).

 

That’s what producers do.

 

And that’s what innovation is. It’s connecting disparate ideas. The further the distance between the connections, the more innovative. The better the art.

 

So when I hear a writer/producer come out in the press saying they don’t hire women writers – what they’re basically saying is – I don’t believe in bigger groups of connections. I don’t believe in innovation. I believe in limiting my group of ideas to the boundaries of what my assumptions can tolerate. I believe in smallness, exclusivity and fear.

 

That mentality might work in the short term. But it doesn’t produce great art that lasts.

 

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If a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises (Harvard Business Review).

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New York Film Academy takes a look at gender inequality in film

She’s Not Just Some Secretary

features, screenwriting, storytelling, women

She’s not just some secretary.”

 

This is what one of the producers on my movie said about the female lead, three hours before we went in to do the studio pitch. We were arguing on the phone about the fact that I wanted her to have a certain job that would give her status more equal to the hero of the film – and he thought her having that job would be unrealistic considering everything she does in the movie and that it would take the audience out of the movie. So he gave her a job demotion right before the pitch, which I argued about – leading him to say “she’s not just some secretary.”

 

I spent the next couple hours timing myself reading the highlighted portions of my beat sheet – and eating anchovies (brain food) – (a fatal mistake as I would be self-conscious about my breath all afternoon) and turning over that sentence in the back of my head like a kid’s rock-tumbler –

 

She’s not just some secretary –

 

I got to the production office a half hour before the pitch. The exec who’s been working with me this whole time sat with me with our feet up on his coffee table and kept me calm. He had tried to demote the female lead for the same reason a month or two before – at 7 pm on a Friday – and I had launched into a histrionic speech that went something like “we are trying to attract both male and female audiences with this movie. And as a female audience member, I can tell you, we know when we are being patronized. We know what kind of movie this is going to be, when it’s being promoted. We see when the female lead has a lesser job and less status than the male lead – when the filmmakers and producers making it consider her less than – and we know what they think of her and us. And if this is going to be that kind of movie then I can’t be involved.”

 

Gulp.

 

In case you don’t know, those are the words of a crazy person.

 

But those are also the words of a person who is crazily dedicated. Crazily invested. Who believes in what she is doing. Who feels it. Who is leading, not following.

 

And at the time, this exec had said “Ok. I get it. I’m in.” (For what it’s worth, that’s the worst/craziest thing I’ve said to him or any exec. And it’s a sign of just how hard we’ve worked on this movie. And – he deserves hazard pay.)

 

So we’re in the production office, before the pitch. My exec friend is keeping me calm. He looks me straight in the eye and goes “I want you to know I was on your side. We didn’t even talk about it.” And I knew what he was talking about – and in fact, I never even questioned that he was on my side on that. So I proceeded to tell him why this thing about the male lead and the female lead being equal means so much to me.

 

“It’s not, like, some abstract feminism thing for me. I was raised by a single mother who had no education and worked full time as a secretary –

 

She’s not just some secretary –

 

— and all she wanted for us girls was to go to college and never have to work a desk job like her and have better lives than she did. And not only did I go to college but I went to Princeton and my first job out of college was [the same job we’ve now given the female lead in the movie]. And despite all that, I have felt marginalized my entire fucking life — growing up in a house of all women (already marginalized as a gender in this species) — abandoned by my father who went off and left us to sink from middle-class into poverty — abandoned by a culture that couldn’t care less about what it feels like to be less than, displaced, marginalized, disempowered always. This is real for me. Visceral –” 

 

She’s not just some secretary –

 

I didn’t know you grew up in a single-parent home,” he said. “I did too. That must be why we’re so …”

 

Sympatico?” I said.

 

We drove the golf cart over to the studio where I met another exec for the first time. (The producer was already inside.) The three of us stood around nervously chit-chatting before the pitch. Making conversation about our families. They asked about my sister, and I told them about how she’s never come to visit me in LA. How she disapproves of my risky choice to become a writer and how she’s basically waiting for me to fail and move back home. How up until recently, it’s been hard to argue with her.

 

The assistant called us in to the pitch.

 

Afterward, the producer, my exec friend and I drove the golf cart back to their bungalow. We were laughing cuz I thought the producer was mad at me cuz I kept stopping the pitch to make jokes (and once to accuse the studio exec of yawning — he wasn’t) cuz I was afraid the mood was getting too dour. The producer goes “you want the mood to be dour if your movie is dour!” Through the whole pitch he kept saying “keep going!” cuz I kept detouring.

 

But as we drove across the studio lot, the producer said “you did really really well” and I appreciated that as it was my first studio pitch ever and I was nervous as hell. And as the sun set over the soundstages and the balmy breeze blew my half-shaved hair back, I took a mental snapshot and said to myself in my head – remember this moment cuz your life is about to change.

 

And it did. We sold the movie the next day. My dream project. There’s nothing else I’d rather be working on right now.

 

But with dreams answered comes responsibility too. I just spent a week with my mom (I’m writing this on the airplane back to LA), and I was telling her about one of the many complicated aspects of studio filmmaking. I was uncertain about what to do.

 

I always err on the side of being vulnerable,” she said.

 

Mom, you’ve got to remember – screenwriting is heavily male dominated. Like 85%. Everyone already thinks I can’t do the job because I’m a woman. If I go around showing my belly, I’m going to look feminine and weak and lose all respect.”

 

Well then I guess your industry is just over my head.”

 

She’s not just some secretary.

 

No mom I think you understand it just fine.

 

 

Increased Gender Equality Leads To Higher GDP

women

The World Economic Forum has released a new report on gender equality. What’s most interesting is the finding that increased gender equality leads to higher GDP:

According to a newly-released report from the World Economic Forum[pdf], Iceland is the #1 country in the world for gender equality, for the fifth year in a row. And that equality is helping propel Iceland and its fellow Nordic nations to new economic heights. Turns out, the smaller the gender gap, the more economically competitive the nation. Even when that nation is totally freezing.

The notion that gender equality drives development (rather than the other way round) has been so widely celebrated in recent years that it begins to seem trite. But as the newly released 2013 Global Gender Gap Index — which measures gender parity in 136 countries — reminds us, gender equity isn’t simply a matter of equal rights. It’s a matter of efficiency. Many countries have closed the gender gap in education, for example, but gender-based barriers to employment minimize their returns on that investment; Their highly educated women aren’t working. The highest ranking countries in the index have figured out how to maximize returns on their investment in women, and are consequently more economically competitive, have higher incomes, and higher rates of development.

The report notes a strong correlation between Global Gender Gap Index rankings (which measure health, education, labor political and participation) and measures of global competitiveness, as the graph below illustrates. The smaller the gender gap, the better off the economy. Perhaps it’s no surprise that less-developed nations lke Yemen and Pakistan are near the bottom of the Index. What’s more surprising is that relatively economic powerhouses like Turkey and Japan are right there in the basement with them.

Take the Philippines. It ranks #5 on the Global Gender Gap Index, higher than any other Asian nation. It’s the only country in Asia that has fully closed the education gender gap, and its labor force boasts growing ranks of women workers, especially professionals and managers. Not surprisingly, the Philippines is now the fastest growing economy in Asia, having recently edged out China (#69 on the index). There are many reasons for this, including macroeconomic policy reforms under Aquino, but the role of a large, educated and diverse work force shouldn’t be discounted; Indeed, gender parity in Filipino education and labor preceded recent economic growth.

Though not exactly analogous, something similar is playing out in the corporate world. A 2012 report by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without by about 26 percent. A 2012 report by McKinsey & Company similarly found that companies with more diverse boards boasted higher profit and higher returns on equity than others. It could be that better performing companies are in a better position to give women a chance, but the researchers at Credit Suisse suggest that simply diversifying the leadership pool can generate surprisingly positive results.

So, what are the highest ranking countries doing right, exactly?

One major factor, which the report notes every year, is that high ranking countries “have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labor at home [and] better work-life balance for both women and men.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, the notion that women could conceivably someday successfully combine work and family is still constantly under debate. Incidentally, the U.S. dropped one place in the rankings to #23 — below Burundi, Cuba and, god forbid, Canada.

This report reflects copious other research that finds that when women are included in groups at work, those groups perform better and make more money.

That the industry I work in (Hollywood) persists in keeping women out of the plum jobs of screenwriter, director, showrunner — whether through conscious or unconscious bias or a deeply systemic, old-fashioned boys’ club — whatever it is, it’s resulting in making worse product and artificially limiting our profits.

Things Are Bad For Women, And Getting Worse

women

Releitura - Cindy Sherman © by BrunoEddy

Women are the bitch of society – and it’s getting worse and worse –

Between inequality in the workplace – TV shows starring domestic abusers – a political climate focused on diminishing women’s rights –

My question is – why aren’t we outraged?

Why aren’t women everywhere getting loud, and angry about this?

Why, in this moment where our rights and our respect are vanishing faster than boyfriend tees at a sample sale, are we more invested than ever in cutesy, girlish stuff  – our Pinterest boards and our eyeframes without lenses and our Etsy hair accessories and our Young Adult novels – the kinds of clothes, hobbies, conversation topics, professions that are sure to never, ever make erections disappear –

Here’s why I think.

I think we have a strong interest in pleasing those who are in power.

And I think we have an instinct not to do anything that feels threatening, aggressive, masculine. We have been strongly warned (culturally, inter-personally, professionally) that getting assertive, threatening dicks in any way, will sideline us, turn us into laughing stocks, leave us the single spinster alone with her handmade cat blankets and her angry diatribes. If we speak the truth – if we even say the same thing a man might say – we risk being marginalized socially or even losing jobs, as we make ourselves vulnerable to looking ridiculous by going against the tide.

And we risk love, being loved, if we seem up in arms, angry, embattled. Standing behind lines drawn in the sand.

So I do see why this is happening – and why we’re letting it.

But I don’t think those are the only two choices.

I know for a fact it’s possible to be both assertive and feminine – to both stand up for the rights and respect of women and still value and hold the respect of men. I think if change is going to happen anywhere – it’s going to be with the 51% of Americans who are women, who have to be watching what is happening with some dismay, and who need to know they can still be loved, still be part of the great club we call society, even if they speak out and stand up against these trends.

We are powerful. But we have to stop undercutting our power with every sartorial and conversational choice we make. If we’re afraid of being sidelined, marginalized, ridiculed, we have to know that over there where we’re going to be is where the cool people hang out – the adults. The ones who don’t put up with this sick psychosexual infantilizing game where one gender is on top, one is on the bottom, and both work hard to keep it that way.

*

This is a great breakdown of the current and most recent numbers of women of all the different jobs in Hollywood. All the numbers are flat around or (way) below 25%. This is obviously my area of interest in terms of employment – but it also affects us all because this is our culture, what we see on TV, what we see in movies. The piece mentions that studies show that the more women involved with a project, the more likely it is to have a woman character.

 

 

Bushcast Episode 4: You Are Not Alone

storytelling, women

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os7z7KYV6F8

This is my contribution to the You Are Not Alone project. It’s sort of like the It Gets Better project, but instead of talking about what it’s like to be bullied for being gay, this is about talking about what it’s like to be sexually assaulted.

This story is about an upsetting sexual experience I had in college. This story is a good example of how grey and muddy these cases can be. If you’re blacking out drunk, how much can consent can you really give? If I, a relatively empowered young woman at an Ivy League school, felt this much shame and personal responsibility around what happened — and never said anything to anyone, not in any kind of accusatory way — it’s hard to believe that less empowered women are reporting what happens to them. Where is the line where we start calling something sexual assault? I don’t consider this assault, since I gave consent in the moment, and yet I was so drunk I couldn’t see. I feel traumatized by this experience to this day.

I alluded to this story in this post about my father abandoning me, making the point that my worst secret (abandonment) is the shame that leads to the rest — that’s what leads to eating disorders and blacking out drunk a lot in college and winding up beneath two football players.

Talking about it helps. Once I share stuff here, it hurts less, and I find it far easier and less charged to talk about in the world. When I alluded to the football players in that post above, that felt very dangerous, because that was one of the bad secrets. Then I knew I would have to tell the story here some day. Now is as good a time as any. I’m a storyteller.

Status

advice, T.V. writing, women

Hollywood is a status obsessed town.

It’s why credits matter so much. Credits don’t mean experience – you could have a 3 mile long IMDB page, but if all your credits are shit no one’s ever heard of, doesn’t matter. If you’ve got one good credit on something that’s in the canon – that’s better. Because that’s status and status beats experience.

It’s why women have such a hard time in this town. Because in our culture women inherently have less status than men. And in a town where status is everything – where people hire you because on a gut level they think you’re cool and want to hang out with you – people who came into the world with less status, like women and minorities and those with disabilities, are always going to be picked last for the team.

Writers rooms on TV shows are full of struggles over status – and rightly so, because everyone knows, consciously or not, that that’s the root of what they’re being evaluated on. The following can be applied to how people act in the room, in life — or how you write characters, to show them engaging in these power struggles.

How You Raise Your Status:

  • Give permission to do things — or withhold it.
  • Evaluate others’ work.
  • Keep others at arms’ length while appearing to summon them closer.
  • Talk frankly about things others find upsetting.
  • Look with with your eyes down at people.
  • Speak authoritatively, with or without the expertise to do so.
  • Make decisions for groups.
  • Speak cryptically, in code or inside jokes.
  • Surround yourself with an entourage of any kind.

How Others Lower Your Status:

  • Mock you.
  • Criticize you.
  • Correct you, especially in front of others.
  • Prove how you are wrong.
  • Insult you.
  • Tell you what to do.
  • Give you unsolicited advice.
  • Approve or disapprove of something about you or something you do.
  • Pick a fight with you.
  • Refuse to engage you — act as if they don’t hear you or aren’t concerned enough about you to notice.
  • Ignore what you’re saying and change the subject.
  • One-up you. Always top you with something better, or worse, or more absurd, or more dramatic in their own lives.
  • Win. Beat you at something.
  • Talk sarcastically to you.
  • Disregard your opinion.
  • Announce something great about themselves in your presence.
  • Make you wait.
  • Never wait for you.
  • Taunt you. Tease you.
  • Disobey you.
  • Violate your boundaries.
  • Beat you up in front of your friends or rivals.
  • Make you back down.

I’m not saying I endorse any of this. I’m just an observer, making sense of what I witness. And using it to inform my characters, and you.

**************

What I’m reading right now: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Poverty

storytelling, women

My dad was rich and we were poor.

He abandoned us — and then he went and bought a mercedes and a big sailboat —

My mother and my sister and I didn’t have enough — my mother worked hard, all the time. She was always stressed, miserable. She hated her job as a secretary. She was always working and yet we didn’t have enough — the lights were always getting cut off, or the phone, or the credit cards were maxed —

There was never enough. We were always catching up.

And then there was our father mocking us, the way we lived — making little digs at our poverty —

We would go spend the weekend with him on his yacht — and he was so stingy at heart, he wouldn’t feed us. Or when I would complain that I was hungry, he would make comments about how I was too fat and needed to lose weight — I was just like my mother —

My father suffered from poverty of the heart — he starved and starved his children —

He was aloof and had a distant model girlfriend (then wife) and cared more about money than he did about us — he made that clear. He would go on and on about how much he resented paying our mother — when it was obvious to anyone observing that we were struggling to get by and he was living like a millionaire. His parents (our grandparents) didn’t want to have anything to do with us because they saw us as leeches taking their son’s money.

I grew up as working-class poor with my mother and my sister, and the message was clear — men have money, get money, deserve money. Women don’t.

Now I work in the arts — in publishing and in Hollywood, where I see that pattern repeat itself — men get and women don’t. I wonder if I see it because it’s in my head and I’m destined to see it everywhere, or because the world I grew up in is the world we live in. I’m making a generalization, and I believe there are a lot of exceptions. I believe I’m going to be an exception, and I’m on my way. But I do think it’s taken me longer, and it’s been harder, than if I had been a man.

But maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t grown up in poverty, if I hadn’t grown up with the message that I deserved to barely get by, that I deserved the least, the minimum.

I think we find our level, our comfort zone, and mine has been poverty —

I’ve been poor all this time, when I went to an Ivy League school and I’m such a great writer and I’m sharp and bright and warm and I’ve got so much going for me —

I think my poverty starts in my heart —

I starved to a point beyond which I can’t recover from.

Until I was 11, my sister and I visited our father every other weekend. Then he vanished. We got a call three months later from him — he was sailing his boat around the world. I couldn’t speak, I was crying so hard. Until that call, I didn’t even know if he was alive. I didn’t tell any of my friends what had happened, I was so ashamed.

He stopped paying our mother, so if we were struggling before, now we were fucked. Money became terrifying, at the age of 11.

Now my father is very rich. Sloughing us off was very good for his bottom line. He owns airplanes and boats and a Ferrari and a gaudy Versace mansion on the water in South Florida. He fucks his 29-year-old maid/fiancee and still pays her to clean the house.

He tries to talk about the amount of money we’re going to inherit, and I’m like — fuck you. From the bottom of my heart, fuck you.

This entire process of trying to make it as a writer, first as a novelist then as a T.V. writer — has been nothing but difficult — and every time I thought it couldn’t get more difficult it did —

Putting aside the fact that he could have helped me the entire time and never ever did — he hurt me in this. He criticized me the entire way through for trying it, criticized me for how long it was taking to make it, when I was working soul-sucking day jobs —

And I have this sense that how he hurt me the most was by raising me trapped in the dark cold box of poverty. By molding my head within those limits, he set an upper-limit for the most I could ever make or have — so that I would never stray too far, never feel independent, never get powerful.

My mother was a secretary and my father was rich. And when I was struggling to finish my first novel, I wound up having to get a job as a receptionist to support myself while I finished it. That was painful, because the reason I went to Princeton was so I would never wind up like my mother. It was just going to be for six months until I sold the book — and then the book never sold, and I would up staying there for two long, painful years. With my father criticizing and deriding my choices the entire time.

Now I want to let go of poverty — tell myself it’s okay for me to make money, that it’s not siding with my father against my mother, it’s not turning my back on women. It’s good for me to make money, because then I can help other people like me (or unlike me). The way I grew up has no bearing on the way I want to live now, and I want to feel safe and comfortable and secure, and most of all, powerful now. Making money now isn’t turning my back on working people — instead, it’s empowering me so I can give working people a voice.

I’m working on it. I’ll keep you posted.