Monday, April 25, 2005

Women Increasingly in Hollywood's top positions

I thought my feminist readers might be interested in this New York Times article about increasing numbers of women in Hollywood executive positions. But, the article also does a good job of illustrating the obstacles women hoping to enter into the film industry still face from their male colleagues, and even some stereotypes they face from without and from within.

Hollywood's New Old Girls' Network NOT long after the talent manager and television producer Brad Grey was named the new chief of Paramount Pictures this year, he did something that has become almost routine in Hollywood: he put a woman in charge of the show. Last month Mr. Grey - who succeeded Sherry Lansing, 60, in Paramount's top job - named Gail Berman, a respected television executive, to lead the studio's creative team. As a woman deciding what gets to the world's movie screens, Ms. Berman becomes the latest player in a quiet revolution transforming a business that until recently was regarded as a male preserve. Four of the six major studios have women in the top creative decision-making roles, as Ms. Berman joins Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal; Amy Pascal, chairman of Sony Pictures; and Nina Jacobson, president of Walt Disney Company's Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group. Earlier this month, Ms. Snider announced that Mary Parent and Scott Stuber, would be stepping down as vice chairmen at Universal to become producers on the lot; their replacement is Donna Langley, the Universal executive who oversaw "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" and "In Good Company." Though men still figure most prominently in the corporate echelons of the media companies that own the studios, and talent agencies like William Morris and Creative Artists Agency are still male dominated, these women, who over the years have fought and fostered one another as part of a loose sisterhood, have finally buried the notion that Hollywood is a man's world. So striking is the change that some now see Hollywood as a gender-balanced model for the rest of corporate America. "It's astonishing," said Elizabeth Daley, dean of the film school at the University of Southern California. "You don't see that kind of progress in any other industry." Women have come to predominate in Hollywood at a time when less than 1 percent of chief executive officers in the Fortune 500 are female, and none of the nation's top 100 publicly held companies have a female chief. According to the National Association of Law Placement in Washington, 87 percent of the partners in law firms are male, although for two decades more than 50 percent of law school graduates have been female. It's true that women have yet to own studios - there is no female Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone - and that executives like the Sony Pictures chairman, Michael Lynton, and the Walt Disney Studios chairman, Dick Cook, outrank their studios' female executives. But the power to buy scripts, hire directors and even to greenlight films has become so thoroughly vested in a generation of women that the very notion of a female power ranking, like the one done at the end of the year by The Hollywood Reporter, has been deemed quaint. "That kind of thing may be vaguely interesting in other businesses, but at this point, here, separating the genders is, well, pretty silly," Ms. Snider said. While it's true that women have been kicking around - and getting kicked around - behind the scenes in Hollywood since the beginning, mostly as story editors, they only began to infiltrate the power structure in the mid-70's. The names from that era are near legendary, from Marsha Nasatir (executive producer of "The Big Chill"), a New York book editor who came to Los Angeles at 40 and became vice president at United Artists, and Rosilyn Heller and Paula Weinstein who rose to be vice presidents at Columbia and Warner Brothers respectively. Ms. Weinstein recalls the competition among them as "incredibly intense." While women in the rest of the country were having their feminist consciousnesses raised, she said, Hollywood was "quite retarded." "A lot of the women had a sort of 1950's hangover," she continued. "They got together at Ma Maison and talked about engagement rings." By the mid-1980's, as women were gingerly entering the executive ranks throughout corporate America, two female powerhouses emerged in Hollywood: Dawn Steel and Ms. Lansing. (Ms. Steel, who was president of production at Paramount and then president of Columbia, died of a brain tumor in 1997.) Lucy Fisher, a producer, said one reason that the two women were allowed to rise was Hollywood's "immigrant, outsider ethos." "Here," she said, "if it makes money and you're a gorilla, you're in." The competitive ethos among women seemed to have reached its apotheosis in the 1980's; to this day, few in Hollywood will mention Ms. Steel and Ms. Lansing in the same breath without quickly adding - as if the pugnacious Ms. Steel were eavesdropping on them from above - that both staked a claim throughout their careers to being the first woman to run a studio. (Ms. Lansing was the first to land a spot as president of production, at 20th Century Fox, in 1980; Ms. Steel became the first female studio president when she took over Columbia in 1987.) By then, more women were making their way to Hollywood. They had grown up during the auteur 1970's, when Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola made films that set cinephiles' hearts on fire, and the Ivy League universities, with their newly minted film studies departments, proved a particularly fertile breeding ground. Studio jobs, with their unusual combination of high pay, glamour and artiness lured graduates away from more traditional career paths like investment banking and law, said Ms. Fisher, who made her way to Los Angeles soon after graduating from Harvard. She became vice chairman of Columbia during the mid-1990's before leaving to produce such films as "Stuart Little" and the coming "Bewitched" with her husband Doug Wick. The roles of producer or of executive attracted women, she and others surmise, because they held the promise of a steady paycheck and a chance to work on a team. It was alluring, Ms. Fisher said, "to those of us who didn't have the heart for the all-consuming horror that is a director's life, but wanted to be intimately involved with movies." read more (registration required)


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