What if no women showed up on the red carpet or attended the Oscars to spotlight women's relevance in films?
As the clarion call to address the lack of diversity in Hollywood and the Oscars reached a crescendo, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) announced it will take "historic action" to increase diversity with women and minorities by 2020. The Academy is led by Dawn Hudson, CEO, and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the 35th and first African-American president. She is the third female president, following Bette Davis, the first in 1941. Davis earned ten Best Actress nominations and two wins. She resigned after only two months of dealing with male opponents. Fay Kanin, screenwriter and producer, served 1979-1983.
Women in Hollywood have been speaking out about gender pay inequality. Patricia Arquette, in her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech last year, ended with, "It's time to have wage equality once and for all." Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence -- and the world -- discovered she made less than her male co-stars after the Sony Pictures internal email system was hacked. Her future salary negotiation strategy might be described by her film titles: "American Hustle," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Joy."
Now the highest-paid female in Hollywood, Lawrence wrote an essay in Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter to explain that the double standards may pressure women to act nicer and negotiate less than their male peers:
"...there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn't want to seem 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' I'm over trying to find the 'adorable' way to state my opinion and still be likable." She echoes Ginger Rogers' voice from the 1940s, when she was the top female earner, see below.
From Hattie to Halle: Black Female Oscar Winners
Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actress to win the Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress as Mammy in "Gone With The Wind," in 1940. The black actors were barred from attending the film's premiere in segregated Atlanta and were excluded from the souvenir program. Whoopi Goldberg followed, 1990; Jennifer Hudson, 2006; Mo'Nique, 2009 and Octavia Spencer, 2011.
Dorothy Dandridge was the first African-American actress nominated for Best Actress in "Carmen Jones," an all-black musical, in 1955. Halle Berry became the first African-American actress to win Best Actress, for "Monster's Ball" in 20001.
What Would Ginger Rogers Do?
A popular quip is: "Don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels." I would add for less pay and more hours for costume fittings, hair and makeup, etc. As more actresses overtly address the pay and role inequalities, I think: what would Ginger Rogers do?
Rereading her 1991 autobiography, "Ginger My Story," I share her moves behind the dance floor, in the RKO executive offices. She was one of Hollywood's original feminists, fighting in the 1930s and '40s the same battles making news today. "It was tough being a woman in the theatrical business in those days (and probably still is)!" she wrote. Rogers made 73 films, including ten movie musicals with Astaire.
"It just so happens that when Fred and I came together for the first time, it was his second film and my 20th." She had to fight hard in studio contract negotiations, refusing to show up, "even it wasn't considered ladylike to talk about money." Sounds like Jennifer Lawrence!
"My salary was much less than that of my co-star, Fred Astaire, which was bad enough. But when I realized that character actors were receiving twice as much per week as I, I made my stand." By 1945, Rogers was the highest paid movie star.
She also had to campaign for more serious roles beyond the screwball comedies. Her breakthrough lead in "Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman," earned her Best Actress and could be a fitting epitaph. It was RKO's top film for 1940. The "Kitty Foyle dress" set a fashion trend. In her 60s, Rogers became a fashion consultant and spokesperson for JC Penney.
It Takes a Sisterhood to Crack the Celluloid Ceiling
This year Vanity Fair countered its past only-white actors on the annual Hollywood cover. Three women of color and four iconic women over 70 are "celebrating the power of women in Hollywood... to portray sisterhood." Viola Davis is on the cover; Lupita Wyong'o and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are on the fold out. Jane Fonda, 78, is on the cover and Charlotte Rampling, 70, Helen Mirren, 70, and Diane Keaton, 70, are on the fold out.
The Hollywood Reporter launched its Women in Entertainment Power 100 List, a coveted annual index, in 1992. The good news is they were able to recognize 100 powerful women. That was also the year Sherry Lansing was named chairman of Paramount Pictures in a history-making move. After 23 years, Janice Min, president and editor of The Hollywood Reporter, announced they would no longer rank the women one to 100. She felt the ranking had become too competitive. THR wants to encourage the women to support each other individually and collectively, to get better pay, roles and positions behind the camera and in management.
Essence honors veteran and rising star artists and executives who are making a positive impact, in front of or behind the camera, in its annual Hollywood issue in March. This year marks the magazine's ninth Black Women in Hollywood luncheon preceding the Oscars.
Studies show that films with at least one female director are more likely to employ women. The Women's Media Center just released a 10-year Review of Oscar Nominations & Gender (www.womensmediacenter.com).
New York Women in Film & TV (NYWIF) is part of Women in Film & TV International (WIFT), a network of 40 women in film chapters worldwide, representing more than 10,000 members. Membership information at www.http://wiftinet and www.nywift.org.
Ginger Rogers didn't toe the line. She danced to her own tune to advance women in Hollywood
for generations to come. Her message is on point today. What should women in Hollywood do
to earn respect and equal pay and roles?