Jessica Chastain’s essay on gender equality is stirringly powerful

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 11, 2015 15:27 IST
It’s 2015. Things have to change, says Jessica Chastain in her essay about gender equality in Hollywood. (Shuttertstock)

Interstellar star Jessica Chastain has penned an essay about gender equality in Hollywood from the sets of her new movie The Zookeeper’s Wife, which boasts the largest female crew Chastain has ever worked with. The essay, which appeared in The Hollywood Reporter has stirred conversation on a much debated issue once again.

Gender diversity has been a hot topic in Hollywood recently, with Selma director Ava DuVernay getting snubbed at last year’s Oscars despite directing a universally acclaimed film and being one of the favourites for the nod. DuVernay would then flirt with the opportunity to direct Marvel’s Black Panther film, one that she would eventually turn down. Only last week Star Wars: The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams declared that she would make for a perfect choice to direct a future Star Wars adventure.

Read: Not so Marvel-ous: How walkouts, unpleasantries are tainting the brand

Read an excerpt from Chastain’s essay here

I’m in Prague filming a movie called The Zookeeper’s Wife with director Niki Caro. I can’t tell you — it’s amazing. I’ve never been on a set with so many women. We’re not even 50 percent of the crew — we’re probably something like 20 percent women and 80 percent men — but it’s way more than I’ve ever worked with on a film before.

Some people might say a woman can’t direct this because of that, or a man can’t direct that because of this. I don’t like to do that. Look at Kathryn Bigelow: She can do incredible action films. Or Anthony Minghella, who directed the most beautiful, sensitive romances. For me, sex really isn’t the qualifier in the way someone directs — but I just know that when you have a set with predominantly one gender, whether it be all men or all women, it’s not going to be a healthy place. I imagine it’s the same thing in the workforce or other environments: When you have both genders represented, then you have a healthier point of view. The energy is great, you all are working together as a community, and everyone is participating in the exchange of ideas. You don’t feel a hierarchy; you don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated. Sometimes being the only girl on a set, you can feel like a sexual object.

I want to make sure I’m contributing to cre­ating diversity in the industry. I want to work with anyone who is talented, but I know that some people have to work harder to succeed in this business than others.

I do think things are changing. The reason I think they are changing is because whenever I talk about these issues with men I know in the industry — they are very talented, really intelligent and very successful men — there’s this embarrassment. They say, “I don’t understand how it got to be like this.” And I think that is what will help things change because it takes the group that is the majority in the industry to say, “Wait a minute: Maybe it’s more interesting to have more female voices in the executive suite and not just a token woman.”

It’s not a valid excuse to say women don’t call asking to direct superhero movies. Every female director I’ve asked if she’d be interested in directing a big movie like that says, “Hell, yeah.” And if that’s true, it shows how deep-seated the problem is. I don’t think the problem is women; it’s the representation. It goes to the agents. It has to change. This is 2015.

Chastain, a bonafide movie star who has consistently delivered great performances makes legitimate points. Jurrasic World director Colin Trevorrow recently courted controversy when he wrote on Twitter that he felt most women were content directing smaller films and didn’t want to direct big blockbusters. Needless to say, the backlash he received was monumental. And this came after his big blockbuster (Jurassic World) was slammed by Avengers director Joss Whedon for being deeply misogynistic.

Read: Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow accused of sexism on Twitter

The bottom line is that women don’t have it as easy as the dudes. Just take a look at the huge deal Warner Bros made in their attempts at hiring a female director to helm their female superhero movie. Patty Jenkins got the job, but only 14 years after directing the classic Monster, with only stray TV gigs in between.

Check out comedian Chris Rock talk about diversity in Hollywood here.

Speaking of TV, Mimi Leder just helmed some of the best episodes of the second season of The Leftovers, which has to go down as one of the greatest seasons of TV ever. The catch: Leder has directed only 2 films since her 1998 box-office smash Deep Impact. And who can forget Michelle MacLaren’s great work on Game of Thrones?

Watch the trailer for The Leftovers season 2 here

Women can direct action (Kathryn Bigelow), women can direct horror (Mary Harron), women can direct dramas (Sofia Coppola), women can direct comedy (Nora Ephron), women can deliver box-office hits (Nancy Meyers) and Women can direct Shakespeare (Julie Taymor). Just like all the men.

You can read Chastain’s entire essay here.

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