Director Tom Donahue’s documentary This Changes Everything is a take down of the sexism that is rampant in Hollywood. While it touches on other marginalized groups – specifically people of colour – and does address the “me too” and “time’s up” movements, its main focus is on the systemic, purposeful, and seemingly malicious or spiteful exclusion of women in the Hollywood machine.
The film frequently references the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, an organization that was founded by Davis (whom also serves as Executive Producer here) in 2004 which, amongst other things, compiled an enormous amount of data charting the impact and involvement of females on the production side, as well as in the acting or character category in the American movie business.
The documentary features insightful interviews with actors, writers, directors, producers, executives, attorneys and pundits. Many of the film’s subjects are people that I very much admire including Geena Davis, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Chloe Grace Moretz, Zoe Saldana, Meryl Streep, Marisa Tomei, Tiffany Haddish, Rosario Dawson, Rashida Jones, Taraji P. Henson, and Sandra Oh, just to name a few.
It certainly is no secret that exclusion for women in Hollywood has been a long-running tradition, but to hear these people’s first-hand accounts is striking in its enormity. These stories come across (and my reactions are indeed from a straight, white male) as ranging from disheartening to offensive to downright disgusting.
The final third of the film gets into some rather thick legalese which did become somewhat frustrating for me. The movie documents various legal attempts to hold Hollywood studios accountable to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, and admittedly, it gets a little dry. Further, we are frequently shown newspaper and online headlines stating (in varying wordings) the same idea: Hollywood Doesn’t Value Women.
Honestly, it’s so repetitive that it becomes annoying, which is precisely where the perspective sets in. If these repeated headlines and legal battles are irritating me in a 96 minute film, how have they affected women in the industry for decades where the same questions are raised over and again, and nothing changes? Whether that was a point the director was trying to make, or simply an effective accident, it works brilliantly.
There are some that will see this film (or, let’s be honest, watch the trailer and make up their minds without seeing it) and decide that it’s all about attacking men, and that Hollywood now has a female-first agenda. While this couldn’t be further from the truth (not only do the numbers not support the idea, but this documentary isn’t striving towards that goal), this review will not change those minds. Having written that, this movie doesn’t demonize men, in fact, in one of its most uplifting segments, it celebrates John Landgraf, chairman of FX Network.
Landgraf considered himself a progressive and a feminist until he was provided with the data that showed that FX had the worst ratio of male:female directors, writers, etc. After learning this, he made a point to improve the situation, effectively reducing the percentage of white men directing the network’s shows from 89% to 49%. The movie posits that for things to change, the men in power will need to make an effort. He did, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. At the very least it’s a start.
Ms. Meryl Streep makes a comment that stuck with me very much: “progress will happen when men take a stand. It’s the chivalry of the 21st century”. It suggests so much in so few words: women are making their stance known – it’s time for men to step up.
The film ends with a recognition of Patty Jenkins, the first female director of a female-led superhero movie. The entire documentary focuses on the idea that young girls have rarely seen representation of themselves in cinema, and we see little girls watching Jenkins’ 2017 DCEU film Wonder Woman. It’s a beautiful sequence that closes the film in an empowering and optimistic way.
This Changes Everything is powerful, but enraging. It’s funny and engaging. It’s worth watching simply for a change in perspective.
- Genre: documentary
- Release Date: 8/30/2019
- Directed by: Tom Donahue
- Produced by: Ilan Arboleda, Tom Donahue
- Studio: Creative Chaos Ventures
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