Women in power: What’s the big deal?

The appointment of Gail Berman to lead Paramount’s new movie team has prompted a fresh onslaught of women-in-power articles, most of which seem oddly anachronistic.

Indeed, I can sympathize with power players like Universal’s Stacey Snider who tell reporters “I don’t want to deal with that issue.”

No matter how slickly they are written, the curious subtext of these stories is that women should somehow be judged differently from their male counterparts, that more (or less) is expected of them.

But why? At this point in time, why shouldn’t women be allowed to mess up just as badly as guys — to make dumb decisions, to act insensitively under pressure and, yes, even to make macho action flicks?

Here’s a list of certain assumptions that have not stood the test of time.

  • Women are better nurturers.

It’s true Amy Pascal can brilliantly heap on the empathy, but few women can match Brad Grey’s smooth supportiveness or the mega-calm “I’m behind you all the way” of Alan Horn. In the empathy derby, it’s a gender draw.

  • Women keep their cool in combat.

Back in the days of the “Rambo”-style producers when Jon Peters or Don Simpson would break furniture during meetings, women producers like Marcia Nasitir or Paula Weinstein were islands of civility.

On the other hand, I wore a cup to my meetings with Dawn Steel and no guy could scream louder than Julia Phillips when she got a turndown.

Today most of the “Rambo” producers are long gone, and it’s again a gender draw.

  • Women are stronger creatively, even though they may not be “naturals” at the business stuff: Again, while many women have made some good calls in terms of material, guys like Peter Rice of Fox Searchlight or Colin Callender of HBO have certainly exhibited their erudition.

As for the business side, Sherry Lansing’s biggest mistake at Paramount, many now agree, was that she ceded hegemony over dealmaking and finance to Jonathan Dolgen. Her experience served as a reminder that you can’t run a studio unless you run the numbers.

All of which underscores the fact that women’s rise to power in Hollywood has been a positive force. Women in show business don’t have to answer to men, but rather to a far more severe tyrant: the marketplace.

* * *

Summer’s hype wave

There’s no starting gun, but if you listen carefully you can hear the distant rumble of the studio marketing machines as they gear up for the summer madness.

Yes, May is suddenly upon us, and the summer blockbusters loom large. Visit any studio and you can see signs of performance anxiety on the faces of the distribution soldiers. Can any campaign carry enough clout to pacify the expectation of a Lucas or a Spielberg?

Katzenberg wants “Madagascar” to be another “Shrek.” The Ron Howard-Russell Crowe-Brian Grazer team sees another Oscar in “Cinderella Man.” Ridley Scott believes that whatever Oliver Stone was trying to do in “Alexander,” he has succeeded in doing in “Kingdom of Heaven.” And if any of these expectations are not met, it’s clearly the fault of the sellers, not the creators.

A few years ago, I wrote a book called “The Gross,” which focused on summer madness, circa 1998. The box office gurus had predicted that 1998 would be extraordinary because two mega-budget tentpoles, “Godzilla” and “Armageddon,” were going head-to-head, and an unprecedented amount of money was being thrown at their campaigns.

When all the dollars were counted, neither proved especially profitable. The big moneymaker that summer turned out to be a little sleeper called “There’s Something About Mary” and a devastating war movie called “Saving Private Ryan” riveted filmgoers’ attention. Grown-ups were also treated to some other summer surprises in 1998: the remarkable “Truman Show” from Peter Weir and Warren Beatty’s obstreperous “Bulworth.”

This summer, to be sure, the amount of money lavished on the tentpoles will make “Godzilla” seem like “B picture” time. And it remains to be seen whether grownups will get their share of surprises or whether summer will prove merely a teen feast.

The only sure thing is that, by mid-August, we will hear a chorus of “I told you sos.”

So let this space be the first to remind you of this fact: It’s May and no one has the foggiest.

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