Brains, beauty and balls commingled at the annual Crystal & Lucy Awards June 2 in Hollywood.
The Women in Film-sponsored trophies recognize outstanding work in film and TV, and the annual gala event brought out 1,100 guests — the preponderance of them women, especially young women just making their way in showbiz.
Despite the celebratory mood of the evening, some troubling issues stirred beneath the surface.
The good news, as host Christine Lahti reminded the assembled, is that four of the seven major studio production chieftains now are women, as are five of the six network programmers and all three prexys of the talent unions.
The bad news, in terms of the numbers, is that 90% of film directors and writers are male and 70% of parts go to men.
Not to mention the persistent ageism that relegates actresses over 40 to the cable TV movie world. (Not surprising, perhaps, gift bags featured anti-aging creams.)
What Lahti didn’t say was that despite the incredible influx of women into the ranks of Hollywood workers, and the growing but still limited number of those at the top, mainstream movies and TV shows haven’t been noticeably “feminized.”
Though there was a fair sprinkling of men at the banquet, the balls in the room were mainly metaphorical and belonged to the women who presented or took home the awards. They wittily spoke of their travails and their triumphs, though not specifically about their creations.
“As for getting older, they hire me because I’m good at what I do. It’s not luck — it’s balls,” HBO’s documentary maven Sheila Nevins convincingly proclaimed.
Or as dancer-turned-director Debbie Allen put it, “I never knew until I got behind the camera that having breasts could be a problem, but with time we are learning to use them a little better!”
In watching these bright, talented and successful women from afar, I couldn’t help but be struck by the disconnect between their personal achievements and what Hollywood still so pervasively churns out.
The coterie of female execs and producers who typically pick up awards like these walk as confidently as men through the corridors of power — but they seem to be responsible for movies and shows indistinguishable from what a man would be making.
Whatever might be the personal predilections of female studio chieftains, what works commercially are male-driven franchises such as “Spider-Man,” “2 Fast, 2 Furious” and “Mission: Impossible,” all of which were greenlit by past or present Crystal winners.
Women in Film made a point of honoring women who had broken down barriers and outdone men at their own game.
Producer Debra Hill, who came up through the technical ranks, makes movies like “Escape From New York,” while Pauline Heaton, honored for her underwater cinematography, routinely swims with real sharks.
There’s no doubt these feats are inspiring, and that they are a testament to the tenacity of a generation of women, mostly 40-plus, who clawed their way to the top — often, as several of last week’s winners were quick to point out, without the now obligatory “mentors” to succor them along the way.
Despite their achievement, though, there is a part of me that would love to see a “female” sensibility infuse more of what’s on those studio movie slates or primetime schedules.
Does their success inevitably mean these women have had to embrace subject matter and approaches to material that don’t resonate with their gender?
How hard is it for one of these women at the top to champion a difficult project like “The Hours,” whose guiding force was Scott Rudin, or “Far From Heaven,” whose champion was indie auteur Christine Vachon, or “My House in Umbria,” greenlit by Chris Albrecht and Colin Callender.
As Jodie Foster quipped by way of introducing winner Stockard Channing, “She’s miscast in ‘The West Wing’: They should have made her president.”
Yes, dramas on network TV right now are some of the best ever, but they tend to be primarily male-centered.
I’m not suggesting that all movies be chick flicks or all series be targeted for females 25-54, but rather that commercial fare be about more than blowups and buffoonery: What about all those “relationships” women are supposed to be so good at?
And what about tackling the intractable problem of ageism in Hollywood? Were women in the top exec suites to make a concerted effort to further the careers of older actresses, might that gesture go a ways toward fighting the bias problem throughout Hollywood?
For all the achievements of the generation represented by Columbia’s Amy Pascal, Paramount’s Sherry Lansing, Universal’s Stacey Snider and Disney’s Nina Jacobson — all past or present Crystal winners themselves — it’s unclear just how widely the torch is being picked up by the younger generation.
It could just be the sacrifices are too great or that they are more attracted to the light, however faint, still given off by the indie world.