Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham Rewriting the Script for Women in Hollywood, Execs Say

Jennifer Larence Maritz Lorenz
REX Shutterstock

A recent study on gender in Hollywood found that women only directed 9% of the top 250 grossing films in 2015, but the paradigm is shifting, industry executives said on Saturday.

“At the agency level, there’s a lot of talk and awareness and desire,” UTA’s Rena Ronson told the crowd at Variety and Kering’s Women in Motion discussion. “There are women directors who want to be participating in franchises. We’re putting them on the list and that’s where you see the change, at the script level and studio level.”

Ronson was joined onstage by producer Celine Rattray, whose new film “American Honey” is playing the Cannes Film Festival, and Sundance Institute exec director Keri Putnam.

The trio hailed Jennifer Lawrence’s wage-gap essay from this year and Lena Dunham for empowering women in a global business largely dominated by men.

“There’s a perception that there’s a lack of female directors and that needs to change,” Rattray said.

Younger voices, such as Lawrence’s and Dunham’s–coupled with this year’s #OscarsSoWhite Oscar controversy–have been a significant rallying cry for diversity in the industry, the execs said.

“It was such a well-written and thoughtful piece,” Rattray noted of Lawrence’s essay, titled “Why Do I Make Less than My Co-Stars.” The open essay was published in Dunham’s feminist newsletter, the Lenny Letter.

“It’s a conversation all of us have been having for years and years, but (finally)…it spilled into the mainstream press in a big way,” Rattray added. “People are now embarrassed not to have African American representation in casting sessions and female representation on director lists.”

They also credited filmmakers like Ava DuVernay who directed the Oscar-nominated MLK drama “Selma.”

UTA’s Rena Ronson, producer Celine Rattray and Sundance exec Keri Putnam at Variety and Kering’s Women In Motion panel on Saturday.
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX Shutterstock

But there’s still a long journey ahead, the execs acknowledged. One of the biggest problems was financial commitments from high-end investors, they told Variety moderator Brent Lang.

“When money comes in, women move out,” Putnam said. The exec went on to explain that while Sundance’s own Competition film slate was equally female, the imbalance grew for higher-budget pics in the Premieres section.

“Investors look at the track record of a person who’s done five action films and those people are almost always men,” Rattray explained of big-budget pics. “Women can only do the thing they’ve done before and that perception needs to change.”

The solution? Keep fighting.

“You need to walk in a room and have conviction, stick to your point of view,” Ronson advised to filmmakers.

Putnam also said women need to be confident when demanding more funds for your movie, to battle for their own worth as producers and filmmakers.

“Women are often uncomfortable asking for more money,” she said.

“Not me,” Ronson shot back.