President, Alternative & Reality Group, NBC Entertainment
Since Ahr was elevated to her current post last year, she has launched shows including “Songland,” “Bring the Funny” and Dwayne Johnson’s “Titan Games,” all with formats that can be exported internationally. Hired as an NBC page fresh out of college, she now oversees all aspects of unscripted programming for NBC (“America’s Got Talent,” “The Voice”), Universal Television Alternative Studio, and first-run syndication (“Access Hollywood”), accounting for more than 1,300 hours of TV annually. Says Ahr: “I’m lucky enough to work at a company where, when they see potential in people, they open up another door and allow you to stretch and grow at every step.”
Exec VP of production, Marvel Studios
Alonso was on the list last year, but had another undeniably good year, thanks to “Captain Marvel,” a female-led and -directed superhero blockbuster; “Avengers: Endgame,” the top-grossing movie of all-time; and another billion-dollar grosser in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” “I am hoping that we can represent every kid, every family,” Alonso says. “That when they see us do that on camera, they see themselves, and that by doing that that we can renew their hope that it’s OK to be whoever you are.” What’s more, Marvel has hired women to direct both its 2020 releases: “Eternals” (Chloe Zhao) and the Scarlett Johansson-led “Black Widow.” (Cate Shortland).
The Women of “Always Be My Maybe”
Nahnatchka Khan, Director
Ali Wong, Writer, Actor, Producer
Wong and Khan’s distinctly Asian-American rom-com drew 32 million household views its first four weeks streaming on Netflix, sparking an outpouring of affection for cameo star Keanu Reeves, and furthering the profile of both women. Wong produced, starred alongside and co-wrote the movie with actor Randall Park, with whom she has infectious onscreen chemistry on-screen, while “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” creator Khan made her feature directorial debut.
“I’m so excited that all these people seemed to relate to it for different reasons,” says Wong, who previously starred in two standup specials for Netflix and voiced Bertie in its “Tuca & Bertie” animated series. “My favorite was how so many women appreciated that my character Sasha wore her glasses from beginning to end. I realized that’s something you’ve never seen for a leading female character in a rom-com.” Khan has since signed a multi-year, first-look feature films deal with the streamer, but plans to still squeeze in some time to make sitcoms. “The hope is to go back and forth and do both,” Khan says. “Everything is so blurred now anyway. I love television and I think I will always want to have a place there.”
The double Emmy nominee picked up a trophy last month for her harrowing performance as a mother with Munchausen syndrome by proxy in Hulu’s “The Act,” having also been nominated in the lead category for her work in Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora,” another limited series. In her acceptance speech, Arquette said she was “grateful at 50 to be getting the best parts of my life,” while also calling for greater understanding and treatment of trans people. Earlier this year, she urged Congress to finally pass the Equal Rights Amendment, telling the assembled group that “women have been waiting 232 years for equality in this country, and it’s failed them … but we’re done waiting.”
President of Music, Sony Pictures Entertainment
The sole female head of a music department at a major studio recruited the likes of Post Malone, Lil Wayne and Swae Lee to write music — and add an immeasurable amount of authenticity — for the Oscar-winning animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” And she hand-picked the trio of Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey to record the theme song to the upcoming “Charlie’s Angels” reboot. Says Aspers: “I want people to have as much fun watching ‘Charlie’s Angels’ as Ariana, Miley and Lana did creating their song.”
President, Sony Pictures Animation
Under Belson, the once-sleepy studio is abuzz after its Oscar win for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as a place that is looking at a diverse creative slate covering everything from family pics and an international initiative to new series and R-rated features. “We’re doing it the ambitious way, not the easy way,” says Belson, who earlier this month gained expanded duties to produce series for TV and streaming. Belson is proud and relieved that the studio has multiple features with female directors in the works. “The reason that we need women in positions of creative leadership isn’t just because it’s the right thing to do,” she says. “The reason we need women in leadership positions is because it’s good business.”
The Women of “Black Panther”
Hannah Beachler, Production Designer
Ruth E. Carter, Costume Designer
Groundbreaking artisans Beachler and Carter both won Oscars earlier this year for their work on “Black Panther,” becoming the first African Americans to do so in their respective categories. Carter has worked with Spike Lee on 10 of his movies, including 1993’s “Malcolm X,” which earned her an Oscar nomination. The second nom came for her work on Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” (1997). The third time was the charm. “I never do what I do for awards,” says Carter from the set of “Coming 2 America,” a sequel 32 years in the making. “If you do that, you are working for the wrong reasons.” Carter also teamed up with the movie’s star and creator, Eddie Murphy, on Netflix’s buzzy “Dolemite Is My Name.” “When you work with actors, and they feel like you get them and they get you, it makes it that much easier to perform,” she says.
“Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler recommended Beachler to Marvel, and her Afro-futuristic vision earned her the job overseeing the film’s $30 million art budget; she was the first African American to even get nominated in the category. “I never thought it would happen at all,” says Beachler, who also worked on “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” with Coogler. “That kind of stuff never happens for people like me.” Beachler credits the advent of Time’s Up for empowering women. “That psychological gaslighting that says you will never work again is not true,” the Ohio native says. “The people who took those steps survived it and it was the example we needed to see.”
President, ABC Entertainment
When the Freeform topper took over the top spot at ABC Entertainment last November, she had a plan: First, “To make ABC the No. 1 broadcast network in entertainment,” Burke says. This summer, it tied with NBC for the key 18-49 demo, buoyed by “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise.” It also scored an Emmy for Norman Lear’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.” But Burke’s other passion is the executive incubator program, a pipeline for next-gen network executives that kicks off in October. “We want to have people in positions of power and who create the shows that accurately reflect our audience.”
Principal, Music Partnerships and Operations, Twitch
Already hugely popular with the gaming community, live streaming platform Twitch is making big breakthroughs on the music side: In February, 27 million people watched Marshmello perform in the game “Fortnite.” “We really want the music community to know we’re here for them and we want to help break artists,” says San Francisco-based Charles, co-founder of Women in Digital Media, based in New York. “At Twitch, I am encouraged as we have a female COO, and CFO, and several of the other senior roles are filled by women. That said, the entertainment industry has a long way to go in terms of parity in numbers, and respect for and real understanding of the unique contributions of women.”
The Women of City National Bank
Linda Duncombe, Executive VP, Marketing and Product Strategies
Martha Henderson, Executive VP, Entertainment Banking
Henderson, who has run the City National entertainment division for more than 30 years, recently engineered the acquisitions of FilmTrack and Exactuals, two companies providing entertainment payment tracking services. She oversees its staff of approximately 250 spread across offices in entertainment hubs around the country, providing personal financial services to business managers, talent agencies and entertainment law firms; the division fills the banking needs of half the shows on Broadway. Lately, “we’re stepping in to do a lot of [TV] financing because there’s so much going on,” Henderson says. Duncombe joined the company in January from Citibank and set out to expand its strategic media partnerships through sponsorship of events such as the Tonys. “We’re really looking at how we can amplify our support, but also let the community know about what we do,” she says.
After a meme-worthy turn as enraged Renata Klein on Season 2 of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” this summer, Dern is earning praise — and buzz — for her performance as a cutthroat celebrity divorce lawyer in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” for Netflix. The AMPAS board member could even garner a third Oscar nomination for the turn. Next up: the role of Marmee, the matriarch, in Greta Gerwig’s big-screen adaptation of “Little Women,” and a return to the “Jurassic Park” franchise with Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum.
Producer, Writer, Director
It started with a tweet. One of the Exonerated Five, Raymond Santana, reached out to DuVernay on Twitter and they talked about bringing the men’s story to the big screen. Several years and many meetings later, “When They See Us” became Netflix’s masterful but painful-to-watch four-part miniseries. The story, which humanized the falsely accused men the world knew as the Central Park Five, garnered 16 Emmy noms and two wins, including one for Jharrel Jerome, the first Afro Latino to win an acting Emmy. And you thought Twitter was for slamming celebrities.
The Women of Facebook
Fidji Simo, VP, Head of Facebook App
Jada Pinkett Smith, Actor, Producer/Co-Host, “Red Table Talk”
Simo, who greenlit Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” on Facebook Watch in 2017, earlier this year got promoted to run the entire Facebook app, overseeing its news feed, stories and video. The French-born exec is building out its marketplace and dating sector on top of its news feed. “Both the town square and the living room are important,” she said at Variety’s inaugural Silicon Valleywood summit earlier this year.
Pinkett Smith hosts “Red Table Talk” with her 17-year-old daughter, Willow Smith, and her mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, exploring a broad and at times shocking array of issues, including child molestation, porn addiction and polyamory. Its March episode with Jordyn Woods was viewed by 7.5 million Facebook users for at least 60 seconds the first 24 hours it was released, per Facebook. “Our audience is only interested in people who are willing to come in and talk real talk,” says Pinkett Smith, who recently co-starred in “Angel Has Fallen.” “Some of our biggest shows have been non-celebrities.” Simo is dedicated to “lifting women as I climb,” but notes that “at the top of that ladder there’s still mostly men, so we need these men to be really engaged in lifting these women up.” She adds: “If they’re afraid of being in the same room as them, that’s not helping.”
The Women of “Fleabag”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Writer, Actor, Producer
Olivia Colman, Actor
Exploding U.K. talents Waller-Bridge and Colman brought slyly comic performances to the second season of Amazon’s “Fleabag,” and Emmy voters noticed, nominating both. Show creator Waller-Bridge walked away with three trophies, including comedy series, lead acting and writing, and in short order bagged a lucrative deal with Amazon for future projects. The Hot Priest would surely approve. Colman scored major hardware of her own earlier in the year when she took home the lead actress Oscar for her offbeat performance as Queen Anne in “The Favourite”; in November, she takes over the role of the current queen of England in Season 3 of Netflix’s “The Crown.” After that, she co-stars with Anthony Hopkins in “The Father.”
Head of Creative Development, Spotify
“This has been a transitional year for me,” says Gateley, a veteran TV exec who launched “You” and “Surviving R. Kelly” as head of programming at Lifetime before landing at Spotify, where she now oversees creative content. “It’s incredibly satisfying to be working in this rapidly growing, innovative medium of podcasts, where I feel that the best storytelling is happening.” Gateley, who earlier in her career developed “UnReal” and created “Laguna Beach,” has already made her mark at Spotify. Her proudest moment so far? “Wooing Kevin Bacon to Spotify to do a scripted podcast in a role where he’s playing himself.”
Partner, ICM Partners
Decades after she first became an agent, Gottlieb still gets a kick out of matching her clients to the right projects, considering it a bonus, not the goal, when they receive awards recognition. “If you chase it, you’re going to be in trouble,” says Gottlieb, U.S. agent for Olivia Colman, Oscar winner for “The Favourite” and Emmy nominee for “Fleabag.” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” co-star Tony Shalhoub, meanwhile, picked up his latest Emmy just last month. Other clients include Kathy Bates, Catherine O’Hara, Judy Davis and Alfre Woodard. Gottlieb says she is especially gratified by the rising number of acting opportunities for women of a certain age. “I think it’s a great time to not only be representing great actors, but great actresses.”
2019 was the year that Grande found her voice — and much to the surprise of critics, she had a lot to say. “She started as this Nickelodeon kid, so people didn’t appreciate the fact that she had this voice — politically and socially,” says her co-manager Allison Kaye, referring to the success of “Thank U, Next.” The newly empowered Grande wasn’t afraid to clap back at critics of her relationships or even Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich: “It was about holding her ground — and not performing unless she got to do what she wanted,” Kaye says. “It was her time to draw a line in the sand.”
The Women of Hello Sunshine
Reese Witherspoon, Founder
Lauren Neustadter, Head of Film and Television
Witherspoon doesn’t feel nearly as stymied by Hollywood any more. The star-producer’s Hello Sunshine media company has several streaming shows on the runway, the first of which, “The Morning Show,” will debut Nov. 1 as a launch title for Apple TV Plus, with Witherspoon co-starring with Jennifer Anniston. Hello Sunshine’s adaptation of Celeste Ng’s popular “Little Fires Everywhere” novel, acquired when it was still in galleys, is in production for Hulu with Kerry Washington co-producing and co-starring along with Witherspoon. Another Apple series, this one starring and executive produced by Octavia Spencer, is also on the way, along with projects for Netflix and Amazon.
On the traditional side, the company has already produced the second season of “Big Little Lies” for HBO with Nicole Kidman’s shingle, and a new installment of “Legally Blonde,” is among the film projects in the works. The 3-year-old company also has a book club component, a strong digital presence and minority backing from AT&T’s Warner Media and Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective.
It’s all sweet vindication for Witherspoon, who founded Hello Sunshine to foster female storytelling across the media landscape, frustrated by its lack in the traditional studio marketplace. Before she started the company, several studio heads told the “Walk the Line” Oscar winner “they would only make one film with a lead woman in it a year, sometimes two,” says Witherspoon, noting there were only seven studios at the time.
“I just felt like at that point there was a real moment for me where, if not now, when, if not me, who?”
Witherspoon invested her own money in the venture, recruiting Neustadter, then senior VP programming at Fox, to Hello Sunshine in March 2017. Together, they carefully safeguard projects, making sure that women are driving the narrative and their journeys are hopeful.
They pass on pitches for two-handers with a man and a woman or centered on a man who champions women, leaving those projects for others to take on. “Hello Sunshine is about putting women at the center of every single story, whether it’s books we choose for our book club or a television show we are making or a feature,” Neustadter says.
Witherspoon had production companies before — Type A Films and Pacific Standard — but Hello Sunshine has a broader reach, and leverages storytelling across media and platforms. Three more shows and two films are on track for next year, and the duo is avidly seeking more female-driven stories to tell. “We don’t take things out into the world that we aren’t jumping up and down about,” says Neustadter, who worked on shows such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Mindy Project” at Fox and feature films before that.
“This is all I ever wanted to do,” says Witherspoon. “I wake up every day so driven to tell stories and to help other women tell their stories. It’s just been incredible.”
— Diane Garrett
Co-Founder, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art / President and Co-CEO, Ariel Investments
Hobson calls the billion-dollar Lucas Museum of Narrative Art she founded with husband George Lucas “probably the most significant thing that we have ever done and will ever do.” Expected to open in 2022, it complements Hobson’s slate of philanthropic work that includes joining the board of LACMA, supporting the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and the ongoing work of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. When it comes to the “urgent” work of Time’s Up, she highlights the way it has women collaborating across industries. “I think that’s been where the greatest leverage is going to be, this cross-fertilization of ideas and people and effort,” she says.
The Women of “Hustlers”
Jessica Elbaum, Producer
Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Producer
Jennifer Lopez, Actor, Producer
Lorene Scafaria, Writer, Director
Constance Wu, Actor
It took a lot of moxie to get “Hustlers” into theaters. But the women behind the movie never gave up, scrambling to find a new backer when Annapurna dropped the project last year.
Their persistence was ultimately rewarded: STX Entertainment chair Adam Fogelson eventually greenlit the movie, which debuted to rapturous reviews at Toronto and came in No. 1 at the box office its opening weekend last month. Getting to that point definitely wasn’t easy, though.
“We pitched it everywhere,” says Gloria Sanchez president Jessica Elbaum, who developed the adaptation of a New York magazine article about strippers that bilked unsuspecting men out of their money after the 2008 stock market crash. “I’m talking like every studio and everybody said no.” Even the streamers, according to producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, wouldn’t pull the trigger on the $20 million project, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. It grossed nearly $100 million at the global box office its first three weeks in theaters.
The main problem: that the protagonists, played by producer-star Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu in the movie, were female antiheroes based on actual real-life women who drugged and stole from seemingly innocent men.
“Executives would ask me if we would make the men who get drugged rapists,” recalls Goldsmith-Thomas, asking her “can we earn the drugging” by having the men commit heinous acts against the strippers.
But the producers refused to alter Scafaria’s script. “They wanted the guys to only be bad guys to justify the girl’s behavior,” says Elbaum. “I said, no. It was such a contradiction. Yes, we hadn’t seen this kind of female antihero before, but yet we have always been totally OK with male antiheroes.”
“Would you ask Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ to only scam the bad people? No,” says Goldsmith-Thomas. “Because it’s not the story. But we would hear, ‘Yeah, but audiences aren’t ready to see women taking advantage of men.’”
Last fall, Fogelson signed onto the project without requesting script changes and Wu boarded the project.
“Certainly what the women did in real life and in the film was wrong,” says Scafaria. “But before STX came in, I think the characters were being judged not for the crime aspect as much as the stigma wrapped up in strippers and sex workers in general.”
Lopez believes the novelty of the project helped it break through. “You get taken into this gritty, underground world and get to hear and see the lives of these women who are strippers,” she says. “Until now, they have only been background characters in previous films.”
Wu, meanwhile, loved her character’s emotional journey in the film, citing the character of Scotty in “Boogie Nights” as one inspiration “because, as hard he tries to fit in, he’ll never be as cool.” And Elbaum believes there’s a wish fulfillment element for audiences.
But at the end of the day, Goldsmith-Thomas says “Hustlers” is just a good film with complicated characters. “This film was never about men are bad and women are good. This film is about the slippery slope of the American dream. But it’s also about sisterhood and these women that the film is based on, for a certain amount of time, became sisters.”
The Women of “It Chapter Two”
Carolyn Blackwood, President & Chief Content Officer, New Line Cinema
Barbara Muschietti, Producer
Blair Rich, President, Worldwide Marketing, Warner Bros. Pictures Group and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
The “It” franchise joined the billion-dollar club last month, after “It Chapter Two” opened with $91 million, the second-best horror opening in history, a release overseen by Rich and her WB-team. “The genre can have a whole lot of artistry — that was one of our goals,” Blackwood says. “For us, horror is in our DNA.” Muschietti, who produced both “It” features for director brother Andy, says it helps to have a familiar face by her side. “We can fight and disagree and five minutes later we can be fine,” she says. “We dare to dream big dreams together.”
Next up for them is an adaptation of popular anime “Attack on Titan.” “We attach ourselves to material we love and we believe in its spirit. We can propel it from there,” Muschietti says. “A lot of decision-making women are in the room,” Blackwood says of New Line, where 67% of department heads are female, and New Line’s parent Warner Bros. is now led by CEO Ann Sarnoff. “I’m particularly excited about her arrival not because she’s a woman, but because she’s an amazingly smart and thoughtful leader. It’s just a positive and advantageous thing to have someone with her skill” at the studio.
President, SB Projects
Everyone was talking about Scooter Braun’s acquisition of Taylor Swift’s masters (along with her former record label), but Kaye cites another female artist — Ariana Grande — as emblematic of the SB Projects’ successful year. “I would say the biggest ccomplishment is the release of ‘Thank U, Next,’ ” says Kaye, who joined the company a decade ago and was promoted in 2018. “It changed the face of pop music in terms of allowing artists to communicate with their fans in the pop space — and it made people realize that a force to be reckoned with. This was her time to step into her womanhood and to be her own artist. And I helped, metaphorically, to build the platform that she stood on to do that.”
Founder and CEO, Lighthouse Management & Media
Keshishian views her clients as family, and she wants them to have nice things, whether it be a rich deal to return to the small screen (Jennifer Aniston’s pact for Apple’s “The Morning Show”) or a passion project for producer-star Mark Ruffalo (“Dark Waters”). “One of the things that’s most exciting for me is helping clients align their true authentic selves with things that make sense for them artistically,” says Keshishian, producer o fRyan Murphy’s “Ratched.” She laments: “We’re actively looking to hire female directors and directors of color on projects we’re producing, but there are many, many more choices for white male directors at the moment. Hopefully, in 10-15 years it will be easier and we won’t be in this situation.”
The Women of “Killing Eve”
Jodie Comer, Actor
Sandra Oh, Actor
All eyes were on Oh for a possibly ground-breaking Emmy win for her performance in “Killing Eve,” but instead Comer walked away with the trophy, surprising herself and much of the audience at the kudocast last month. It was a twist befitting BBC America’s two-year-old thriller, which revolves around the cat-and-mouse maneuverings — and fascination — between Oh’s MI6 operative and Comer’s stylishly amoral assassin. Oh won the lead acting Golden Globe for “Killing Eve” in January — a ceremony she co-hosted — and was Emmy nominated for guest hosting “Saturday Night Live” in March. Next up: Season 3 of “Killing Eve,” Comer stars opposite Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy,” and Oh did voice work for Amazon’s upcoming “Invincible.”
America has a lot of stuff and Kondo is here for us. The decluttering expert and author became the unlikely star of Netflix reality series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” in January, prompting people everywhere to ask themselves whether particular possessions sparked joy. Kondo received two Emmy nominations for the series: one as host, and the other for structured reality program. Kondo, who started her consultant business as a 19-year-old university student in Japan, believes her tidying advice has struck a nerve in America as a part of a shift away from the “more is better” mindset. Says Kondo: “We are beginning to give more attention to each item we own and determine the few things that truly matter.”
Lady Gaga was seemingly ubiquitous last year: She won raves for her acting and singing in “A Star Is Born,” set up residency in Las Vegas, won two more Grammys and dazzled at the Oscars, where she performed a sizzling duet of “Shallow” with “A Star Is Born” co-star and director Bradley Cooper before winning the song trophy. Although she didn’t ultimately win the lead actress award, she turned heads in Hollywood for her screen turn. Post-Oscar, Gaga became selective about public appearances: The Met Gala’s celebration of camp in May, the LGBTQ community’s celebration of pride in June and her celebration of makeup. Last month, she launched her Haus Laboratories beauty line.
Chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group
Langley’s portfolio got even bigger in January, when she gained global theatrical distribution and home entertainment oversight, and by February “Green Book” had won the top Oscar, Universal’s first best-picture trophy in 17 years. Box office highlights include Jordan Peele’s “Us,” Fast & Furious spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” “Downton Abbey,” the best opening ever for Focus Features, and animated “Abominable.” Langley’s proud that Universal was the first studio to sign up for the 4% Challenge to work with female filmmakers. “We felt like it was the morally correct thing to do, but it was also good for business, and as a result of it, we have identified and gotten into business with some really talented people.”
If Lizzo didn’t exist, we’d need to invent her. Not surprisingly, she has ruled the airwaves with empowering hits including “Juice” and evolved into the people’s pop princess of 2019 — part singer, part rapper, part fierce flutist, part body-positive guru and a wholly original songwriter. As she humble-bragged on Twitter: “I break records, not hearts.” Case in point: “Truth Hurts” is now the longest-running No. 1 solo hit by a female MC. Her exuberant performance of “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” in front of a giant inflatable booty brought fellow female artists at the VMAs to their feet. She also had a cameo role in “Hustlers” and is poised to make more noise at the upcoming Grammys in a number of categories. For many of Lizzo’s adoring female fans, she has also shattered unrealistic — and outdated — standards of beauty. “I love music, I’m talented and I deserve to be seen as beautiful,” she recently tweeted. We couldn’t agree more.
After taking a break to treat breast cancer, Louis-Dreyfus roared back to work as Selina Meyer in “Veep,” unleashing a possibly even more depraved performance as the power-hungry politician. The show did its best to stay a step ahead of the tumultuous Trump administration in its final season, and earned a comedy series nomination in addition to a lead actress nom for the “Seinfeld” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine” alum. Louis-Dreyfus was nominated every year “Veep” ran, winning nine Emmys overall for her work on the show, and six in the acting category alone. Next up: “Downhill” opposite Will Ferrell for Fox Searchlight.”
The Women of “Love Island”
Sharon Vuong, CBS’ SVP Alternative Programming
Mandy Morris, “Love Island” Executive Producer
U.K. dating show import “Love Island” created a lot of social-media buzz and became the network’s most streamed new show on CBS All Access and CBS.com in over a year — and that is why it is returning for a second season. “We found that relative to other CBS shows, the ‘Love Island’ audience is more likely to digitally stream the show,” says Vuong. “There are a lot of dating shows on TV. What makes ‘Love Island’ stand out is that it’s authentic,” says Morris, who worked on the U.K. version of the show and helped bring it to America. “The struggle to find love is real.”
Senior EVP and CFO, the Walt Disney Co.
A 17-year Disney veteran, McCarthy helped oversee the purchase of 21st Century Fox, which beefed up its content coffers ahead of the planned November launch of Disney Plus and allowed for operational control of Hulu. “There’s lots of disruption when you merge two companies,” she says, nodding to Fox film division’s big operating loss in its third quarter. The company is looking forward to its direct-to-consumer initiative. A female pioneer in business school, McCarthy finds a silver lining in Time’s Up: “In an odd twisted way, it made women view each other more collaboratively.”
Writer, Producer, Director
Already the first openly trans woman of color to write and direct an episode of television (for “Pose”), Mock made history again in June, when she signed a multi-year overall deal with Netflix, becoming the first trans woman to reach a deal of this nature with a major studio. “For me, the biggest thing that I want to continue to do is to tell stories that really matter to me and to my community,” she says. “To me, what’s so fascinating is that I’m black and I’m trans and I’m a woman. I get to tell more stories. I’m not limited.” On parity and inclusion: “I think the Time’s Up movement has been a wakeup call, and we’re just at the beginning of that.”
Counsel, Entertainment Group, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz
Before becoming a lawyer, Murray worked in TV production for 12 years, going from an NBC page to freelance TV producer. She puts that real world experience to work for her clients today, handling all transactions from inception to final cut. Recent efforts include a pair of confidential pilot agreements for Apple, a trio of development agreements for Quibi, and deals for CNN’s “United Shades of America,” truTV’s “Game Changers” and Travel’s “Restored,” Discovery’s “Buried Worlds.” Says Murray: “I was a psychology major in college, and sometimes I’ll finish up a conversation with a client, and they’ll tell me they feel like they just had a therapy session.”
The Women of National Geographic
Carolyn Bernstein, Exec VP of Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films
Courteney Monroe, President and CEO, National Geographic Global Networks
When National Geographic launched its documentary film banner in 2017, the goal, in addition to producing quality films, was to produce docs that received critical acclaim, festival play and awards. Thanks to “Free Solo,” it has become one of the sector’s MVPs. In February, “Free Solo” became the first Nat Geo docu to win an Oscar, and last month it won seven Emmys, sweeping all categories in which it was nominated; the rock climbing film has grossed more than $17.5 million domestically. “I feel like we have assumed our rightful place in a leadership position in documentary filmmaking,” says Monroe.
This fall the network will air the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced, environmental doc “Sea of Shadows” and Feras Fayyad’s “The Cave” about an underground hospital in war-torn Syria. Those films will be followed by Ron Howard’s spring 2020 docu “Rebuilding Paradise” about the California community destroyed by a wildfire. “All of these films are excellent examples of fulfilling our desire to have our content be not just entertaining, but also have a sense of purpose,” explains Bernstein. Monroe says Nat Geo’s docu business model won’t be shifting under Disney ownership. “It’s about quality over quantity and we’re making very intentional choices about who we work with and what stories we tell,” says Monroe. “We’re only getting behind telling stories that we’re going to want to go the distance with.”
The Women of Netflix
Channing Dungey, VP, Original Series
Cindy Holland, VP, Original Content Lisa Taback,
Lisa Nishimura, VP, Independent Films and Documentary Features
Lisa Taback, VP, Talent Relations and Awards
Hollywood’s biggest disruptor grew even more formidable in the past year, adding to its exec ranks and pumping out more content as it gears up for more competition ahead. The streamer won 27 Emmys last month, four more than 2017, and four Oscars earlier this year, a notable uptick from its single wins in 2018 and 2017. Taback, who produced Netflix’s Academy Award-winning film short “Period. End of Sentence” with her daughter, recently launched an awards-season magazine to pump its growing prestige offerings — and keep talent happy. Dungey made the leap from ABC Entertainment president last year.
“Broadcast television is limited by its need to serve a mass audience, which can sometimes mean a one-size-fits-all programming mentality,” she says. At Netflix, “the culture encourages experimentation.” Nishimura oversaw Sundance audience award winner “Knock Down the House,” Beyonce’s “Homecoming” and “American Factory,” the first film from the former President Obama’s Higher Ground. “The evolution of this business has afforded us chances to stretch and grow,” she says. Holland, a 16-year vet of the streamer, calls herself “proud that we’ve been able to foster a supportive, creative home for the best artists in the world to tell their stories.” As for Taback, she believes there’s a silver lining to all the roiling headlines about workplace issues and gender inequality: “It’s now beyond a movement,” she says.
— Randee Dawn
President UCP & Wilshire Studios
If there’s a platform, Olmstead has a story to tell on it. The first female president of a scripted and unscripted studio at NBC Universal’s UCP and Wilshire, Olmstead oversaw premieres of “The Umbrella Academy” (Netflix), “Impulse” (YouTube), as well as Emmy nominees “The Act” (Hulu) and “Homecoming” (Amazon). A great champion of podcasts and podcast-inspired series including the upcoming “Dr. Death,” she renewed UCP’s deal with Sam Esmail (“Battlestar Galactica” reboot). Says Olmstead: “It’s a personal agenda to tell those stories in a premium way.”
General manager, TikTok U.S.
TikTok has taken over the world — the social-media app was downloaded more than a billion times in 2018, allowing users unlimited creativity in creating fun little (up to 15 seconds long) clips. It’s also where Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” became a monster hit. Pappas and her team work closely with the music industry to break new acts and boost established ones. Korean superstar group BTS has joined TikTok, and the NFL signed a deal in September. “We’re seeing what’s natively taking foothold in the app such as how sports and entertainment categories are fast growing alongside everyday users’ content,” says Pappas. Celebrities such as Jared Leto, Jimmy Fallon and Howie Mandel are on equal ground with brands (including Comedy Central) and next-gen indie filmmakers.
The Women of Paramount
Nicole Clemens, President, Paramount Television
Elizabeth Raposo, President of Production, Paramount Pictures
Mireille Soria, President, Paramount Animation
Clemens, Raposo and Soria have been key players in Paramount chairman/CEO Jim Gianopulos’ revitalization of the studio, doubling the output of their respective divisions. Clemens has expanded the content pipeline to feed a diverse array of platforms including Amazon, Netflix, TNT, Apple, BET, HBO and Quibi, scoring eight straight-to-series orders in the past six months alone. “It’s a challenging marketplace, but I do think that it creates a ton of opportunity, because people are not steering away from a desire for more content,” Clemens says.
Raposo has played a pivotal role in “Bumblebee” and “Rocketman,” as well as fall releases “Gemini Man” and “Terminator: Dark Fate.” “I feel like I’m able to put up any movie that feels like it’s right for an audience,” she says. Soria has greenlit animated films including “The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge,” the monster-wrestling fantasy “Rumble,” both due next year, and she’s developing a Spice Girls project. “Our animation team is very diverse, but it’s also majority female, which is kind of a reflection of the population,” says Soria. “I feel that by having a diverse team, we develop different kinds of stories, and it sets the tone. We’re committed to hiring talented people and giving them the opportunities to have their voices heard.”
Producer, Pascal Pictures
Pascal’s storied showbiz career began a new chapter when she ankled her longtime home at Sony Pictures to sign a first-look deal with Universal in May, leaving a trail of big-grossers in her wake, including “Venom” ($856 million), the animated Oscar-winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” ($375 million) and the June release “Spider-Man: Far From Home” ($1.13 billion). She’ll continue to produce sequels for established franchises at Sony, where she also has Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women” set for December release, while developing her signature mix of big and small films at Universal.
“I feel like movies tell you what size they need to be, and the best thing to do is to listen,” says Pascal, who had a long run heading Sony Pictures with Michael Lynton before segueing to a producing deal at the Culver City studio in 2015. Late last month, Sony and Marvel settled their differences about future “Spider-Man” movies, so the web slinger will stay put at Pascal’s former home base, and remain in the Marvel Universe. Enthused Pascal: “Peter Parker’s story took a dramatic turn in ‘Far From Home’ and I could not be happier we will all be working together as we see where his journey goes.” The vet producer believes in doing her homework. It’s just about loving the projects enough to read all the drafts, all the time, and the things that they’re based on, and really think about them.” On parity progress: “I’m really proud of all those people who made it happen and I don’t think we can go backwards now.”
The Women of “Pen15”
Maya Erskine & Anna Konkle; Writers, Producers, Actors
Erskine and Konkle play exquisitely awkward 13-year-old versions of themselves on Hulu’s “Pen15.” But don’t expect the pair, both Emmy nominated for writing, to advance in Season 2: They say their characters will remain seventh-graders as long as “Pen15” exists. “The point of the show is to take us to a time we can never get away from, even as adults,” says Konkle. Adds Erskine: “A lot of insecurities that last forever begin in middle school and the idea is that we’re eternally stuck in this seventh-grade limbo between childhood and adulthood.”
It’s been a busy year for Peters’ clients: James McAvoy starred in “Glass” and “It Chapter Two;” Alicia Vikander stars as a young Gloria Steinem in “The Glorias,” directed by Julie Taymor, and is on board for another “Tomb Raider”; “Green Book” Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen directed his first film, “The Falling,” which UTA financed; and Showtime renewed Kirsten Dunst’s “On Becoming a God in Florida.” Says Peters: “I love developing but I also love representing the stars that I have.” On parity progress: “I’m really impressed with the quickness with which it has changed the day-to-day dialogue.”
Chairwoman & CEO, Epic Records
In April, Rhone was promoted to chairwoman and CEO of Epic Records, where she had served as president since 2014, making her the first woman of color to hold such a title. She can describe her job in four words: “Exhilarating. Complex. Rewarding. Demanding.” Others might call it exhausting: “Technological demands and marketplace challenges require a level of engagement 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I’m in the inspiration business — you must be able to see the big picture through a lens that constantly changes. “It helps,” she jokes, “if you can go without sleep.”
Head of Amazon Studios
NBC vet Salke is the driving force behind the ever-evolving streaming service, which waltzed away with seven Primetime Emmy wins (15 overall), and is realigning its film strategy. “Fleabag” earned four Primetime Emmys, including best comedy series, and the show’s creator and star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, won three overall, including one for lead comedy actress. The streamer made hefty buys on the fest circuit this year, and plans to keep releasing prestige pics in theaters while streaming the rest right away. Said Salke last month: “We’re really pivoting to a goal of getting these movies to the global customers as quickly as possible.”
Chair and CEO, Warner Bros.
The very announcement that Sarnoff was taking over the top studio job at Warner Bros. sent shockwaves through Hollywood in June. Sarnoff, formerly president of BBC Studios America, became the first woman to lead the storied studio, and she took over the spot that Kevin Tsujihara vacated in March after allegations of sexual misconduct. In these days of #MeToo and Time’s Up, the significance of her historic appointment was not lost on the showbiz community still adjusting to AT&T’s ownership of the studio. Sarnoff’s first order of business at Warner Bros.: setting a townhall meeting to reassure the troops.
Self represents a diverse range of clients, putting together Damian Chazelle’s next movie, Diablo Cody’s deal for Broadway’s take on Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” Lisa Joy’s “Reminiscence” with Hugh Jackman, and draped Emma Stone in furs for “Cruella.” For TV, she’s stitched lucrative overall deals for Brian Yorkey, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Nahnatchka Khan and John Krasinski, the latter once again a triple threat (writing, directing, starring) in the film sequel for “A Quiet Place 2.” Self says the proliferation of platforms have opened up landscapes for creative voices. “There is a real support to gender parity,” she says. “It’s actually really happening now, and I commend my fellow peers and people in the business that are really helping to make that happen.”
Founding partner, Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein Lezcano
Shaw negotiated recent deals for Ava DuVernay, John Legend and Lupita Nyong’o, but is most proud of her work paving the way for “When They See Us,” DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries about the exonerated Central Park Five, noting the questions it has raised about the justice system and the presumption of innocence. “You hear that art can have an impact, but this really had an impact worldwide,” says Shaw, a founder of Time’s Up. She views changing distribution models as exciting and exhilarating, but challenging from a dealmaking perspective: “You get the feeling that some people are going to be left behind, and you don’t want yourself or your clients to be one of those people.”
Founder & CEO, Friends at Work
John Legend’s longtime manager has created a female-led management company that reaches beyond music to film and TV. “I feel like the most important thing I’ve done this past year is to build out the impact division of our company,” says Stiklorius, whose new clients include everyone from lawyer Neal Katyal to doula Erica Chidi Cohen. “It’s just so exciting to know that our infrastructure is going to support people like John Legend, who want to change the world,” says Stiklorius, of her multi-hyphenate. “They aren’t, you know, rock stars, but they have a similar talent and ability to wake people up.”
Co-Head of International Touring, CAA
Tsuchii has a talent for nurturing a quality that is hard to come by in the music biz: Loyalty. Some of her oldest clients accounted for her biggest success stories this year, such as Beck, with whom she’s worked for a quarter century. “It’s so exciting to see people like that maintain their level of success and integrity,” says Tsuchii. She orchestrated a deal with Korean K-pop label SM Entertainment. Among her other points of pride: Grammy nominee H.E.R., Ariana Grande and Maggie Rogers, whom Tsuchii signed a couple years ago and is already selling out Radio City Music Hall.
“The Farewell,” Wang’s movie about a Chinese family that hides a matriarch’s illness from her, sparked a bidding war at Sundance, with A24 ponying up around $6 million for the mostly subtitled tale starring Awkwafina. Its success at the specialty box office has prompted Wang to reassess her career goals. “Before ‘The Farewell’ I would’ve just said yes to everything, but now that so many possibilities are open to me, I’ve thought a lot more carefully about the type of conditions that I want to work under in order to create my best work,” Wang says. “In order to do that I have to focus on ensuring that I’m always working with collaborators that will allow me to have the process that I need, the tools that I need and the space that I need in order to do my best work.”
Surprising even herself, the former eBay CEO is back in start-up mode at Quibi, a streaming service for mobile devices that will launch in April with heavyweight backing in the financial and creative communities. Whitman, who ran for California governor in 2010 before pivoting back to technology as HP CEO, joined Quibi as employee No. 1 when former Disney colleague Jeffrey Katzenberg enticed her to go Hollywood again. Her new company has ordered short-form entertainment from the likes of Catherine Hardwicke, Lena Waithe and Guillermo del Toro; it already has a working beta of the app. Quibi’s biggest challenge now? “Execution,” says Whitman, who describes herself as a builder and a creator. “We just have to be an execution machine.”
UP NEXT: Colleen Bell
Director, California Film Commission
A one-time soap opera producer (“The Bold and the Beautiful”) and the ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration, Bell took over the top post at the California Film Commission in May, when Amy Lemisch stepped down after 15 years in the role. Tasked with promoting and facilitating film and TV production in the Golden State, she oversees the allocation of its $330 million in annual incentives, which she’s pushing to expand to service the content explosion.
UP NEXT: Sara Bollwinkel
“It’s pretty simple,” Bollwinkel says of her job. “I book concerts and I come up with strategies for how to develop acts.” But it’s not an exact science — there’s an art to it. “Billie Eilish’s growth has been an incredible moment,” Bollwinkel says of the singer she signed at age 14. “Developing an act from a small club level to arenas in a very short period of time is a pretty big accomplishment in the booking world.” We’ll say.
UP NEXT: Gabriela Gonzalez
Vice President, Latin, ASCAP
ASCAP VP Gabriela Gonzalez has literally made Latin music a top priority for the society: “This past year, we’ve included Latin in everything we do,” she said, citing the ASCAP Cafe at Sundance in Park City and the recent She Is the Music song camp at Magnus Studios in Miami, which united female writers, producers and engineers from all genres (and languages) for an opportunity to collaborate with recording artist Natti Natasha.
UP NEXT: Yasmin Hormozi
Director, Narrative, Participant
In her four years at issue-oriented progressive prodco Participant, Hormozi has pushed to expand the diversity of its slate by bringing in up-and-coming talent and filmmakers and focusing on female-driven projects such as the recent Ruth Bader Ginsburg docudrama “On the Basis of Sex.” Upcoming efforts include director Todd Haynes’ “Dark Waters,” about the attorney who took on DuPont Chemical. She’s also developing projects by filmmakers including Jill Soloway and Tom McCarthy.
UP NEXT: Chelsea McKinnies
McKinnies represented Constance Wu for “Hustlers,” Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet” and Tracee Ellis Ross on her upcoming film, “Covers.” She also helped secure Kiersey Clemons’ pact for “Lady and the Tramp,” Jemaine Clement’s role in the four upcoming “Avatar” sequels and “Booksmart” actress Molly Gordon’s starring role in “Good Boys.” Clients also include Aidy Bryant, Anna Faris, Greta Lee and Michael Che.
UP NEXT: Jordan Weiss
Weiss originally wrote “Dollface,” the upcoming Hulu series, fresh out of USC, intending the script to be a writing sample. But then an industry pal asked to see it and slipped it to a producer on Margot Robbie’s “I, Tonya,” and her Lucky Chap shingle decided to develop it with Kat Jennings playing Jules, a young woman who must rebuild her friendships with women after her boyfriend breaks up with her.
Profiles by BreAnna Bell, Randee Dawn, Diane Garrett, James Patrick Herman, Carole Horst, Todd Longwell, Tom McLean, Addie Morfoot, Mekeisha Madden Toby
Women’s Impact Report 2019
From the C-Suite to agents and artisans, these women have created a big impact on showbiz