Change is good for business
by Aimée Lagos
Change is coming.
It’s that moment right at the beginning when the ground starts to swell and there is the inevitable push to stamp it down – people starting to stand up against their own fear of the consequences of speaking out, while simultaneously hands are placed squarely over the eyes and ears of those who cling to the status quo as they shout out in protest “I can’t see it. It’s not happening!” But it is everywhere.
Change is coming.
Patricia Arquette’s impassioned plea for equal pay for women during her Oscar acceptance speech. President Obama’s call to end the epidemic of violence against women at the Grammys. Common’s rousing Oscar acceptance speech in which he spoke of the “bridge built on hope” for every man, woman and child of the world to live in equality and in that same speech, John Legend’s appeal to us all to “march on” for equality.
Change is coming.
Now more than ever it is clear that one cannot compartmentalize equality. You cannot fight for racial equality and then not fight for the equality of women. You cannot call yourself a feminist and then turn around and allow racist comments to be uttered anywhere in your presence. You cannot fight for the equal rights of people of color, or women and not do the same for the rights of LGBT men and women. Equality is equality. Period.
But there is something unique to the struggle of women for our own equality. Women are a part of every oppressed group. We are people of color, we are lesbian and transgender, we are Jewish and Muslim and we have been fighting for equal rights as members of those groups for a very long time.
We are, in a sense, expert warriors in the fight for equality. It is time we used that expertise to fight not only for our equality as members of those groups, but for our equality as women. Inequality is everywhere, but the entertainment industry remains a true bastion of white male power, and the gender and race gaps on and off screen are staggering.
Nina Simone said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” But what we see on film and television and the composition of those working behind the scenes does not reflect accurately the world in which we live. What we do here in Hollywood has the power to impact the world in a way that no other industry does and we are currently being dragged kicking and screaming into that reality. Shonda Rhimes, who is at the forefront of this change, said in her acceptance speech for the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award at the WGA this year that to “normalize television and make it look like the world you see when you go to the grocery store shouldn’t be revolutionary.” And she’s right. It shouldn’t be. But it is.
And as the gargantuan success of Shonda Rhimes’ female driven, racially balanced, ground breaking shows illustrates, change is coming.
The world is ready. And we expert women warriors are in a unique position to lead the charge as we fight for equality for all the groups of which we are members, all the groups of which our children are members, including our very own incredibly diverse group that makes up over half the world’s population.
We must fight to overcome deep-seated instincts and misperceptions about women in film and television. We must acknowledge our own biases when hiring and we must choose to represent female artists and fight for their equal pay rather than passively accepting that as clients they’ll simply work less and get paid less than male clients. We must step up, speak out and tell our own stories without fear.
We must create a path to success that isn’t about distancing oneself from her identity as a woman, but proudly proclaiming her membership in the powerful, creative, ass-kicking diverse group of women creators and artists.
We must fight the assumption that a female director is a bigger risk than a male – that a person of color only has something to offer when the story is about race – that a story about a man (or that involves “manly things” like car chases) can’t be told by a woman – that a movie about women won’t sell at the box office or that black faces on a billboard will reduce ticket sales.
These ideas are wrong. We’ve seen them debunked over and over, but still the refrain that women and minorities are business “risks” persists. I saw this mantra crushed by reality up close and personal when a film I wrote, No Good Deed, a female driven thriller, written by a woman, starring two incredible black actors (whose faces were plastered across billboards all over the country) soared to number one at the box office, more than quadrupling its budget in ticket sales. Female screenwriter + female driven story + predominantly black cast = #1. Our assumptions are wrong.
We can cross the “bridge built on hope” because it is grounded in the reality of the world around us. Our work and our industry can “reflect the times in which we live” and as warriors we can “march on” because to do so is not only good for humanity, but it is good for business.
The ground is shifting and change in this industry is coming – it has to come because when we open our eyes to the world around us, we can finally see the undeniable truth:
Change is here.Tags: Aimée Lagos, Changes in entertainment, Entertainment industry, Equality, Hollywood, No Good Deed (film), Shonda Rhimes, Women and film