Boasting a wide array of A-list movie stars and behind-the-scenes power players who are willing to talk about gender disparity, discrimination, and sexual harassment in Hollywood, the documentary This Changes Everything comes at a perfect time to make an impact, but if you already know how difficult it is to be a woman in a male dominated industry, director Tom Donahue’s impassioned work won’t offer up much of anything you didn’t already suspect. Since the advent of sound in film, it has been exponentially more difficult to make a go of things as a woman in Hollywood (and also elsewhere in the world), and This Changes Everything doesn’t make many suggestions on how to make amends, but it offers up a great deal of irrefutable evidence to suggest that the more people say things are getting better, the more they stay the same.
This Changes Everything (which shouldn’t be confused with Naomi Klein’s documentary from 2015) isn’t keen on reminding people that women in Hollywood are paid significantly less than their male counterparts – both in front of and behind the camera – nor doesn’t it particularly want to focus solely on the fact that most studio pictures and awards bait are produced by men or how 77% of the critics and tastemakers on Rotten Tomatoes are men. That would be far too easy and redundant of a film, so instead Donahue amasses a wide array of speakers to talk about the less obvious issues in play, ongoing legal matters, more blatant and open practices of discrimination, and the myriad of reasons why representation matters. This Changes Everything could be successful enough by pointing out that most cinema revolves around men talking about and to other men, but this sharing of experiences and opinions is far more valuable.
With This Changes Everything, Donahue has created a united front against sexual discrimination in Hollywood so wide ranging that he doesn’t even have to bring up the names Weinstein and Trump before the final few minutes of his film. He sits down with virtually every A-list actress willing to talk – from Meryl Streep (who gives a great assessment on how she strengthened her weakly written character in Kramer vs. Kramer) to Reese Witherspoon (who formed her own production company for female driven stories) to Geena Davis (who created one of the most influential and detail oriented media studies firms in the world) and far beyond. Their struggles with male writers, filmmakers, and co-stars is compared and contrasted by the sometimes far worse treatment of women behind the camera. Filmmakers Catherine Hardwick and Mira Nair speak openly about their frustrations, but Kimberly Pearce and Chloë Grace Moretz’s shared stories about their battles while working on the Carrie remake from several years ago might be a perfect example and distillation of the sorts of things female stars and directors have to put up with when working on a studio picture. Producers and executives Lauren Shuler Donner, Sherry Lansing, and Shonda Rhimes have climbed to the relative top of their professions as a sought-after producer, studio head, and the biggest television brand name in the world today, respectively, but they still put up with similar prejudices in spite of their overwhelming success. This Changes Everything even stops to talk about how discriminatory practices can extend to family films, with former Dreamworks Animation executive Mellody Hobson and Doc McStuffins creator Chris Nee speaking about the importance of letting young girls see depictions of themselves on screen at an early age.
This Changes Everything starts out with people speaking out on the frustrations of trying to get ahead in a male dominated industry, the sexualization of female roles, and women writers who are often only brought in to punch up “the girlfriend character” because most of their male counterparts are clueless when it comes to treating such parts with depth and respect. From there, Donahue moves into drier, but more informative territory by looking at the legal precedents and ramifications behind gender discrimination. For decades, women have tried to improve their status in the industry, and on a purely legal basis, there’s no good reason why more women don’t have higher profile professions in Hollywood. Since the birth and implementation of Title VII legislation in the United States – which states that an employer can’t discriminate on the basis of sex unless it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the job can’t be done otherwise – Hollywood has taken a “voluntarily compliant” stance when it comes to such issues. They won’t come out and say that they aren’t looking at female filmmakers and producers, but no one is asking those hard questions of studio executives, so such discrimination often goes unremarked upon.
Such discussions aren’t as flashy as watching a bunch of impassioned people showing the inherent value in their shared experiences, but those legal discussions might be the best thing This Changes Everything has to offer. Like the more personal bits of Donahue’s film that show how being white and male is an unearned privilege, this parsing of the legal definitions of discrimination go a long way in illustrating the differences between blips, breakthroughs, and overall systemic changes. There’s frequently too much to cover and too many stories to share (especially when it comes to the issue of on screen representation), leading to a documentary that feels more than a little top heavy, but as a primer and outline on the work that still needs to be done before Hollywood reaches a point of gender equity, This Changes Everything works well, leaning heavily into the notion that its title is half sincere and half sarcastic.
This Changes Everything opens at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto on Friday, August 30, 2019. It screens for one night only at select theatres in Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary on August 30, and is available everywhere on digital and VOD platforms on September 10.
Check out the trailer for This Changes Everything: