This Star-Studded Film Company Wants to Put Women Front and Center
In December, Jessica Chastain found herself in a remarkable situation: on a film set where women ran the show. The director, the producers, the screenwriter, and the author of the forthcoming drama The Zookeeper’s Wife are all women. So are the camera operator, the stunt coordinator, and the movie’s protagonists. Men are still the majority on the film crew, but the presence of women in key roles was so remarkable that Chastain compared it to a kind of heaven in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter last year. “We know how rare this kind of film is. We’re giddy with happiness,” she said.
Now the Golden Globe winner is participating in a new project that aims to ensure these types of gender-balanced film sets are not quite as rare. Chastain has joined the advisory board for a production company called We Do It Together, which was founded by Italian producer Chiara Tilesi with the mission of fostering film, television, and other forms of entertainment focused on women, according to the Reporter. Also comprising the advisory board is an international group of high-profile actors—Queen Latifah, Juliette Binoche, Freida Pinto, Zhang Ziyi—and female directors from around the globe: Catherine Hardwicke, Amma Asante, Malgorzata Szumowska, Marielle Heller, Haifaa Al-Mansour, and Katia Lund.
The company is unique in that it’s a nonprofit, meaning it will likely need to demonstrate a charitable, educational, or social mission to qualify for its tax-exempt status. Details about the venture remain sparse, but Tilesi is slated to introduce the company’s model during a presentation at the United Nations’ Power of Collaboration Global Summit in New York on Monday. It’s not the first time the philanthropist has partnered with the international human rights group. In 2005, UNICEF contributed funding to All the Invisible Children, a series of seven short films she produced to highlight the plight of marginalized children around the world.
We Do It Together is only the latest female-helmed production company formed with the specific goal of cultivating and promoting projects created by and about women. Reese Witherspoon launched Pacific Standard in 2012 with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea after noticing a lack of roles written for an actor her age to play. Together, the duo has produced literary-inspired films including Wild, Gone Girl, and Hot Pursuit.
Last year, Lena Dunham and her producing partner, Jenni Konner, launched the production company A Casual Romance. Their first project was the short HBO documentary It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise, about the creator of the popular children's books. Also last year, Rose Byrne partnered with four Australian filmmakers to found The Dollhouse, which is currently developing a movie about a woman’s obsession with Dolly Parton.
The unequal representation of women in the industry might explain why actors and producers including Witherspoon have opted to create their own companies rather than rely on major studios to greenlight projects. Across TV and film, male characters outnumber female characters by a ratio of 2 to 1, and just a quarter of all leads or co-leads carrying an ensemble cast in films released in 2014 were female, according to a comprehensive analysis released on Monday by the University of Southern California. Overall, women accounted for just 3.4 percent of directors on the films studied in the sample, and a third of executives in film companies. A number of studies including this one show that as the presence of women behind the scenes increases, so too does the number of women on the screen.