Production as Feminist Activism: #TimesUp and Women Lead Production in Hollywood

Above is an excerpt from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival’s “Women Breaking Barriers” roundtable where Octavia Spencer talks about her experiences with Jessica Chastain and We Do It Together Productions.

Curator's Note

I’m focusing on the ways in which women in the media industries are using #TimesUp and production practices to create new companies and creative environments that support female led and driven movies and TV shows. By creating production companies like I Can and I Will, Calamity Jane, We Do It Together, Title IX Productions, Hello Sunshine, and The Dollhouse Collective among others, women are creating production spaces for themselves. By reclaiming industrial space historically denied to them, as producers, directors, and headliners women are changing the production culture around them. These production companies have been created specifically with a feminist mission at the core. For instance, We Do It Together, a production company launched by Jessica Chastain (Queen Latifah and others), states:

We believe that we can create a movement, with women and men, with words and actions that will change the utterly outdated and discriminatory paradigm that we see in media. And, by doing so, the marginalization of women worldwide. Our goal is to create media by women, about women, but for everyone.

The reframing of entrepreneurship from economic activity to that of “social change” as a way of using capitalism as a method or mode for activism is intriguing; especially, as capitalism is the dominant paradigm of our culture and as they say “money talks.” Of course, it helps that many of these production companies are lead by Hollywood elite like Gina Rodriguez, Ellen Pompeo, Virginia Madsen, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey who already have well established careers and who can afford (for a variety of reasons) to risk not only money but cultural capital in Hollywood by backing female driven production companies.

Ultimately, the #TimesUp movement and these female-driven production companies hope to not only change the media industry from the inside, but to change the larger patriarchal culture through the impact of the media they create. The caution here is to ensure that this underlying mission does not get lost in economic incentives of media making. Don’t get me wrong, it’s imperative that the productions these companies take on do well financially in order to continue to make content, as well as to have the largest impact possible, but it is equally important that feminist mission isn’t lost to capitalist drives as studies in other areas of industry have shown. 


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