Recently, Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov was reported by internet blogger Nike Finke as saying, "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead." Robinov allegedly doesn't even want to read a script where two X chromosomes have top billing. It is a decree that comes in the wake of Nicole Kidman's "The Invasion" and Jodi Foster's "The Brave One," both of which severely under performed at the box office.

Robinov, after many days, denied this report personally to Finke. Still, whether he said it or not, it raises interesting questions about the position of women in today's entertainment industry. It is something that Terry Lawler, the Executive Director of New York Women in Film & Television, calls the "broader antipathy toward women in the film business that has been building in recent years."

I sat down with Ms. Lawler, who is in her tenth year with NY Women in Film & TV, to gauge her reactions to these alleged statements and talk about Hollywood's growing filmmaking problems, both with women and moviegoers alike.

So, what is it exactly that your organization does?

Our goal is to help women achieve the highest level in the entertainment industry. We do that by having networking and professional development activities, by advocating for equity in the business, and by celebrating Women's achievements.
The recent alleged statements of the Warner President: How does a statement like that make you feel on a personal level? Especially when it's been so hard for so long for women to fight their way through this industry and gain any sort equal footing.

Women have achieved so much and there have been so many great films by women about women, and yet these kinds of attitudes can still surface... And then on the other hand you have this feeling of, "How ridiculous is this?" You don't judge every film with a man as the lead by one or two films a year, so why would you judge films with women as leads with this sort of tunnel vision?

It seems like a very small sampling to be making that kind of a blanket statement.

It sure is. Even if you were just talking about thriller/adventure type movies it's still an extremely small sampling, and there are certainly action movies with women in the lead that have done very very well.

The same executive producer, Bruce Berman, produced both of these ("The Brave One" and "The Invasion") movies, and he's not under any public fire.


Woman's rights attorney Gloria Allred had this to say to the alleged comments: "This is an insult to all moviegoers and particularly women." Do you agree with that? It's obviously insulting to women, but is this insulting to people who just love movies in general?

Well sure, I think that people who love movies in general are interested in all kinds of movies, and the richer the pallet, the greater the choices and the better off everybody is going to be. There are certainly lots of men who support movies that are considered chick flicks, and there are certainly a lot of woman that go to movies that are supposed to be for men and I think the movies that do really well cross these boundaries. They have to.

Looking at the top 100 grossing movies of all time, there's only one movie in that top 100 that is specifically a female leading role, but it's also the only smaller independent type of movie on that list, and that's My Big Fat Greek Wedding at number 50...

That's right. You know "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a wonderful example of the way that Hollywood has missed the boat on making movies that appeal to different (groups of people). This movie was definitely supported by the public at large, but it got its big push from the Greek community. I was at a screening of it in Times Square, and the jokes that were in Greek people were laughing at before the translation came (up on screen). But there were a lot of Greeks in that audience, and I think when it first came out there were people who were hungry for these images of themselves, things that reflected their lives, so that I think all immigrants related to that movie. Yet you can't think of a lot of movies like that, whether they had a male or female lead. So you know, you have this kind of shortsightedness that Hollywood has. You know, they're just not courageous about taking risks in terms of finding these movies that are maybe niche movies but capable of crossing over to a larger audience.

When you look at that Top 100 list, it really is littered with movies that were slammed by critics; that have no artistic value, and no real staying power. They just put people in seats initially.

I think that's really true, and you can't just judge by the box office grosses because there's after-markets for these movies. There are movies made by women that have very limited theatrical releases because distributors were not willing to put the money into opening them wide yet they had huge video sales, because people related that movie and (spread the word themselves).

That sort of brings up the chicken and the egg question: Which is coming first? Are women not grossing big on their own accord, or are producers not putting the backing in and pushing films the way they should be because of their pre-conceived notions about this type of film?

Well my opinion is, as you might guess, the latter. There are not enough women making movies and there are not enough women-centered movies out there for it to be a fair playing field, to even judge. If you only have 10 women-centered movies coming out in a given year out of 250 pictures, and only two of them gross big, well out of those 250 pictures how many by male leads are grossing big? Look at The Devil Wears Prada! It's totally dominated by female characters. It was 15th in 2006, but there weren't other movies in that category to compare it to.
Looking at Forbes' "Top 100 Celebrity" power rankings, in 2006 there are 16 male actors in the Top 100, seven in the Top 50 and Tom Cruise in number 1. There are eight women in the top 100, 5 in the top 50 and zero above 34. In 2007 there are 15 men in the top 100, so that's down one, while the women go up six since 2006 to 14. Angelina Jolie pushes the highest female slot all the way up 20 slots from 34 to 14. Not to mention the number-one slot is Oprah, who's obviously not an actress but is the most powerful female celebrity, over all these men. Overall there are 34 women on this list, and if you remove male sports stars the number gets even closer. So obviously there are plenty of talented women, and that number is only rising. Are the producers just not finding the right venues for these women to succeed in?

It certainly says that there are so many talented women that people are interested in and would go to see in a movie. I think there is a dearth of really good scripts for women and it only gets worse for them as they get older. The scripts that get developed are overwhelmingly centered around male leads, I think that SAG says that women are on the screen only 31% of the time, so there is a lack of material for women certainly. There's a lack of opportunity, but I also think there's a lack of imagination in terms of what women can do, in terms of what kinds of movies they can be in and what kinds of roles they can play. I also go back to this idea that there is a kind of double standard: Two films by women, I mean "The Brave One" wasn't even a total flop, but these two women (flop) and all women are judged, and I think any number of films come out about men and all men are not judged, and there's that double standard and I think people of color also experience that.

For most Americans, they would think that things were getting better. So, does something like this give people the idea there's a long way to go still? What's the next step?

Yes... Well, for us it's helping women to get to the place where there are scripts that have strong women characters, that they are getting seen by the right people, that there are enough women in power and that the women in power have enough to get these things developed. So that, there would be so many films by women out there that it would be ridiculous to judge all women by just two films.

What do you say towards ideas of boycotting Warner's films?

Well certainly not on an alleged statement. There's more than just the statement; you have to think about the actual practice and not just what somebody says. I think you'd have to find that a studio really was (taking that official policy) of not developing any movies with female leads, then maybe yes. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

Interview by James Fagan contributing writer

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