Laura Linney on Gender Inequality in Film
Thank you Alan for that exceedingly kind introduction. And thank you to the board of trustees of Woman in Film, not only for this honor, but for all of the work that you do to encourage and improve the landscape for women in our pursuit of both art and commerce within this entertainment industry.
My relationship to film and television started, by Hollywood standards, relatively late in my life. I was born into the theatre which claimed my heart since childhood. I loved film, I loved going to films, I loved SEEING people think and react: I marveled at the acting skills and choices that were made and cinematic storytelling, but it was a world that intimated me greatly and one which felt foreign and very far away.
But life is full of many surprises, and after my days at Juilliard, my very wise agent, the late Brian Riordan, ever so slowly encouraged me to dip my toe in the film waters. I resisted, but he prevailed. I was a day player on a few films which was fun, did a commercial or two, and then was cast in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, which changed my connection to camera work and indeed, changed my life. I will never forget the day that the penny dropped. We were filming in a grocery store, and Parker Posey and I were traveling with our grocery carts, with great energy, from the frozen food aisle to the vegetables. I rarely had had so much fun, and it was on that day that I realized that there would have to be room in my life for two loves…..and I gave myself permission to be a film/theatre bigamist.
As I spent more and more time on sets, a few surprising and alien patterns began to emerge. An enormous amount of time and energy went into conversations about the color of my hair. Producers, all male, would shake their heads in dismay, and send me back to the colorist with some idea of what they wanted with their very specific and helpful straight man vocabulary of “MORE” blonde or “LESS” blonde. ( I always thought they were trying to re-create a color from some old flame). It became absurd and predicable and a complete waste of time…..I have been more shades of blonde then you can possibly imagine. And it is a miracle that I have a strand left in my head.
Unlike in the theatre, I soon realized that for the most part I was surrounded by men. A lot of really wonderful men as well as some not so wonderful ones. As an actress in film, it is very easy to become isolated just due to the ratio of gender inequality that exists. Rarely do you have a scene with other women, very few women are on the crew, and what few female executives arrive tend to keep to themselves. You have fewer and fewer women to turn to for help or advice, and information is not easily shared.
This is a problem. And it is unhealthy. And I believe has something to do with the slow pace of progress women are making, not only in their artistic lives, but especially in their business lives. The news about inequality in pay between men and women, whether in film or television, seems to be worse than it was twenty years ago. And while we are all aware of the upheavals and drama in the world of finance, the numbers and the disparity is simply too extreme to justify any excuse. Obviously, this is a problem that has been extant for DECADES, but the stagnation of progress, and the seeming acceptance of such a practice, troubles me.
I encourage everyone in this room to please mentor. Reach out to a younger actress, or junior executive, or crew person, or office worker or a student…..take them to lunch, put in the time to talk and learn what they are encountering. Listen to their observations. Share with them your insight and your mistakes and SHARE INFORMATION so that our experiences are not wasted. Talk about money, talk about fear, talk about balancing family and work. Talk about aging: what is liberating about it, and what is brutal. Talk to each other and get honest. Teach and guide. And for the younger people in the room, reach out to the women you respect and ask for advice. The politics of our business can be paralyzing, especially to an artistic soul. So rely on those who have been there before you, listen and then adapt their advice to a present day solution. We have so much to learn from each other.
I love my work. I truly love what I do. And I am grateful every day for the privilege to spend my time in and around the arts. I am also very grateful to the women I have encountered along the way. Sherry Lansing, Michelle Manning, Kathleen Kennedy, and Donna Isaacson, who were so kind to me during my first few years in film; Joanne Woodward, who mentored me and whose grace I try to keep close; my agent Toni Howard and my manager Aleen Keshishian who listen and always want what is best for me; my dear friends Jeanne Tripplehorn and Toni Kotite who I have grown up with, Cindi Berger, Cheryl Maisel, Jennifer Plante, Alexa Fogel, Elin Lewis, Marilyn Szatmary, Jane Ross, Cathy Waterman, the list goes on and on. Thank you for your time, your care, and your friendship.
Thank you so much for this wonderful honor. I am so proud and very grateful indeed to be with you all tonight, and to be a woman in film.
– Laura Linney’s speech after winning the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film at Women In Film awards gala.