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Review: Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman and more Hollywood women take a stand in 'This Changes Everything'

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

If anyone needs convincing at this late date that gender inequality both in front of and behind the camera is the norm in Hollywood, "This Changes Everything" will get the job done.

Directed by Tom Donahue, whose previous documentary was "Casting By," this earnest and passionate film talks to lots of boldface names, including performers Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman and Taraji P. Henson and producers Shonda Rhimes and Jill Soloway.

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross says at one point in the film, "As women we are not allowed to be angry," but the ardent testimony points in the opposite direction. Interview subjects voice justifiable outrage at what they -- individually and women in general -- have had to put up with.

"Movies and TV have always driven me insane," says writer Callie Khouri, who wrote the Oscar-winning "Thelma & Louise" as a reaction to gender inequality. "Misogyny is so prevalent, it's almost unremarkable. Women are inconsequential except as ornamentation."

Adds Soloway, who created "Transparent," "Imagine as a man women really wanting to look at your body when they see you."

An advantage this fury creates is that it ensures "This Changes Everything" deals with the treatment of women as a burning issue and not an intellectual exercise. On the other hand, perhaps inevitably because it is dealing with a big issue, "This Changes Everything" suffers a bit from being all over the map, touching so many bases that, though each is important, they don't all cohere into a whole.

 

The patron saint of this film is Davis, as the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and one of the film's most persuasive voices.

This organization has done exceptional work in gathering damning statistics concerning the numbers of women behind and in front of the camera -- like the fact that only 15% of the top-grossing films of 2018 were written by women -- stats that appear periodically as text on screen.

One of the film's strengths is its opening sections, where women talk about how important it is to see yourself on screen in a nuanced, realistic way and how what you see as a child influences your perception of what you can become.

Lena Dunham, for instance, talks about how she watched "A League of Their Own" every day for an entire summer, and Taraji P. Henson remembers how seeing Diahann Carroll physically battering folks in "Dynasty" without getting arrested was a positive jolt.

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