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The Time’s Up challenge to end Hollywood’s gender gap is already working

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Tessa Thompson got the ball rolling – and now, everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Jennifer Lopez has committed to working with female directors.

Last year, only four of the 100 highest grossing movies were directed by women. Scroll through the box office list and you’ll see dozens of movies directed by Chrises and Robs and Rons. 

In fact, you’ll have to read 33 male names before you get to the first movie directed by a woman: Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time. In 2019, not a single female director has been nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globes, Oscars, BAFTAs or Critics Choice Awards this year. 

And Tessa Thompson says this just isn’t good enough.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the actress became one of the first to put her name towards the Times Up’s 4% Challenge, which demands that stars, producers and studio heads commit to working with a female filmmaker - especially one of colour - within the next 18 months. 

The challenge, created in tandem with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, aims to bring about real change in Hollywood by giving female filmmakers the chance to break through the glass ceiling. 

Tessa Thompson announcing the 4% Challenge at Sundance Film Festival

Thompson pledged her name to the cause immediately, as did Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon, Brie Larson, Amy Schumer, Paul Feig and Nina Jacobson, the studio head behind Crazy Rich Asians.

Since then, Thompson has been joined in the challenge by Jennifer Lopez, JJ Abrams, Armie Hammer, Susan Sarandon, Jordan Peele, Zoe Kazan, Lena Waithe and Kumail Nanjiani. In total, some 65 producers, filmmakers and actors have put their weight behind the cause.

Not only did Lopez sign up, she immediately announced what her female-directed film would be: a movie called Hustlers directed by Lorene Scafaria. Lopez will star as a stripper who, together with a few of her colleagues, attempt to fleece their Wall Street banker clientele for as much money as they can during the financial crisis. 

The film is based on the true story of a group of exotic dancers in the mid Noughties, as laid out in Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine article The Hustlers at Scores. Think Oceans 11 meets an all-female Magic Mike. 

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Thompson already had a film with a female director in the works before she signed up to the 4% Challenge: an adaptation of the novel Passing directed by Rebecca Hall. Thompson and Ruth Negga will star as a set of childhood friends who rekindle their relationship as adults, with their reunion leading to obsession, mania and the unravelling of both of their lives

As well as pledging to work with a second female director in the next 18 months, Thompson also committed to doubling the number of women and BAME journalists reporting on the two movies she has slated for release this year. 

And she’s not the only Hollywood power player advocating for more work for women in the film industry. In her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes, Regina King pledged that “everything” she produces in the next two years will have complete gender parity on and off the screen - meaning that the cast and crew of her upcoming slate of film and television work will be 50% female. 

“The reason why we do this is because understand that our microphones are big and we’re speaking for everyone,” King said.

Commitments like these, as well as Shonda Rhimes’ sponsored mentorship for female filmmakers and Brie Larson’s upcoming inclusion rider for a women and BAME-focussed Captain Marvel press tour, will bring about much-needed change in Hollywood.

But will still look forward to the day when inclusions riders and challenges are no longer needed. In the future, we hope that actors won’t have to publicly commit to working with a diverse range of filmmakers, cinematographers, editors, journalists , designers and more — because to do so will just be seen as the norm. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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