In Women in Motion, a recent series of talks at the Cannes Film Festival, female filmmakers came together to discuss the challenges of maintaining a career in the film industry. For producers, that could mean finding the money to get a film into production; for directors, that could mean fighting with production teams for respect on set; and for actresses, that could mean finding scripts with a complex female lead. But for everyone involved in the series, it’s clear that the fight to tell stories from a woman’s perspective is ongoing — much as it has been for the last 50 years and more. And after 50 years of being dismissed as difficult or crazy or entitled, it all starts to sound depressingly repetitive. We collected some choice sound bites from actresses of the past and present talking about the difficulties of getting meaningful stories told in an industry that doesn’t respect their experiences.
“I think it’s a cultural thing, and that’s part of what slows it down: a lack of imagination on the part of men ... Hollywood has become more and more corporate and [that’s] the kind of people making those decisions and the basis on which they’re making those decisions. Whereas women can see a woman or a man in a leading role, I don’t think it’s as easy for a guy to see a woman in a leading role and say: ‘I’ll get behind that.’”
—Susan Sarandon, Women in Motion, 2016
“The thing about film is it can change overnight. It isn’t like real life, where it takes so long to get women to be half of Congress or boards or CEOs. The next movie somebody makes can be gender balanced. We don’t have to sneak up on it, just do it.”
—Geena Davis, Women in Motion, 2016
“It’s not about only women. It’s also awakening the need in men to talk about the feminine, because the world, the way it’s happening, it feels frightening. We need to open up to another layer of the self, which is … the concept of life, the feeling of life, feeling another space inside us. I believe that the two poles — the masculine and the feminine — are in each of us. The first impulse to come to life is something about masculinity: conquering life, conquering the world, but you have to have equilibrium between those two poles. You have to relax, you have to allow another layer of yourself, and it means somehow the drive has to go down, the need of possession has to go down, the need of power has to go down. It’s a sort of a humility space you’ve got to find.”
—Juliette Binoche, Women in Motion, 2016
“The chance to appear in Eclipsed after winning an Oscar was an opportunity to share in the incredible (and too rare) freedom of playing a fully rendered African woman. The playwright, Danai Gurira, has conceived a drama where the only people onstage are women. This allows the audience to be fully immersed in their lives, although the presence of the men around them is deeply felt. So often women of color are relegated to playing simple tropes: the sidekick, the best friend, the noble savage, or the clown. We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn't have her own journey or emotional landscape.”
—Lupita Nyong’o, Lenny Letter, 2016
“About four years ago I got sent an awful, terrible script. And this male star was starring in it, and there was a girlfriend part. And I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. No, I’m not interested.' They said, ‘Well this actress is chasing it, that actress is chasing it: three Oscar winners and two huge box office leading ladies.' And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s where we’re at? You’re fighting to be the girlfriend in a dumb comedy? For what?' And by the way, two Oscar winners did it.”
—Reese Witherspoon, Entertainment Weekly, 2016
"In every actress's life, the media decides when you finally reach the point where you're not believably fuckable anymore."
—Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Inside Amy Schumer, 'Last Fuckable Day,' 2015
“I costarred with Sean Connery in Russia House, and nobody batted an eye. When he was 60, he was voted the sexiest man in the world. This just is not gonna happen for women — not in my lifetime. I want to be allowed to age gracefully, but they don’t let you do that in this business.”
—Michelle Pfeiffer, Entertainment Weekly, 1993
“I wanted to be the first black bitch on television ... I’ve never played a role quite this unlikable, and I like that. I like that very much, because I think very often, particularly minorities, it’s almost required of them that they are nice people. And I don’t want to play a nice person.”
—Diahann Carroll, in a TV interview for Dynasty, 1984
“[White people] believe what they see on the screen, and if that is the only way they have of learning of a race of people, that’s what they take. They think that Super Fly really exists, and that is the way black men are. They think all black women jump in and out of bed — as somebody said — like a hot tamale ... While I maintain that we do have our fantasies and escape-type films, the thing I found most disturbing is, that was all we were being given. I have known producers to say: ‘Niggers don’t want nothing but sex and violence, and that’s all we’re gonna give ‘em.’"
—Cicely Tyson, Ebony Magazine, 1974
“I thought ‘What on Earth is really going on here?” And then I remembered that in the old days — the old days meaning the ‘40s and the ‘50s when the Hays Office was the censorship board and you had Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, and Katharine Hepburn playing women judges, women politicians, women mayors, women scientists, blah blah — you were not allowed to play a love scene in the bedroom with a double bed ... So what happened was, because they couldn’t play any real good sexy love scenes, they had to resort to giving women these parts that were sensational in real life. The Hays Office was abolished in the name of more liberal sexual attitudes, and the ratings systems came in. Well, now, because men were running the studios, men were writing the scripts, and men were the directors — they put us back in the bedroom. And we haven’t been judges or politicians or mayors since. We’ve been screwing in the bedroom!”
—Shirley MacLaine, BBC interview, 1975
“There’s no writing for women anymore — this is the truth ... Women are the essential part of the theater but the writers are not writing about women. I think they’re too perplexed about the whole female situation, probably ... There’s always that old excuse here, ‘This is not the time to do a picture like that,' you know? The public doesn’t want it now. Well, I don’t think the public knows what they want until they see it. I really really think it’s exactly like saying to your child, ‘What would you like for dinner?' You don’t until they see it. The public can’t say what they want to see. It’s up to us to decide and hope to god they like it, you know?”
—Bette Davis, interview with Shirley Eder, 1963