October 15, 2008

More Magazine's Women in Hollywood Luncheon

Last week the folks at More Magazine invited me to cover their "Women in Hollywood" luncheon which is part of a day long "Reinvention Convention." They had a stellar panel including Cybill Shepherd (as moderator), S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren from Law & Order), Polly Draper (Ellyn from Thirtysomething and the creator and Executive Producer of the Naked Brothers Band, Kate Mulgrew (Capt. Janeway from Star Trek Voyager) and Talia Balsam (Mad Men).

I really enjoyed the panel, but the problem was that some of the basic issues that effect women in Hollywood, especially film, were never touched on. So for me the panel was more like women who would love to work in films but can't because of their age and because there are no parts. They mostly all work in TV and in the theatre and that is where the work is for women.

I wish we could have addressed for the audience the importance of the lack of women's roles on the big screen and what that means for our culture, but because there was no big movie actress on the panel, there was no one to give the context.

Here are some interesting quotes from their conversation that I picked up:

Cybill Shepherd: I've been fortunate, I started in the business at the top and look like I've worked my way down.
Polly Draper: When Thirtysomething ended and I was not getting the movie parts so I wrote a part for myself. I wrote The Tic Code and it took five years to do. It's very difficult for women in Hollywood especially as they age for a variety of reasons. There aren't many roles written for women. The Naked Brothers Band was the first time I directed. Nickelodeon bought it and I am the showrunner, creator and executive producer. I am in a more powerful position.
S. Epatha Merkerson: All that has happened to me has happened in my 50s. I remember starting out and people saying you're not pretty. I've made my living as an actor. I've never lived in Hollywood, only in NY...3 years after Lackawanna Blues racked up all the awards and I went to someone with a project they said not too many people want to hear a story about an older black woman.
Kate Mulgrew: I heard you are pretty enough to be a leading lady and now in my 50s it's hard to say goodbye to that. The difficult thing for a pretty actress is to have to let go of the fact that that was ever important.
CS: The doors opened for me because of the way I looked but when I wanted to grow it was difficult.
S. Epatha: Maybe for me not going to Hollywood fortified me as a woman and an African American. I am the longest running African America on TV. Why is that?
Talia Balsam: We live in a celebrity focused world and that is harder to fight than age. They want me in my 40s to play the part of the grandmother.
PD: Movies have been made for 16 year old boys and now they are staying home on their computers. Maybe they will discover this audience of women.
S. Epatha: It is is happening on the small screen, Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter. Even the Desperate Housewives. There are women heading shows on the small screen. We are questioning what is happening on the big screen.
KM: I learned something about the male demographic when I played Captain Janeway. They were quaking in their boots to put a woman in the (captain's) seat. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it's about sex. I didn't want her to look like someone they wanted to have sex with. I argued the fact that I didn't want her to have any sex as the first female captain because I was not going to run the risk of walking down the path that leading ladies have taken before -- to become a sexual object. I said I'm not going to do that because if I can't win them with my command, then I'm not the actress I think I am. But they allowed it. But the first question I am asked at every event is why didn't you have a love affair with Chakotay.
CS: I'm having a new flowering in film. I've done 3 films in the last couple of months. The largest budget was $3 million and one cost $700,000. The last one I just finished I shared a bathroom with the cast and crew - I was not happy - but I loved the experience working with young people and I'm getting better parts.

Best random quote from Cybill regarding the L Word: I got to play a love scene for the first time in 20 years and it was fun. It doesn't matter if it's a man or a woman - it's just how attractive they are!