Want to see more women calling the shots in Hollywood? Here are 5 things that need to happen.

The numbers don't lie: There are almost zero female directors in Hollywood.

Lena Dunham, one of the few women calling the shots in Hollywood. Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images Entertainment.


That also applies to women in other roles behind the camera, and even in front of it.

In the top 700 grossing films from 2007 to 2014, women made up only 30.2% of speaking roles. In 2014, only 1.9% of directors who made the top 100 grossing films were women. And this is just from one study, conducted by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg.

A recent New York Times article uncovered some reasons (read: excuses) for why this is the case, from studios prioritizing movies with male leads because of foreign audiences to the confounding idea that women don't want to direct blockbusters. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

The whole article is an engrossing, outrage-inducing read. Yet within the many anecdotes from female directors about discrimination they've experienced lie many potential solutions. Here are five:

1. The few women who do have a foot inside Hollywood's door need to support other women.

Apparently, in Hollywood, women don't often find support from other women. Even when some women make it to the top — such as the ones who run two of Hollywood's big six studios — they don't always extend a hand to other female directors or even actresses.

When an industry only makes room for one or two women to succeed, those women are less likely to support other women out of fear that they'll be replaced by the very women they mentored.

Another fear that keeps women from working together in Hollywood is being pigeonholed as someone who can only work on movies for women. Former Sony Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal explained that after producing female-driven hits earlier in her tenure, she felt she wouldn't be given a chance to make more mainstream projects.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment.

As long as it's every woman for herself, women are going to remain tokens in a male-dominated Hollywood. Many of the female directors and producers who spoke to the New York Times stressed the importance of making change by working together.

Pascal herself is getting back to producing movies about women, including the all-female "Ghostbusters" reboot.

2. Men in Hollywood need to mentor outside their comfort zone — i.e., they need to mentor women.

The Times piece opens with the charmed upward trajectory of director Colin Trevorrow, who went to the Sundance Film Festival with an indie romantic comedy. Pixar director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") then introduced him to Steven Spielberg, who picked Trevorrow to direct "Jurassic World." Bird said he liked Trevorrow because Trevorrow "reminded me of me." Meanwhile, director Leslye Headland also had her indie romantic comedy, "Bachelorette," screen at Sundance and got no such recommendation or opportunity.

There could be many reasons why Headland didn't come away from her Sundance screening with an opportunity like that. But Bird related to Trevorrow because he saw himself in him. So it makes (unfortunate) sense that women are less likely to get the opportunities their male counterparts get simply because the men who offer them don't see themselves reflected in female directors.

Hollywood has to stop thinking of women-driven films as niche, or women directors as too unrelatable to mentor. And men in positions of power in Hollywood need to make sure they're mentoring women just as often as they're mentoring men.

3. The success of people like Shonda Rhimes, Jennifer Lawrence, and Amy Schumer shouldn't be exceptions to the rule.

Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment.


As far as Hollywood is concerned, "The Hunger Games" succeeded only because of Jennifer Lawrence, "Trainwreck" succeeded only because of of Amy Schumer, and "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder" are only successes because of Shonda Rhimes — not because women in general are capable of creating films and shows for a large audience, but because these specific few, rare women are talented enough to have mainstream appeal.

Successful female-driven films and TV shows are thought to be exceptions to the rule, rather than profitable and resonant in their own right. And when a female-driven film or show flops, it's often assumed that it flopped because of women, even though when movies with male leads flop, the overwhelming maleness of the film is never cited as a reason why.

Luckily, there are Hollywood power players who are investing in women-directed films and television shows. Besides Rhimes, a powerful producer and show-runner, there's Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, and Geena Davis, as well as Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who are all championing female directors, screenwriters, and characters through their nonprofit organizations and production companies.

"If everyone's gonna pass on all the strong, ass-kicking lady directors and writers out there, we'll take them," says McKay.

4. Hollywood needs to let women be themselves on set.

There are two glaring examples of this in the NYT piece. The first is the case of "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, who wasn't considered to direct the rest of the franchise after helming the first movie because she was "overly emotional," crying on set during a particularly hard day. And the second is the great Barbra Streisand, who was derided for being "indecisive" when she asked for input on the set of "Yentl."

Yet directors like David O. Russell keep directing Oscar contenders even after he's come to blows with George Clooney, shouted at Lily Tomlin on set, and allegedly "abused" Amy Adams on the set of "American Hustle," according to the Sony email hack.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment.

Cinematographer Rachel Morrison told the NYT about how, when she finally couldn't hide her pregnancy anymore, people stopped booking her on jobs.

"It should have been up to me if I was capable to work or not," Morrison said. As much as male directors are given free rein over their sets and their schedules — and their emotional outbursts — the same opportunities should be available to women.

5. Women should feel just as empowered and entitled to help themselves as their male peers do.

It's inevitable that all this sexism is internalized, at least somewhat. Which is probably why Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy told the Times that no woman expressed interest to her in directing "Star Wars." It's also why, as director Allison Anders explained, that in Hollywood negotiations, "The men are like: 'Oh please, yes. I want to do this.' Women are a little too suspicious, too cautious and a little too precious about their reality."

This is the "Lean In" phenomenon. Women need to lean in and ask for more in order to get success. And that's good advice for individual women to internalize, but does it help on a systemic level?

As "Girls" creator Lena Dunham pointed out, there is a flaw in putting the pressure on women to fix the problems in a system where sexism is so prevalent and power is so often held by men:

"I feel like we do too much telling women: 'You aren't aggressive enough. You haven't made yourself known enough.' And it's like, women shouldn't be having to hustle twice as fast to get what men achieve just by showing up."

So how do we fix this?

We're seeing progress, slowly but surely, as more and more female-driven films and shows succeed. And even industry executives can't deny the pattern of what shows and movies are bringing in the most money.

But there are two things that need to happen to make sure this progress continues until we reach a point of gender parity: One, women have to fight for themselves and support each other, and two, men have to support women too.

via Kat Stickler / TikTok

Kat Stickler has created a hilarious series of videos about her husband that a lot of women say they can relate to because theirs behave the exact same way.

Stickler is a mother who shares funny videos about her domestic life on TikTok where she's earned over six million followers.

In the videos, she transforms into her husband Mike by throwing on a backward baseball cap and adopting a deeper voice. From the videos, it's pretty clear that Mike always wants some sort of praise for doing the things he's supposed to do.

The interesting thing about the couple is that they went from dating to parents pretty much overnight. Three months after their first date, Kat was pregnant and they were married.

Keep Reading Show less
via Kat Stickler / TikTok

Kat Stickler has created a hilarious series of videos about her husband that a lot of women say they can relate to because theirs behave the exact same way.

Stickler is a mother who shares funny videos about her domestic life on TikTok where she's earned over six million followers.

In the videos, she transforms into her husband Mike by throwing on a backward baseball cap and adopting a deeper voice. From the videos, it's pretty clear that Mike always wants some sort of praise for doing the things he's supposed to do.

The interesting thing about the couple is that they went from dating to parents pretty much overnight. Three months after their first date, Kat was pregnant and they were married.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."