Significant discussions and changes have emerged from the Time’s Up movement, both in the U.S. and in the U.K., but this week brings the first artistic work directly generated by the group’s activism. Rebel Park Productions, a new company led by British actress Gemma Arterton, has released an eight-minute comedic short film titled “Leading Lady Parts,” in which several well-known actresses help address issues of gender inequality.
Written and directed by Jessica Swale and produced by Rebel Park, which is composed of Arterton and producers Jessica Malik and Jessica Parker, “Leading Lady Parts” premiered Monday night on BBC4 in the U.K. and is now available globally on YouTube. The idea to make a creative statement arose after Arterton attended several meetings for Time’s Up earlier this year.
“It was just women in a room, chatting — we felt everything was very serious,” the actress says. “There were really big issues being spoken about. We felt it would be fantastic to do something light-hearted and more comical that got the message out without beating anyone over the head. There was a room filled with all these creative, beautiful women and what better way to make a difference ... than all coming together and making something?”
She adds, “It’s one of the best things to come out of the Time’s Up meetings for me personally: Meeting people I would never usually meet. For example, Felicity Jones. I had this meeting in my house and Felicity came and she was the one [who] suggested ‘Why don’t we do something together?’ That was a very heartening thing.”
After Swale sent Arterton her script, it took only three weeks to enlist the cast and secure funding for the project. The film, produced in association with the Fyzz Facility, Hanway Films and Popcorn Group, was shot in late March over a few days at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, outside London using donated studio space and equipment. Numerous actresses wanted to be part of the effort, and everyone worked for free. “It was just a really organic process that had such enormous momentum behind it,” Malik says.
The final film features Jones, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Gemma Chan, Florence Pugh, Wunmi Mosaku and Stacy Martin as themselves as they audition for a film role known as the “leading lady part.” Arterton, along with Catherine Tate and Anthony Welsh, plays a casting director who demands seemingly ridiculous things of the actresses, including for them to lose weight, take off their clothes and wear more makeup.
Tate’s character asks that biracial actress Chan “be more white.” Their treatment of Mosaku, a black actress, is even worse. In the end, the female protagonist role doesn’t even go to a woman — it’s handed to Tom Hiddleston.
“I personally have heard things like ‘Could you lose a little bit of weight?’” Arterton says. “I remember once getting into an audition and the casting director saying ‘Don’t wear that jacket. You look really hench [big, muscular] in that.’ All the actors did additional EPK interviews and it’s so funny hearing their stories. Everyone talks about being told to lose weight overnight and things that are so ridiculous. But since #MeToo and Time’s Up, I think people are way more aware in casting situations of what they can and can’t say.
“And it’s not just women, by the way. Men get it worse to some extent. I remember Tom saying he’s been told to just take off his shirt. It’s so ridiculous in a job interview to be told ‘Can you take your clothes off?’ That’s why it’s such a great comic subject, because it’s so ridiculous.”
“Leading Lady Parts” is the first in a planned series of short films that will address gender imbalance in the workplace, both within the film industry and in other various industries. Arterton calls it “Time’s Up-inspired” since it’s not directly connected to Time’s Up, although the filmmakers hope to raise awareness for the Justice and Equality Fund, which was launched by Time’s Up U.K. to combat a “culture of harassment, abuse and impunity” in the workplace.
But in dealing with serious topics, Arterton believes it was important to bring humor to the short. “People are more likely to tune in and listen if it’s funny,” she said. “And it’s actually quite difficult. These subject matters we want to talk about in terms of workplace inequality are really serious. So it can be hard to find the comic angle. But there are ways if you’re really thoughtful about it.”
“We wanted the conversation to continue and we wanted to try and address the whole thing in a positive way,” Malik adds. “We wanted to use the skills we had to address the subjects people had been bringing up and to do so with humor and wit.”
The approach resonated with the BBC, who agreed to premiere the film on BBC Four as part of an hourlong program, “Hear Her,” celebrating 100 years of suffrage for women in the U.K. Initially, the broadcaster was hesitant to be involved because they need to remain impartial around political movements such as Time’s Up, but the producers argued that “Leading Lady Parts” is simply a project made by a group of people who want to raise a discussion.
“We sent it in and there was just an enormous amount of support internally,” Malik says of the BBC. “They wanted to see if there was a place where it would fit. It’s very difficult when you’re talking to a broadcaster about a piece that’s eight minutes long. Cassian Harrison, at BBC Four, said ‘I’m going to build a one-hour program around your piece.’ It shows how the goodwill continues. We’re a little blown away by the support. It’s very validating and it’s a great home for the piece.”
“Leading Lady Parts” is the first official project from Rebel Park Productions and represents a soft launch for the company, with plans to announce a larger slate in the coming months.
“Rebel Park came together about three years ago because, at the time, we felt that there was a lack of good female-centric stories,” Arterton says. “We also want to get more women behind the camera. That’s our agenda: Do more female-centric stuff. Not strictly, but that’s [what] I’m interested in.”
And she points to the behind the scenes gender dynamic as well. “‘Leading Lady Parts’ is something like 98% female crew,” she said. “We had two men on the crew and two male actors. There’s been a lot of talk about gender parity with actresses and directors and writers, but crew-wise as well it’s really important. We want to give [women] more opportunity to those male-geared jobs.”
As for whether a small film like “Leading Lady Parts” can effect tangible change? Arterton says… maybe.
“A film like ‘Leading Lady Parts’ might inspire the actor to speak out or to know that that [behavior] is not acceptable,” Arterton says. “For myself as a young actor, I didn’t feel comfortable or confident [enough] to be able to stand up for myself in situations where someone was telling me I needed to lose weight. What I would like for it to do is inspire people to know that they can challenge things or speak up.”
“For real change to happen it has to happen within the companies that exist already,” Malik adds. “It has to happen within the studios. It has to happen within the distributors who pick up films and the choices they make ... broadcasters and what they show. We’re a tiny part of it.”