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Review: Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman and more Hollywood women take a stand in ‘This Changes Everything’

‘This Changes Everything’
Joelle Dobrow, left, Nell Cox, Susan Nimoy, Dolores Ferraro, Lynne Littman and Vicki Hochberg, known as the “Original Six,” were a groundbreaking group of women in Hollywood and are included in “This Changes Everything.”
(Good Deed Entertainment)

If anyone needs convincing at this late date that gender inequality both in front of and behind the camera is the norm in Hollywood, “This Changes Everything” will get the job done.

Directed by Tom Donahue, whose previous documentary was “Casting By,” this earnest and passionate film talks to lots of boldface names, including performers Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman and Taraji P. Henson and producers Shonda Rhimes and Jill Soloway.

For the record:
11:23 AM, Aug. 08, 2019 An earlier version of this review included a photo from the 2015 climate-change documentary “This Changes Everything.” Also in the review, the memory of seeing Diahann Carroll in “Dynasty” was attributed to Taraji P. Henson; it was from Tiffany Haddish.

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross says at one point in the film, “As women we are not allowed to be angry,” but the ardent testimony points in the opposite direction. Interview subjects voice justifiable outrage at what they — individually and women in general — have had to put up with.

“Movies and TV have always driven me insane,” says writer Callie Khouri, who wrote the Oscar-winning “Thelma & Louise” as a reaction to gender inequality. “Misogyny is so prevalent, it’s almost unremarkable. Women are inconsequential except as ornamentation.”

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Adds Soloway, who created “Transparent,” “Imagine as a man women really wanting to look at your body when they see you.”

An advantage this fury creates is that it ensures “This Changes Everything” deals with the treatment of women as a burning issue and not an intellectual exercise.

On the other hand, perhaps inevitably because it is dealing with a big issue, “This Changes Everything” suffers a bit from being all over the map, touching so many bases that, though each is important, they don’t all cohere into a whole.

The patron saint of this film is Davis, as the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and one of the film’s most persuasive voices.

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This organization has done exceptional work in gathering damning statistics concerning the numbers of women behind and in front of the camera — like the fact that only 15% of the top-grossing films of 2018 were written by women — stats that appear periodically as text on screen.

One of the film’s strengths is its opening sections, where women talk about how important it is to see yourself on screen in a nuanced, realistic way, and how what you see as a child influences your perception of what you can become.

Lena Dunham, for instance, talks about how she watched “A League of Their Own” every day for an entire summer, and Tiffany Haddish remembers how seeing Diahann Carroll physically battering folks in “Dynasty” without getting arrested was a positive jolt.

Mention is also made of “the CSI effect,” how the success of that show led to women going into forensic pathology and how after “Brave” and “The Hunger Games” were released, the numbers of women taking archery skyrocketed.

Women also share stories of mistreatment on the set, with Sharon Stone, for instance, recalling asking a director who told her to sit on his lap to take direction, “Does Tom Hanks sit on your lap?”

Finding women behind the camera is especially difficult, with former executive Susan Lyne relating the challenges of getting Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” on the air and Natalie Portman noting she had worked for only two female directors in her career, “and one of them is myself.”

The last part of “This Changes Everything” looks at attempts to change the system, from the groundbreaking work done in 1979 by a group that became known as the Original Six to what happened in 2015 when FX’s John Landgraf made it his business to change his network’s culture.

In the final analysis, “This Changes Everything” aligns the words of writer-producer Courtney Kemp. “You just hire women,” she says. “It’s not that hard.”

'This Changes Everything'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood
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