In the private dining room of Lucques in West Hollywood on Tuesday night, there was plenty of excitement as guests celebrated New York-based jewelry company David Yurman’s partnership with Academy Award winner and advocate Geena Davis as executive producers on an upcoming documentary examining gender bias in Hollywood.
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve been in a room with so many powerful women,” said one guest as she scanned the room. “This feels really good.”
The documentary, under the working title “Gender in Hollywood,” examines gender bias and systemic discrimination through a historical perspective and through firsthand accounts from actors, directors and studio executives, including Davis, Shonda Rhimes, Jessica Chastain, Lena Dunham, Sharon Stone, Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and Chloë Grace Moretz.
“Gender representation on-screen is what I’ve been obsessed with for the last dozen years because I feel like people aren’t aware of what we’re doing to society through what we show on-screen,” said Davis, standing up and speaking to the intimate crowd before guests dined on ricotta gnocchi with wild mushrooms, grilled fish with white beans and braised beef short ribs with sauteed greens.
“Gender in Hollywood” is directed by Tom Donahue and produced by Creative Chaos vmg and New Plot Films in association with Artemis Rising Foundation and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which supported the film’s narrative through extensive research and data.
“Women are half the population of the world, and yet there are so few female characters on-screen,” Davis continued. “The ratio of male to female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946. We are not reflecting reality in any way, shape or form.”
The David Yurman brand, which has crafted luxury jewelry since 1980, has long been a proponent of female empowerment. The brand’s ethics and commitment to gender parity make it a natural fit to partner with the documentary. According to the company, 75% of the David Yurman executive committee is made up of women, and the company is almost 70% female. The jewelry brand is described by co-founder Sybil Yurman — who wasn’t in attendance at the dinner — in a media release as “a company of women, led by women and co-founded by a woman.” (At the dinner, each guest was given a David Yurman cable bracelet and a copy of the coffee-table book “David Yurman: Cable.”)
Independent filmmaker and daughter-in-law of David and Sybil Yurman, Ku-Ling Yurman, will serve as an executive producer on the film.
“David, Sybil, my husband Evan and I decided there was no better way to move the needle than to involve ourselves in an issue we felt so strongly about,” Ku-Ling said during the dinner. “Our objective with this documentary is to bring about actual change. We have a collective responsibility to take ownership of this issue and activate a higher standard for gender equality.”
The idea for the documentary originally came about in 2015 when executive producer Jennie Peters approached Donahue and his producing partner Ilan Arboleda with an idea that had been rumbling in the back of her mind — to explore the subject of women in entertainment.
“I’ve always been from the school of thought that in order to enact change, everyone has to get involved. So for me, it was always, ‘Why wouldn’t men get involved in a project like this and support it?’” said Peters, who originally came from the world of sports entertainment and public relations, where she rarely saw women hold top positions.
After brainstorming for several months, Peters, Donahue and Arboleda approached Davis and the institute’s Chief Executive Madeline Di Nonno about working on a partnership.
According to the team, the “Gender in Hollywood” crew and production team is 85% female, with women holding positions at all levels of production. The film is currently in post-production and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
“We’ve been conducting an investigation now for two and a half years. And I’ve interviewed over 150 incredible people in the industry, so I’ve learned a lot,” Donahue said. “Now in the post-process, I’m putting all of it into this historical century-long context of what has happened in Hollywood over the last century that’s created the problems that we see now.”
According to a study released by The Times, women made up 11% of writers, 11% of directors, 16% of editors and just 4% of cinematographers on the top 250 U.S. films released last year. Only 1% of films last year employed 10 or more women as directors, producers, editors, writers and cinematographers — compared with 70% of films that had 10 or more men in key roles.
“It’s not only on-screen. It’s who’s behind the camera,” Davis said. “Who are the storytellers? Whose point of view are we profoundly leaving out? Where are the intersectional women in all of these stories?”
With the momentum of movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, a light is being shined on century-old gender bias issues.
Davis described moments during the history of Hollywood when the success of a female-led film made many falsely believe Hollywood would finally change.
Overall, the sentiment of the female producers, writers, entrepreneurs, chief executives and powerhouses in the warmly lit back patio of the restaurant was unanimous. This time it feels different.
“The motto of my institute has always been ‘If they can see it, they can be it,’” Davis said. “And it’s literally true. If we show something on-screen, it will change what happens in real life.”