How Male-Dominated Hollywood Contributes To Sexual Harassment Culture: Oscar-Winning Producer Cathy Schulman Explains

Cathy Schulman
Courtesy photo

Could a general pattern of sexism in Hollywood be the causal link toward the long-hushed existence of sexual harassment whose exposure has toppled powerful scoundrels and has fueled the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in Hollywood?

In the third of a series of interviews done with the hope of illuminating the problem and creating ideas for meaningful reform — Judd Apatow (read that one here) and Megyn Kelly (here) were the first in the series — Oscar-winning Crash producer Cathy Schulman believes there is a direct correlation between a sexist culture in Hollywood and the dozens of cases that have exposed a predilection of powerful men preying on women, and covering it up with bullying tactics, payouts and non-disclosure agreements.

Schulman is basing that on her own hard road as a female producer in a male-dominated business, and also through her work as board president of Women In Film, Los Angeles. The comments by Schulman — who produces film and TV projects through her Welle Entertainment banner — will be shocking to the average man who treats a woman with respect, but likely not shocking to women who’ve battled discrimination to rise in the ranks.

DEADLINE: It feels like Hollywood turned upside down last fall, and that it will never be the same.

CATHY SCHULMAN: What’s changed in the gender movement since October 5th, or what I call “H Day” when the New York Times Harvey Weinstein story broke, is a conflation of systemic discrimination problems and sexual harassment claims. The town is not only in a frenzy about stopping sexual harassment and assault crimes in our industry, but also around the whole world. The mistreatment of women is an enormous and persistent global problem, and clearly Hollywood wants to take part in solving it. But that is a lot of responsibility to take on for a small community of part-time activists without training or experience in this area.

Clearly, many people, especially women in Hollywood, have become consumed by using a tool we do know how to use: marketing. And we are marketing activism. Longtime activists, who have been fighting discrimination in the screen industry long before “H day” last October, know systemic change is very hard work. It’s all about what you do, not what you say. In fact, if you say too much too fast, your actions will trail behind your intentions and the movement will fail to convert. There are examples of this littered throughout the history of social activism. The fact is, Hollywood is not crawling with sexual deviants and rapists. What’s actually happening in Hollywood is that entrenched discrimination from the top down has caused workplace environments that breed poor behavior. I truly believe, as do many social scientists and thought leaders, that harassment is a cultural effect, not a cause.

DEADLINE: When Barbra Streisand noted at the Globes that she was the last women to win Best Director and it was in the 1980s, I was surprised, but I guess men don’t really think about things like that. Is there really a correlation between things like that, and the horrible allegations made against powerful men every week?

SCHULMAN: I think it’s all related and I think we’re going to A) confuse everyone, and B) end up with no meaningful change if we don’t look at what’s actually happening in the majority of situations. The fact is, there are going to be psychopaths from time to time, in all industries. I’m sorry for all of us that Harvey Weinstein seemed to thrive within our system while being, allegedly, dangerously abusive to women. But do I think that there are dozens or hundreds like him hanging around in Hollywood? No. Do I think that we have a significant discrimination problem? Yes. I feel like there’s an opportunity right now for journalists and those in the spotlight to tell a story that links where we have been, where are we going, what’s endemic, what’s systemic and what does this moment really mean — as opposed to revving up into a panic and screaming and yelling about saving women around the world while publicizing life-wrecking accusations. There is a certain vanity and elitism in grouping casting couch sexism with human trafficking, rape by genocide and criminal deviancy. I’m a feminist through and through, a progressive neo-feminist even, so I’m speaking from a place of humility, not from a lack of empathy for victims.

DEADLINE: What does a neo-feminist mean?

SCHULMAN: There’s been some talk in the movement to differentiate modern feminism from, let’s say, Betty Friedan feminism. That feminism was very much about how women should fight for the opportunity to do anything that men do, and I think neo-feminism is less about assimilating into male culture and more about self-distinguishing once inside. It’s about embracing a point of view that comes from a feminine place.

DEADLINE: How does that designation square with the outing of bad behavior allegations that are not backed up by police reports or any kind of due process?

SCHULMAN: I don’t want to be condemning, but jumping on the publicity bandwagon can turn into a witch hunt that discourages good men as much as it punishes bad ones. I understand the PC “no-no” of talking about a witch hunt as a problematic idea, when many women feel it wouldn’t be happening if there weren’t witches to hunt. But practically speaking, it’s getting a little confused. Right now, we hear: “Give money, give money, give money!” To what? For what? I think changing minds and behavior is the long game, and history hasn’t proven that change happens by paying for it or legislating it. “Do it!” is what we need to be saying. Make that change. It is true that money can be enormously influential when pointed in the right direction, but first we need a direction to point it towards. Am I being clear enough about the distinction I see?

DEADLINE: Well, you mean the distinction between grading predators?

SCHULMAN: That’s an important issue too, and many people aren’t clear about the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault. Harassment is legally defined as quid pro quo and unsafe workplace, both of which we’re dealing with in this community, which is enormously problematic. Assault is a crime, and I don’t know of any proof that assault, on the other hand, is an endemic problem in the screen industries. What I was saying about the distinction between trying to solve a harassment issue on its own, versus trying to abolish gender discrimination, is that change rarely happens from addressing problems from the bottom up. Harassment is an effect way down the waterfall from endemic discriminatory practices happening at the source.

Time's Up Golden Globes

DEADLINE: Like the move to address the #OscarsSoWhite crisis by diversifying the Academy voting body?

SCHULMAN: Yes. Let’s talk about #TimesUp for example. That’s a fast-growing coalition that speaks quite directly to women, myself included, who want to make positive change specifically having to do with discrimination in the form of sexual harassment. It’s a hashtag movement. But what is everyone supposed to do? Where do men fit in? There were dueling opinions about the recent Golden Globes activation. I had an interesting conversation with a male winner at an after-party that night. It was someone I’ve never met, but I literally went up to him to say I’ve been a long-time fan of his. I said, “You must feel so good tonight.” He said he came off stage after winning feeling kind of disgusting. “Am I a rapist and I don’t know it? I feel so bad tonight. I wish it had been a different kind of night. I’m from another country, so I really didn’t fully understand what I was being blamed for doing — here in this country.”

DEADLINE: It has been easy for men to look at Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K. and others, and feel shame for the gender.

SCHULMAN: I don’t like that. I don’t think this explosion against men is really that helpful in terms of promoting collaborative work spaces. From a movement standpoint, you want everybody to get involved and create a collation of like-minded people, but this was never meant to be about shaming, was it? I don’t think men who do great work, like you have for so many years in this industry, need to feel ashamed right now.

DEADLINE: Good men.

SCHULMAN: Yeah. Good men. There are a group of men who do operate with a certain level of paternalistic cronyism. That’s bad because it has led to a lot of these cover-ups. But not everybody’s in that grouping. Most of the cronyism exists among the guys who are in the cool crowd. Just like high school. I’m sure you’ve noticed. The cronyism isn’t practiced, or embraced, by men who are really good, hardworking, every-day, out-of-the-spotlight people. So there’s a direct correlation between power and this paternalistic and male-favoring bias. By the way, if you go to any rape crisis center, they’ll tell you rape is not a sex crime. It’s not categorized as that. It’s a crime of power.

DEADLINE: What I find particularly galling is people in gatekeeper positions who use the natural dreams and ambitions of incoming young people as leverage to impose their own perversions. Ambition and dreams are the bedrock of great businesses, and every successful person reading this was likely given a break or shown a courtesy by someone in a gatekeeping position. People who abuse that power and exploit it to fuel their sexual deviancy are as bad in a way as pedophile priests.

SCHULMAN: That’s the thing, so let’s cure the misuse of power across gender lines. This takes really, really hard-core work. I think we need to focus here, where we work and live, on the patterns of behavior that are allowing for what you just called an abuse of power.

DEADLINE: You have a Best Picture Oscar for Crash, and a long record of success as a producer and an executive. You’ve butted heads against powerful, wealthy people like Mike Ovitz and Bob Yari. A lot of us were very surprised by the revelations on Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and the other revelations that have followed. I have often felt like one of those people who gets interviewed in front of their apartment, who are asked if you realize your neighbor was a serial killer, and you say he seemed nice. How much of this kind of overt behavior did you see or even experience yourself, coming up as a woman in a male-dominated industry?

SCHULMAN: I saw it all the time.

DEADLINE: How overt?

SCHULMAN: I experienced so much power discrimination from men I worked for that it became a norm to me. Over time, and as I matured as a professional, I started to think about this, in an academic way, how I could start to change this for my own life and for others in similar situations. My conflagration with Michael Ovitz was so harrowing that it converted me. My obsession about gender parity in Hollywood was based on the fact that I got so pounded on by such a powerful man, in a David and Goliath kind of way. Although I won a pyrrhic victory in the end, I lost everything in the process. It bankrupted me, I did lose everything.


SCHULMAN: Yes! They emptied the bank account and took everything away. The real deal. I can only discuss some of that on the record due to the typical gag orders that surround these things, but I can say for a fact that there was nowhere to turn. There was no one who would help me. There was no legal relief. No spiritual relief. No rescue net. By the way, that includes a lot of people who hated Michael, but for fear of being attacked by such a famously litigious person themselves, they let me suffer alone. It was like a form of blacklisting. But that was a different time, when such behavior was normal and allowable. People forget that I never sued Michael. He sued me. What’s really amazing is the fact that I worked through all of that — 15 years — and maintained a career…not to mention raised a child. Smack in the middle of the whole thing I won an Oscar. No one would believe this duality if I made it up.

DEADLINE: But even there you had to battle Bob Yari, right?

SCHULMAN: That’s right. Basically, what happened to me was that the situation with Ovitz, it virtually blacklisted me for a while. Other powerful men avoided hiring me, thinking any woman who would take on a man as rich and powerful as Ovitz was somebody they should stay far away from. I used to think companies should actually hire me to have a “crazy lady” like me on their team!

So, once I hit rock bottom, the only way I could make money again was to somehow make a hit. I put all of my mental power into that…I started my own company. I had a TV partner Tom Nunan. Bob Yari was our financier. I figured if I could put all of my mental capacity into creating the best creative work of my life, maybe I would make a hit that could get me out of the hole. Then that happened with Crash, which was probably some combination of willpower and focus. As a matter of fact, I had four films that year, and two were hits and two were generally successful. But then Bob Yari didn’t pay a dime. Lawsuit number two. To this day he says he didn’t owe anybody anything. But he bankrupted his production company anyway, so who will ever know? All I know is that we made a film for under $8 million that grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. And I never made a single dollar. So it was a double whammy. And in my point of view, every inch of it was cruel and discriminatory.

DEADLINE: You never got paid?

SCHULMAN: Let me tell you something. On Crash I was paid zero dollars to produce it because I deferred my fee. Why? Because my partner, Bob Yari, said he needed me too. I put $30,000 on my credit cards to buy loose ends. We were still shooting on film back then. The financing was so tight and erratic that I would take my credit card and go to Kodak at night and buy bags of film ends so we could shoot the next day.

DEADLINE: Loose ends are just scrap footage?

SCHULMAN: Loose ends are what’s left. When people returned their empty reels, there was often quite a bit of footage left because you cut before the end or you were in the middle and you had to cut, so there were frames left but not enough to start a new scene.

Cathy Schulman Crash Oscar
Schulman, Jack Nicholson and Paul Haggis at the 2006 Oscars REX/Shutterstock

DEADLINE: I would have thought winning an Oscar would be a path to wealth.

SCHULMAN: No. One day I won the Academy Award and stood on that stage, and a few days later, Yari sued me… and then he sued the Producer’s Guild and the Academy. So, it’s always been a high and low for me. No. I didn’t make any money, but it certainly gave me credibility in some ways.

DEADLINE: The credibility lost in your battle with Ovitz?

SCHULMAN: I think so, but the second situation with Yari further radicalized me to care about all gender-based abuse. I worked for master power players along the way. And that’s without even mentioning the actual sexual harassment I withstood.

DEADLINE: Before you tell me that…

SCHULMAN: I’m not going to necessarily.

DEADLINE: OK, but would the Ovitz thing have happened if you were a man?

SCHULMAN: I don’t think so. You know, these kind of questions are hard for me to answer because I don’t know what it means to be a male, and I really want to be objective about it. Some of the things that Ovitz would say to me all the time, like “You should have married a powerful man, you wouldn’t get picked on…” Or, “I can do whatever I want because you’ve got no one to defend you.” Or, “You remind me of my wife. You’re a nag.” And, “You’ve got to play a game. It’s OK to lie.” All of it felt discriminatory to me. It belittled me. He wrote me a card that said “You spend too much time reading. You need to spend more time leading.”

Everything was always colored by the notion that if I were a man I would know these things, instinctually. “Cathy, you know what a man knows that you don’t know? Money’s green, wine is red, and cars are black. What the f*ck are you driving a white car for?” I can think of a million of them.

The arbitration itself was pretty horrid. I had a sexual harassment situation with someone else in an earlier job at a studio, and it was all on file. He brought all that back.

DEADLINE: An encounter you complained about was dredged up to be used against you?

SCHULMAN: I registered the incident with human resources and didn’t ultimately do anything about it, to be honest. Because so many of us back then, well we just sort of lived with it. Anyway, Michael’s attorneys found it through discovery and used it in the lawsuit against me, I think as an exhibit to explain that I was a “man hater,” if you can believe it. Talk about blaming the victim! The male arbitrator, in a room filled with only white men and me, made me read every single sentence of what I had put in the complaint file. When I would skip over something difficult to read and say we all have the same document in front of us, so we can all read this, I was forced to continue out loud even after my lawyer’s objections. It was really vulgar… what happened to me. And then, goaded on by Ovitz’s litigators, the arbitrator made me say every single word. It was so cruel. It was so sexist cruel. We’re off target. I’m sorry. Where were we?

DEADLINE: I feel like I’m beginning to understand how gender discrimination makes a woman’s path so much rockier than a man. If I asked one of your female peers, is it likely she would have stories this troubling?

SCHULMAN: It would pretty much be the same. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had at least one situation.

DEADLINE: You mean that a man physically forced himself on her, or do you mean generally being disrespectful?

SCHULMAN: It’s like ass grabbing, boob grabbing, kisses on a trip, following you into the hallway. Is this what we meant to be talking about when you walked in here?

DEADLINE: I think it’s important to look at this issue in all ways, if there is to be meaningful reform. You are providing an understanding of things that I didn’t consider. I have to assume that’s a good thing.

SCHULMAN: OK. I don’t have any female friend who hasn’t had some instances, some worse than others. Maybe it’s easier to talk about this stuff now that everybody’s talking about it, but there’s also a backlash. I think I read a New York Times piece about it. You probably did, too. For an organization like Women In Film where we’ve spent so much time training and asking men in senior positions to commit real time to get to know mid-level women at their companies so that women will be considered for promotions, we now see men fearful of spending any time with women for fear of being accused of something that ends up in the press and destroys their lives – even if the facts aren’t checked and there hasn’t even been a legal accusation.

Way fewer women move up within companies than men. One of the primary reasons for this is because socialization from man to man is easier. It’s easier for men to ask a young guy who works in a junior position to come along to go play golf or watch a game at a bar down the street. It’s just not something that happens with women. So, almost unconsciously, the guy gets the promotion. Now the guys are saying I’m not going in a room with you [a woman], all you have to do is say I did something and I’m going to lose my career. That’s a backlash. Lately, I’ve gone to see male colleagues in my office and close the door behind me. They jump and say “don’t close the door.”

DEADLINE: Until just now, I didn’t understand how these scandalous things happened and were kept silent. You telling me that you were forced to read a sexual harassment report that must have been difficult for you to file in the first place, well what woman would want to file a sexual harassment report? How much of what you are saying explains why actress X kept quiet so long when Harvey Weinstein allegedly did this or that to her?

SCHULMAN: I can tell you it’s fundamental…I think part of it’s biological. We actually do feel, as women, that men can hurt us physically. It’s part of us. I work out really hard, but I do always know that if it came to that showdown, if I’m alone on that street and I see somebody walking that I’m scared of, and he attacks, I lose. But that’s obvious and biological and we can’t change that.

DEADLINE: That isn’t necessarily something limited to the the female gender…

SCHULMAN: This is what happens, and without specifics, I’ll explain what has happened in every situation I’ve been through. Plus, I hear these stories on a weekly basis through my position at Women In Film. First, a woman complains of being treated unfairly, usually in comparison to a man of similar rank. The next thing that happens is, there’s a meeting where the woman is asked to talk about it, and the guys go into this super-shocked denial mode like, “that could never happen here. This might happen somewhere, but not with us.” Now, that could be unconscious bias. That could be — we don’t realize what we’re doing —  but these are the kinds of things that start to happen. Then, is it a coincidence that your amazing assistant suddenly gets poached by the chairman? Is it a coincidence that your office on the top floor with management gets moved one floor down? Is it a coincidence that your projects get reassigned? You’ve commented on what’s happening, and now you’re being punished, and told the problem is you, and not them. Now you’re getting strangled because opportunities are being removed after you attacked the patriarchy. But in your mind, you didn’t attack it, you tried to change it.

DEADLINE: It’s that common, this punitive reaction that follows a formal complaint?

SCHULMAN: Most women will document, with many examples, what’s happening in the company.

DEADLINE: Patterns of bad behavior?

SCHULMAN: Yeah. Then all this backlash starts to happen and now it’s your fault and then you start to think “Sh*t, I’m going to have to leave here. I did it again. I opened my mouth.” So now you’re getting kind of desperate. You didn’t plan for any of this. Now it’s obvious that you should have never said anything. You start to look around and now you get worried because you weren’t prepared for it and it’s not obvious what you should do next and you can’t really explain what’s going on because if you explain this to somebody else they’re going to think you’re disturbed.

DEADLINE: Or paranoid?

SCHULMAN: So then the company inevitably says…it’s your prerogative if you want to leave. You say, “Of course I don’t want to leave.” They say, “But if you do we’ll give you this money. Clearly, our relationship is not good here anymore and we’ll give you this much money.” But to get it you have to sign this quit claim.


SCHULMAN: Oh, it’s common.

DEADLINE: Rethinking NDAs and quit claims has now been cited as an important tool now in stopping what’s happened.

SCHULMAN: Yes, this is the culture of silencing. And by talking about the unfairness of this business practice, you put yourself in further jeopardy, right?

DEADLINE: Let me ask you some general questions specifically about the Women in Film helpline. It’s early, but how large has the volume of calls been?

SCHULMAN: There is a part of me that thought we would set this whole thing up and it would be like watching tumbleweeds. There’d be somebody sitting manning the phones and nothing would ever happen. In fact, we’ve been receiving 50 to 75 calls a month. At first I wasn’t sure if that was a big number or a small number, and then I decided it was a really big number.

DEADLINE: That’s a big number.

SCHULMAN: Yeah. So we’re getting about 75 callers a month. I would say that of these, approximately 50 are valid — in the sense that they’re not crank callers. There’s a lot of baloney that goes on and a lot of men calling to say stupid things. But of the 50, I’d say about half of those are about past experiences and about half are about current experiences. There’s a lot of questioning about what can be done in situations where the statute of limitations has run out. By the way, let me just tell you… As part of personal protection for victims and general organizational protection for Women In Film, none of us at WIF actually know the details of the calls. We use a questionnaire. These are trained professionals who are handling these calls. These aren’t volunteers.

DEADLINE: How many of them?

SCHULMAN: Well, there’s one person running it and she works by a fake name. When needed, she brings in more people if she can’t cover the volume herself.

DEADLINE: And their job is to basically decide if there’s an opportunity for a criminal prosecution or some other way to help?

SCHULMAN: The Help Line is a referral center. We have three different areas of referrals. One is if you feel that you need any kind of counseling or mental health professionals. Two is if you need law enforcement help. Three is if you need legal help. What we’ve done in terms of the counseling and police protection is, we’ve made arrangements with others who do this work so that we filter our information to them and then they take immediate action. By the way, the majority of people are looking for counseling.

On the legal side, we set up a companion piece to the help line, a legal relief panel. Bonnie Eskenazi at Greenberg Glusker helped us design it. We were interested in what to do about the person who is looking at a lawsuit. How can they get a proper evaluation of their claims? What I thought was really crucial, having been through a lot of legal things myself, was that it costs money even to take these meetings with litigators to find out what your case is, and to get a couple of opinions. So what Bonnie was able to do is bring together what is now over 25 lawyers, both civil and criminal. They’ve each donated 12 hours of free time to evaluate cases. We will then try to place victims with litigators who will take the cases on a contingency basis. From there, perhaps victims with strong cases can apply for Time’s Up legal support and access those legal relief funds.

Here’s the thing I do know from the professionals I’ve spoken to that work in sexual harassment litigation: The reason so many cases are lost is, “he said, she said” cases are hard to win. When you can amass multiple cases against the same offenders, that’s obviously going to be more influential to a judge and jury. I don’t profess to be an expert in any of this but what we at WIF did feel is that we could be a safe haven, because Women in Film is a not-for-profit unaligned with any studio or network, or any other financiers or opportunists in Hollywood.

We’re 45 years old now, and the community really does have a lot of trust in us. We speak to a community of about 10,000 members and friends on a daily basis. We are a very fair, academically based organization. By that I mean we do what we say we’ll do. We create both our policies and our programs on the basis of real scientific information, research and need. We work with professionals in all fields. We don’t just make it up, and I think women in this industry have a real respect for that. What we’re seeing is that victims within our own community are comfortable speaking to the Women in Film Help Line. However, they’re nervous about being turned over to other professionals and organizations. They’re mostly terrified of retribution should their experiences be exploited in some way.

DEADLINE: Do some just want to vent their frustration?

SCHULMAN: I think they want to vent and they want to take action but they don’t want to lose their ability to work.

DEADLINE: So let’s say there is a woman reading this right now, who has a story to tell. What’s the best thing for her to do?

SCHULMAN: Personally, I do not think outing people in the press is a great idea.

DEADLINE: It’s a slippery slope for sure, because of the lack of due process that once presaged such press coverage.

SCHULMAN: It is a slippery slope. I understand the use of the press, that it provides a public forum to speak out, and it’s the fastest way to get heard and make a statement. It’s just a slippery slope because it is a forum for accusation that can cause enormous collateral damage. What I fundamentally believe, as do all of the partners and financiers and ambassadors in Reframe, is that the problem has to be solved from the top down so that we don’t incubate this kind of behavior, which is what’s happening. To that end, how much do you know about Reframe and what’s happening?

DEADLINE: I am feeling right now that I don’t really know much about any of this.

SCHULMAN: Seven years ago, I was really embarrassed to keep standing in front of people and saying that yet again, statistics regarding opportunities for women in Hollywood were flat-lined. We really had to change that.

We partnered with Keri Putnam and Sundance Institute and started a three-year campaign, a research and awareness campaign. We raised money to be able to fund the Stacy F. Smith Annenberg research that everyone is now familiar with. So the reason why we did all this research was not to do what had been done since 1998, which was to count what happens at the end of the year, how many women did this and that. It was to identify where the fallout points were for women in the system. At the end of the day, you know the statistics enough to know that from a pool that’s 50-50 male and female at the collegiate level, we end up with 4%-7% of all the gatekeeping jobs together at the studio level. We also know that there’s a converse relationship between the amount of money at risk in any given project and the opportunity for women to participate. If the money goes up, the opportunity for women goes down; if there’s no money, the women have great opportunity. So money, which is generally in the hands of male financiers, pushes women out.

What it results in for women is, generally the gap between movie one and movie two is five to seven years. For men, it’s one to two-and-a-half years. How can someone sustain themselves with such a scarcity of dependable income?

DEADLINE: Why that gap? I always thought success bred momentum.

SCHULMAN: For an actress, maybe. I was really talking about writers, directors. Actors can pop. That’s a different kind of a thing, but what I’m really talking about are the gatekeeping jobs: writer, director, producer, executive, cinematographer, editors, composer. There’s no support systems for the pipeline. Our research revealed multiple reasons why women are pushed out of the system, but the biggest ones will make you laugh. The top two reasons based on a huge amount of data, are in my mind mythological — meaning they’re just impressions.

One is that women are emotional and emotional people shouldn’t handle money. That’s the one that comes up most, which is absurd, especially when women have handled money in the household since cavepeople times. Women do all of that. The second thing is that women are too busy multitasking, being mothers and wives, to also be able to pay attention to the money.
That’s ridiculous too because it presumes that the positive aspect of women being multitaskers is a negative one — and that men can’t multi-task. And if it were true that only men can focus properly on the tasks of making a show or a movie, then why wouldn’t all the shows and movies that men produce be successful? They’re not.

When we started all of our research we were trying to look at every single woman who had directed one to three films, and we really only had 30% of the original grouping left from film two to three, because very few women direct a third film.


SCHULMAN: We lost over 65% of the whole grouping between movies one and two. So by two and three you’re in no-man’s land — except for the cases of 11 women in history.

DEADLINE: You’re saying that 11 women in history have directed more than two movies?

SCHULMAN: Have directed more than three movies in a row without a gap of five to seven years. Can you name any?

Kathryn Bigelow
Bigelow REX/Shutterstock

DEADLINE: I’ve never once even thought about it but…Kathryn Bigelow maybe.

SCHULMAN: Well, now she’s on a roll, but she had a 10 year gap between K-19 and The Hurt Locker.

DEADLINE: I know Patty Jenkins had 14 years between directing Charlize Theron to an Oscar in Monster, and Wonder Woman. I’m not sure how you explain that.

SCHULMAN: See what I’m saying? By the way, you can probably only name 10 female directors.

DEADLINE: But can’t some of that have to do with lifestyle choices like raising a family?

SCHULMAN: We did 1100 interviews, half men, half women, who had worked in the industry in gatekeeping jobs seven years or more, so they’re considered experts. The men thought women having kids was a reason for the gap. But the women didn’t think that was their obstacle at all. They didn’t say they suffered the gap because they intentionally took time off to have kids.

DEADLINE: They just couldn’t get a job?

SCHULMAN: They couldn’t get a job. So Reframe was born out of the following concept: We knew that whatever we did, we had to get the top, most influential people in Hollywood involved in the effort. We needed a delivery system where people who were stakeholders in a company’s business would ask them to look at this issue. We tried to get 100 industry leaders to come to our first meeting, the so-called “secret” meeting, which wasn’t so secret, at the Pacific Design Center two years ago. We wanted to make sure that it was a top flight group, and that these stakeholders would be taken seriously.

We invited 100 and at the time and we got 49, and now there are 54. So we needed men, women, we needed people of all different sexual orientations and we needed it to be ethnically diverse. That was hard, but we got that together. If you could have been a fly on the wall… It was a two-day commitment and you’ve got all these people who are normally direct competitors, clinging against the walls, on their cell phones. But, by the end it was Kumbaya. We threw our phones in baskets and could only take two breaks every six hours, at one time. Our facilitators were social scientists, systemic change experts and mappers.

We came into the room with a bunch of hard data, and we came out understanding that all of the fallout points that we had identified could be grouped under three distinct problem areas. Reframe calls it our “Systemic Change Triangle.”

On the left, you’ve essentially got everything that has to do with pipeline. Where are the people? We would hire them if we could or maybe we wouldn’t but no matter what they aren’t there anyway. Are they or aren’t they? Where can we find them? On the other side of the triangle, if you can imagine it here, is the cultural issues. This is where we talk about how do we run the housekeeping of our companies. Who’s on top? What does it look like? How does it filter down? Do we have representation on top? Do we have men and women making decisions? Are we biased consciously? Are we biased unconsciously? With every level of men on men on men, the chances of employing women and then choosing content by and for women is unlikely.

The third side of the triangle focused on marketplace and business case. What is the marketplace really saying? Do we believe that if we make content by, and, or for women and girls that it could make us money? If not, you’re getting nowhere in this industry because it’s so much about the bottom line and it’s also a very high-risk business where people lose and win in huge sweeps.

So a statistic came out a-year-and-a-half ago, and I think it’s going up this year, that 68% of all content consumers in America are women. That includes movie tickets, television and streaming. If 68% of women are the buyers of our content, why would we have an entire industry focused on making content for men and boys when the majority buyer is female? Women are also the majority buyers of cars and tech!

So what we wanted to do is figure out the best solutions for the industry to address the three sides of the triangle. The idea was, let’s share three first solutions, one for each side, and then to keep going around with ideas as long as we need to until we solve this. Basically, that amazing group of people, the 54 of them, went through a full year of training with experts from every field to learn how to talk about this and do this. And this past December, we were ready to hit the pavement with our plans. We designed three particular programs, which will be announced next week.

DEADLINE: There are a couple of questions. I want to continue this dialogue but I don’t want to destroy your day here. A couple of base questions. So all this stuff happened and you’ve obviously done more research than the average person on how these problems crop up, how this culture is created. What’s the best way to bring these scoundrels to heel and make them…I mean is the mind-set basically that everyone’s going to behave out of a self-preservation instinct?

SCHULMAN: Well, I think we have four main things that we need to do. One, we need the community to understand that harassment is a symptom of endemic prejudice that must be addressed from the top down by ensuring decision making parity for men and women as well as training management to overcome gender bias patterning. That’s work that has to be shared and has to be understood. Two, end the process of exchanging silence for monetary settlements through nondisclosure agreements and settlement quick claims. We can actually abolish this.


SCHULMAN: There is no reason why there need to be nondisclosure agreements that prevent people from talking about quid pro quo, dangerous workplaces and assault. In fact, most NDAs don’t even say this, but many employees believe they do and companies act like they do.

Two, it needs to be explained to new employees at any company that if any of these things come up, you are absolutely meant to be heard and there will be no retribution. Right now, the boiler plate in employment contracts is so protective of the company. It’s one thing to protect a company as it regards its corporate secrets. It’s another for companies to try to diminish an employee’s civil liberties.

Three, ensure that punishment for harassment is public, nonnegotiable, and binding. When someone admits to or is found guilty of committing a sex crime, he or she really shouldn’t be allowed back. I don’t think sex criminals should get to go to a farm and get “fixed,” and then come back and get a job that makes them seven times more than their last job. We’ve all seen that pattern!

Four, be careful not to conflate harassment with predation, rape and other crimes of sexual deviancy, because accusations of criminal behavior must be tried per the laws of the land and convictions by association, hearsay and accusation could damage innocent lives.

Those are my top four things I think we need to do, but it’s work.

What frustrates me, as you can see, is when people in top positions who could actually effectuate change don’t roll up their sleeves and get to work. Screaming and yelling about it isn’t tangible. We have to be curative.

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