Representation in media is currently a hot-button social issue, but whether or not Hollywood has a moral obligation to depict anyone other than straight white men as the norm may be an entirely separate issue than the economic factors at play. Movie franchises like The Fast and The Furious, The Hunger Games, and even now Star Wars are thriving, in part because of their placement of women and people of various ethnicities in prominent roles. As the market grows for blockbuster entertainment, so does the importance of a diverse technical and creative Hollywood workforce.
Kathleen Kennedy is a powerhouse movie producer. Co-founder of Amblin Entertainment (alongside Steven Spielberg) and producer of some of the biggest movies of the past several decades, she now presides over Lucasfilm in the wake of its acquisition by Disney. Kennedy has recently discussed the importance of women in shaping the film industry and more specifically her hopes that a woman will finally get the opportunity to direct a Star Wars film.
In a recent piece by THR, it was revealed that the Executive Team at Lucasfilm is over 50 percent women, a surprising number in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry. Kennedy called the inclusion of back-to-back female protagonists in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story "a coincidence", but definitely saw value in the executive team's role in shaping the headlining roles.
"When you have a balance of men and women, there are all sorts of things that enter into the discussion. Because women are always in story meetings, [no one has] to go, 'Hey, what would a woman think?'"
Lucasfilm's creative executive Rayne Roberts followed up on Kennedy's thought. "The reason Rey is strong and technically capable and compassionate and driven is that the women who were in that room, including Kathy, reflect those qualities." Felicity Jones, who plays Jyn Erso in Rogue One, noted, "Kathy has given women the kind of roles they've always dreamed of."
Kayleen Walters, the VP of franchise marketing spoke up about some of the unhealthy attitudes that have held women back in the past.
"There's a stereotype that when you have too many women in a room, it's going to be catty. It's nothing like that at all here. I call up Rhonda [Hjort, deputy chief counsel] or Lori [Aultman, vp finance] for advice. The more we support each other, the better we all do."
Lucasfilm has begun a number of internships and academic programs to bring more women into the technical careers of the entertainment industry. Kennedy doesn't think the male domination of Hollywood is inevitable and believes that it is each individual company's job to ensure a healthy demographic balance.
"You have to cast a broader net when you're interviewing and looking at possible prospects. In the creative community, there's no excuse for not making a more equitable environment. It literally comes down to companies that just aren't trying hard enough."
Hollywood may have a long way left to go in ensuring that people from all walks of life have a voice, but Lucasfilm is showing that it's possible. Even of the social value of this isn't apparent to all, at least The Force Awakens' record-setting domestic box office ensures there's an economic one.
- Star Wars: Rogue One / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) release date: Dec 16, 2016
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019