Dir. Tom Donahue, USA, 2018, 97 min.
This clear-eyed documentary strips away the illusions of Hollywood’s dream machinery — one of the United States’ most successful global exports — to explore how film and television promote narratives that marginalize and render girls because women are denied the opportunity to tell stories as producers, directors and actors.
There isn’t a lot of narrative drama or flashy animation here; the film is built around a stunning number of interviews with some of the movie and television industry’s biggest names, including Reese Witherspoon, Mira Nair, Shonda Rhimes, Rashida Jones, Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham, Taraji P. Henson and Sharon Stone, with welcome legal contextualization from Anita Hill.
The ironic title comes from a remark by actress Geena Davis, an executive producer of This Changes Everything, following her star turn in Thelma & Louise, the 1991 the runaway success that put women’s perspectives, desires and concerns at the center of the story. Of course, it didn’t: The documentary shows that the studios continued to overwhelmingly back male directors and sideline women. Spoiler alert: In 2018, following the watershed emergence of the #MeToo movement, the film tells us that the percentage of women directors actually declined.
Sexual harassment in the movie industry, as exemplified by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, gets a brief cameo; it’s presented as a symptom of the lopsided power dynamic in an industry in which women face systematic employment discrimination.
The film comes across as a depressing and sobering report card on one of our most influential industries — and as a call to action to those who will heed it.
This Changes Everything screens on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem.
You may also enjoy these Riverrun 2019 reviews:
Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn: This documentary dives into the mysterious death of Lt. Van Dorn, a Greensboro native who died during a training exercise off the coast of Virginia in 2014 while piloting the US Navy’s 53E helicopter.
Bei Bei: This documentary delves into the abortion debate by focusing on Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant woman living in Indiana, who is facing two felony counts after her baby died when she committed suicide.
Find the full list of reviews here.