Acclaimed actress and producer Reese Witherspoon is determined to change the way Hollywood treats women.
She has set herself the difficult task of shifting Hollywood’s attitudes towards women, by both changing the way women are portrayed in Hollywood films and by changing the way female actresses are treated by the industry.
“We deserve better. It’s great to speak up, but what I really think is you’ve got to do something,” she said.
Frustrated by the lack of strong female characters in Hollywood films, Witherspoon decided to enter the section of the industry that would allow her to change this persistent trend – production.
Witherspoon established her own production company in 2013 in order to regain control over the types of films that getmade in Hollywood and the way these films portray women.
In her role as producer, she has fought for the creation of two films that place strong, complex female characters in leading roles – Wild and Gone Girl.
“I set out with the idea that I wanted to develop material that has strong female leads. I wanted to make movies about what I want to put out into the world,” she said.
Both Wild and Gone Girl feature complex narratives driven by female characters that are strong, independent, and integral to the plot outside of any attachment or relationship to a male character.
Wild tells the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican-US border to the Canadian-US border inthree months. The film follows Strayed’s journey of self-discovery through a lens of female strength and empowerment. Strayed’s hike requires both physical and emotional strength and that power is exclusively sourced independently – she does not need nor accept assistance from any male characters throughout her grueling journey.
Films with this kind of strong, complex female lead and female-driven narrative are rare. As the Bechdel Test continues to show, it is rare for female characters to even have scripted conversations with other female characters about a topic other than the male characters in the film, let alone have their own independent narratives and journeys.
So it is these kinds of portrayals of women that Witherspoon wants to see more of in Hollywood. She wants to use her influence as a producer to ensure that Hollywood’s notion of two-dimensional female characters used to support male leads is challenged as frequently and as fervently as possible.
Witherspoon said Wild was “hard-won” and that she had to fight for the movie to get made. But she succeeded, and the film industry is better for it. Better still, Witherspoon was nominated for the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed.
Hollywood desperately needs more films like Wild, so let’s hope Witherspoon continues to succeed in her fight to get them made. And let’s hope more Hollywood heavyweights join the fight, too.