In the past couple of years, Hollywood’s rampant sexism when it comes to leading roles for women has been called out by Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Kerry Washington, Olivia Wilde, Mindy Kaling, Geena Davis, and Jennifer Garner, to name only a few.
Julie Walters and Isabella Rossellini have specifically spoken out against ageism in Hollywood, and Russell Crowe—apparently deciding that a man’s opinion was needed in this debate—weighed in by blaming women for the problem. Meryl Streep and Jessica Chastain responded, and although the latter called Crowe out more directly, Streep is proving her commitment to combating ageism and sexism in Hollywood by funding a new writing lab for women over 40.
Called the Writers Lab, the screenwriting program was announced on Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival. The lab will be run by New York Women in Film and Television and IRIS, a collective of women filmmakers. Touted as the only program of its kind, the Writers Lab will bring in Beyond The Lights writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Boyhood associate producer Caroline Kaplan, Legally Blonde writer Kirsten Smith, and Bring It On writer Jessica Bendinger as mentors for the eight screenwriters selected.
Getting more women behind the camera and in the major creative positions on films is crucial to solving the problem of women being underrepresented in front of the camera. According to a study published earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, over the past 17 years, the number of women directing the top 250 grossing films dropped by 2 percent, and of the 250 top-grossing films of 2014, only 17 were directed by women. Women made up 23 percent of producers, 19 percent of executive producers, 18 percent of editors, 11 percent of writers, and 5 percent of cinematographers.
The study did not look specifically at age, but the Writers Lab seeks to specifically elevate the voices of women over 40. According to the NYWIFT website, the program “evolved in recognition of the absence of the female voice in narrative film, along with the dearth of support for script development.” Streep has been a longtime supporter of NYWIFT’s commitment to female leadership in film and television, and according to the organization, she gave a “significant” contribution to fully fund the new lab.