Inspiration October 19, 2017
"That’s my job. And I’m so happy to be behind the scenes... I’m delighted, because that’s what I do."
First, let’s get one thing straight: Rachel Feldman is a badass.
She’s directed over 60 hours of television for networks such as ABC, CBS, HBO and The Disney Channel. She’s also a writer, filmmaker and activist. Feldman created #WomenCallAction to bring awareness to gender equality issues in Hollywood.
One could easily describe her as determined, outspoken, hardworking and fierce. But when she invited me into her home for an interview with ENTITY, she was baking paleo muffins in the most gorgeous antique stove in the coziest kitchen I’ve ever seen. Feldman was warm, friendly and generous, as if I’d known her for years.
And that’s women. We’re multifaceted. We’re gritty and caring, unflinching and emotional. (Hear that, James Cameron?) I can’t think of a better example of that than Rachel Feldman herself, who has dedicated her life to telling important stories such as that of the subject of her upcoming thriller, fair pay activist Lilly Ledbetter.
Ledbetter’s coworkers and superiors put her through the ringer while working at Goodyear. They resented a woman they believed to be “taking a man’s job.” Feldman explains, “They tried to kill her, destroyed her car. They would constantly slash her tires and get her in trouble with her bosses. And she endured this, and then the bureaucrats at Goodyear cheated her out of her salary, consciously.”
Feldman’s film, framed as a political thriller, will document the true horrors Ledbetter went through in fighting for equality, such as the car chases and violence. “As a storyteller, I really wanted to highlight the antagonists that she had at every turn in her story,” Feldman tells ENTITY.
ENTITY was lucky enough to sit down with the busy director and activist to chat more about the importance of women like Ledbetter, the artists’ struggle and why all women should be feminists.
ENTITY: How do you hold so steadfast in your beliefs when it can be so dangerous to be so boldly political these days?
RF: I’m never going to be afraid of the hate mail, because there are groups of men who literally just troll. If someone has a legitimate argument against what I’m saying on a political level, well then, sure. Let’s engage. Maybe there’s something I can learn from them. Or maybe there’s something they can learn from me.
ENTITY: Do you ever worry you might hurt your career by offending someone?
RF: Generally within activism the issues are global. They’re big. They’re unconscious, even. Of course, there are yet still people who are not moving things forward. And some of these people are themselves women, who don’t really see the big picture, who might only see this in terms of female protagonists, which translates to actors, or how it applies to writers. But until and unless we are equal 50/50 parity as female writers, female directors, female producers, we’re not there yet.
I try hard, and it is hard as an activist, to filter what really is something negative that I need to speak up about to protect women filmmakers or what is a particularly personal thing… It’s a fine line.
ENTITY: Like Lucasfilm Chief Kathleen Kennedy who made comments suggesting they couldn’t find experienced enough directors for the new “Star Wars” films?
RF: I don’t know enough about that to really speak to it, but another thing we really need to think about seriously is that I don’t believe that every story about a woman has to be directed by a woman. That’s a silly mandate in my opinion.
ENTITY: Because it’s still only one perspective?
RF: Because you’re silencing an artist. We are artists. And artists should be genderless. That’s really the point.
It becomes complex on a political level because all too often in history these wonderful, important films that do have female protagonists that are about women are directed by men.
ENTITY: So then were you bothered by the news that two men would be writing and directing an all-female take on “Lord of the Flies”?
RF: Personally, I am offended by that. Also, as a creative, I think that’s a crazy idea, because “Lord of the Flies” is such a story about testosterone. I think it is such a uniquely masculine story that by having male creators behind it, it lets me know that they’re not actually interested in what happens when a group of females are put in jeopardy in a situation like this.
They’re just going to take a masculine construct and stick female characters on it. And that’s ridiculous. That’s why women need to be behind it as writers and directors, to look at the story from a completely different perspective and only women can have that perspective at this point in history. It’s a slap in the face, is what it is.
And that’s why it also offends me when, in the name of gender parity, we are now often taking male and masculine creations and just sticking women on them. That’s not the way it goes.
ENTITY: Right. It’s equal if we just do the same exact thing, but put a woman in it — that’s not how we work, though.
RF: You’re exactly right. Let women have our voices. Let us reanalyze and rejigger. It’s the same on the executive and CEO level.
For example, and I don’t know what happened, so I’m not pointing a finger at Annette Bening, but Annette Bening was selected to be the face of the Venice Film Festival this year, and there was only one film in competition that was directed by a woman. Now, it’s easy to say, well, those were the films that we had an opportunity to take a look at. But then look at Toronto Film Festival, that came on the heels of Venice, where more than 25 percent of the films in competition were directed by women, and they were brilliant.
It’s hard to believe that those same filmmakers hadn’t entered the film in both film festivals. And that’s a really clean example of how these things happen.
ENTITY: On that note, a woman director can make such a difference on a film such as “Wonder Woman.” I remember being so amazed by how Gal Gadot was portrayed, because even though she is gorgeous and wearing a sexy costume, she wasn’t sexualized.
RF: I thought “Wonder Woman” was fantastic for many of those exact reasons… Here Gal is in this costume that in the past is not very different from other costumes of super women who traditionally are the sexy ones. I mean, structurally it’s sort of the same, bathing suit kind of concept.
The thing about her as a performer is when you have a sex symbol, she pushes up her breasts, right? She sticks out her butt. We’ve learned these sort of “sex pot” moves from the movies that we’re supposed to do as women if we want to appear sexy. And she did not do that.
And here’s this tall, slim, gorgeous woman who could be a super model, but she doesn’t act like it. She doesn’t present it. And that’s the thing that makes her every woman. And then she’s an athlete. She’s a brain. She’s an empath. She is all aspects of our psychological, physical and emotional femaleness in one. So that was amazing about her.
ENTITY: Some critics of the film kind of missed that point, in the same way that many woman still don’t quite seem to understand feminism. What would you say to women who don’t identity as feminist?
RF: I think there’s a terrible misconception that feminism is somehow anti-men. I don’t know where that came from… Just because you support one group of people does not mean that you intend to diminish another.
I would hope that every little girl will grow up with a belief that she is capable of anything that she can achieve, and that no force of another gender should diminish her in any way, and that’s feminism. That’s it.
So I don’t know why anyone believes that we should get 50 percent of it all. That’s all feminism is. And anyone who thinks differently really, really needs to look into this and change their tune.
ENTITY: Have you ever had a moment of intense doubt where you considered giving up or perhaps doing something else?
RF: Absolutely. You wouldn’t be human if when dealing with a Sisyphean-sized goal you didn’t have doubts. That’s the nature of our human condition… I am one of the lucky few on this planet who can afford to have a goal that is lofty. And I recognize that and I appreciate that, because most people on this Earth are just struggling to survive. So now that I’m beyond the survival level and I’m an artist, what do I want to do with that?
And what I want to do with that is I want to tell stories about characters who can teach a moral lesson to the people who see the movie about surviving terrible obstacles. It’s my responsibility to continue to do this. Hopefully at some point my movie will get made and some little girl in Pakistan will see it and it will inspire her to go to school or to get through another day.
I’m very conscious of my responsibility and my role. So, have I considered giving up? Oh my God, so many times. Every day. Now, do I know that at the end of my story it’ll be a happy ending and that I’ll get what I dream of? I don’t know. It has been a long road. And I’ve given this everything. I do this 24/7, 365. I’m up early in the morning. I go to sleep late at night. I don’t take vacations. At this point in my life, I’m still living like a struggling artist.
But my stories are deeply, deeply important to me. I often wake up and there’s a monster sitting right in front of my face saying, “What the fuck did you do?” The monster screams at me a lot. “What are you doing? You’re mucking it up for your family. You need to make money. You need to be successful in traditional terms. You’re so talented and you’re just wasting it.”
These fears and these worries and these regrets eat me alive, and part of my job is to quiet that voice and tell her to go away. But yeah, it’s real. It’s real for everybody.
ENTITY: What would you say to someone who is in that position, and considering giving up?
RF: Here’s some wisdom that I have to share. One, go through any door or window that opens for you. It may not be the door or window that you thought you wanted, but it’s not going to open that many times in life. And when it opens, go.
Two, life is an adventure. And we really should look at it that way. Be fearless. And enjoy the bumpy ride, because it’s all going to be that way.
Three, If you’re stuck, if you’re miserable, if something’s hurting you, if it’s not right — change is good.
Four, you are worth making a living. I’ve made this mistake. I’ve been willing to sacrifice income in exchange for pursuing my dream. And I think if I had to do all that over again, I would not do that. Money is important. We need health insurance, food and to educate our children. Life costs money. There are ways to be creative without sticking to the dream.
Five, figure out what is your voice. What do you have to say? Don’t be a copycat. You can copy a style that’s en vogue, an idea that’s en vogue, but you must put your own stamp on it. Be original.
ENTITY: Sometimes you just need to hear those things. The creative path is so hard.
RF: I think what you’re really asking about is the life of an artist. Are you willing to be the painter who lives in your garret, painting perhaps the world’s most beautiful art that no one will ever see until after you die?
For many people, the answer is yes. For me, obviously, the answer has been yes. But if you’re willing, if your art is so important to you, then that’s the beauty and the pleasure of it. And you can go without all those other things. I mean, hopefully, you’ll have something to eat and drink and people to love and a roof over your head.
I’m very lucky in that I have a husband and a family and no one’s going to let me starve. And also, I’ve had a career. I’ve been lucky enough to work enough to support my habit, so it’s not been all dreary. There have been many, many years where I have been on a role and made a lot of very good commercial film and television and earned great money for it, which then helped support me in the quiet years.
ENTITY: That helped you to make movies such as your current passion project about Lilly Ledbetter?
RF: As a sophisticated filmmaker who keeps their eye on the marketplace, I understand that having a film with a female protagonist is in and of itself a difficult thing to sell. So I have a movie about a woman, and I have a political movie about feminism about a woman.
So now I have two strikes against me, right? I got enough feedback from really sophisticated buyers saying, look, this movie’s beautiful. I won a lot of awards with that screenplay. But I think if you want to sell this movie, you’re going to have to come at it from a much harder, shall we say, more muscular point of view. [Which is why Feldman plans to release it as a thriller.]
ENTITY: I like that the film’s theme seems to be your theme, that one woman can make a difference.
RF: Exactly. The theme of this movie is that one person can make a difference. We go back to that, “I don’t know if I’m a feminist” issue. Do you believe in anything? Are you fighting for anything? Are you enduring anything because you are female? You’re a Lilly.
Though we clearly have a long way to go to gender equality in Hollywood, Feldman says she has noticed change. After “spouting off for years and years” about mid-career filmmakers, she has recently heard big-wigs in the industry speaking her words. And she’s thrilled to have been a part of that.
“I’m so happy to be behind the scenes. I’m delighted, because that’s what I do…” Feldman says. “I believe that my job as a gender equity activist in Hollywood is to constantly be scrutinizing what’s happening at this very moment and figuring out what’s the next thing that needs to happen in order to change things for my classification of people, which is women directors in Hollywood.”
But don’t think Feldman is stopping any time soon to celebrate. After seeing famous celebrities fighting for her cause, she says, “and now it’s my job to look at, okay, we got that one done. What’s next?”
Whatever she decides to tackle next, I have no doubt that she will do it with the fervor and tenacity with which she has everything else in her long-running career. In scary times like these, it’s certainly reassuring to know that we have a woman like Rachel Feldman fighting on our side.
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