American film producer Franklin Leonard on Tuesday said more women are needed in powerful positions to fight “a deeply sexist film industry and culture”, which perpetuates the myth that female-led movies don’t work at the box office.
Leonard, who is best known for founding The Black List, a yearly list featuring Hollywood’s most popular unproduced screenplays, was talking at a masterclass held here on day five of the 21st Jio MAMI Mumbai Film festival with actor Kalki Koechlin.
Talking about why there is a lack of women protagonist, especially narratives featuring older women, the filmmaker said contrary to what male executive would want everyone to believe, such films are more profitable.
“Movies about women and with women with older roles are more profitable and that is the irony. It is sexism, misogyny and patriarchal society that is driving a lot of that reality. I don’t think we can rely on men to make that change. I think it is all about more women at position of power of what gets made and what doesn’t,” he said during the discussion.
“I can’t speak in the Indian context as I don’t know about it. In the US, there are not enough women in the room that decides what gets made and the consequences are a deeply sexist film industry and deeply sexist film culture that perpetuates a lot of assumptions about female dynamics that have resulted in reality that we faced right now, with vis-a-vis #MeToo movement.”
Leonard said the aim should be to find more people, especially women to collaborate and make female-driven stories.
“It is all about finding women who can collaborate and support each other and find those who are willing to support. Female-driven films are more profitable and there are studies on it.
“A film with a female perspective should be made and seen more and the financiers will get the message quickly. We want to empower the people who are telling the story about their community. So we do screenwriters lab three times in LA, we want to make sure women are telling women’s stories, not that men can’t do it,” he added.
Asked whether Hollywood was finally opening up to Asian or Indian actors, Leonard said Slumdog Millionaire and Crazy Rich Asians are two of the biggest successes to feature predominantly Asian cast.
“America is ready for a big Indian film and the success of Crazy Rich Asians’ is an example of it. There are a lot of people who said it was not possible before it came out. I know there is an appetite for it as there is a huge Asian diaspora in the US.”
The question, Leonard said, is who is going to make it and where do you make that international Indian film.
“There is an opportunity to make a film here that is amazing and have it go worldwide and be super successful, it is about what is that film and who is going to make it. Where is Indian Star Wars? …everyone will be down.
“Like, Black Panther, for years people were like no one outside US wants to see black people on screen and it is lousy. Even if people are racist, if the movie looks good it is good. And the success of Slumdog Millionaire shows that there is an appetite for it. It is about making a good film and marketing it well.”
Leonard, who is on the jury for India Gold section, said he is in Mumbai to familiarise himself with India and films.