Around the turn of this century, everything looked so promising for women. Twenty years after Sherry Lansing had broken the glass ceiling — well, one of many glass ceilings — when she became the first female production president at a major studio (20th Century Fox), other women were all around, their names popping up in any conversation about leadership roles.
Stacey Snider was named chairman of Universal Pictures in 1999; Amy Pascal got a parallel job at Sony Pictures in 2003, four years after she had become chairman of Columbia. Their gender, just like that of the other women who started to run networks and cable companies and production houses, didn’t seem to matter.
Then something went wrong. Rather than see a wave of women join them at the top, the movie business, at least, took a step back. Brad Grey replaced Lansing at Paramount and in turn was succeeded by Jim Gianopulos; Tom Rothman walked into Sony when Pascal walked out; and suddenly only one woman was left running a studio, Donna Langley at Universal, and even she had to report to a man, Jeff Schell.
For every leap forward, it seems, Hollywood feels compelled to take a leap back. For every giant wave that carries it toward a more egalitarian future, a monstrous undertow sucks it toward the past.
Change has taken place, for sure; but at the summit of the industry, it’s moved at a glacial pace. The moguls who make the critical decisions may like to have women working for them — but put the emphasis on for, not with.
Nowhere has that been truer than at Warner Bros. Like so many other studios, it has retained a distinct culture over the years, almost regardless of who’s in charge. It’s operated as a fortress, impregnable and often impervious to the shifts coursing through society at large.
That’s been the case ever since its earliest days, when it was founded by four warring siblings — all brothers, in case you didn’t remember — and it’s continued through the imperial reign of Steve Ross and on through the monarchical era of Bob Daly and Terry Semel. Even under the relatively enlightened leadership of Alan Horn and Barry Meyer, the studio had trouble shedding an identity that had defined it for decades: as an empire of men, with only a few select women invited to sit in the private dining room where the studio chiefs held sway, but never at the head of the table.
Now, overnight, that’s over. With the June 24 appointment of Ann Sarnoff as chair and CEO (replacing the ousted Kevin Tsujihara), this bastion of testosterone is on the point of undergoing a chemical shift.