Illeana Douglas Teaches Us about Male Privilege and Sexism in the Film Industry – (and her observation is true for other places, for sure)


I know next to nothing about Illeana Douglas. And I know less than that about the actual business of filmmaking.

But I do know this. There are legends, people whose influence is just so deep and enduring. People like Martin Scorsese.

Yesterday, I was listening to Fresh Air, the top of the top-notch interview program with Terry Gross, Actress Illeana Douglas Recounts A Life ‘Lived In And Out Of The Movies.’ (read the transcript here).

Illeana Douglas and Martin Scorsese
Illeana Douglas and Martin Scorsese

Illeana Douglas was describing how critics would ask her about the influence Martin Scorsese had on her, but she noticed they never asked the Scorsese’s of the world what kind of influence people like Illeana had on them. Here’s the key excerpt from the interview:

Douglas: Well, exactly. And here’s another thing that I think is very sexist was that, you know, I was there, you know, and Roger Ebert would come and interview him and, you know, Richard Shickel or whoever was coming to interview him. And routinely, when I was getting interviewed, they’d say oh, well, what are the influences of, you know, Marty on your work? And I would tell them and nobody ever once said well, what are the influences of Illeana Douglas on your work? And to this day, you know, I just find that to be – and I’m not just speaking for myself. I’m speaking of, you know, many women – Alma Hitchcock, Polly Platt and Peter Bagdanovich. You know, the contributions that I made to his films have never been – no interviewer has ever asked about my contributions. And that’s not me being conceded. It’s just that I stand with many other women that – you know, that collaborated with filmmakers that don’t really get the proper credit.

Call this the advantage of male privilege. Just as White privilege is real, so too is male privilege. It is just assumed that the man has/had the influence over the work of the woman, not the other way around.

If we open our eyes and mind, we see that men are treated with deference and privilege in every arena. Call it institutional sexism.

It’s what Ms. Douglas described so well.

And, here’s the challenge for you and your workplace; when this kind of sexism, this kind of male privilege, rears its head, does anyone call it out? In far too many places, and times, it is simply business as usual. I think it’s probably time (way past time) to help change that…

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