Reese Witherspoon is done being underestimated.
In an impassioned speech at Glamour's annual Women of the Year event Monday, Witherspoon accepted an award "for her work creating stronger roles for women in film." While most know the actress for her performances as Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods or Walk the Line’s June Carter (the latter of which earned her an Oscar), Witherspoon has been making moves of her own as co-founder of Pacific Standard Films, a production company devoted to finding and producing better roles for women.
Many of Pacific Standard Film's projects are adaptations of books Witherspoon and her partner Bruna Papandrea find compelling — which explains how they optioned their first two books before any other filmmakers realized they should. Gone Girl and Wild both garnered box office success, award nominations, and, maybe most importantly, industry respect.
"[Pacific Standard Films has] over 25 films in development and three television shows," Witherspoon said at the event, "and they all have female leads of different ages and different races and different jobs. Some are astronauts, some are soldiers, some are scientists; one is even a Supreme Court justice. They’re not just good or bad; they’re bold and hunted and dangerous and triumphant, like the real women we meet every single day of our lives."
Here are three more highlights from Witherspoon's speech (emphasis mine).
On Amy Schumer and industry sexism in casting:
"I hope Amy Schumer and all the other nominees that when you consider making your biopic, you’ll give me the rights first, which would be great. Although, Amy, I’ll have to play your grandmother in the movie (by Hollywood standards), and you’ll probably have to play your own mother."
On the one line she hates seeing most in scripts:
"I dread reading scripts that have no women involved in their creation because inevitably I get to that part where the girl turns to the guy, and she says, "What do we do now?!" Do you know any woman in any crisis situation who has absolutely no idea what to do? I mean, don’t they tell people in crisis, even children, "If you're in trouble, talk to a woman." It’s ridiculous that a woman wouldn’t know what to do.
On how the entertainment industry isn't motivated to be less sexist — and how Witherspoon decided to start her own production company:
"At the end of [a] meeting, I sort of casually brought up, "So, how many movies are in development with a female lead?" And by lead, I don’t mean wife of the lead or the girlfriend of the lead. The lead, the hero of the story. I was met with nothing, blank stares, excessive blinking, uncomfortable shifting. No one wanted to answer the question because the fact was the studios weren’t developing anything starring a woman. The only studio that was was turning a man’s role into a woman’s role. And the studio heads didn’t apologize. They don’t have to apologize. They are interested in profits—and after all, they run subsidiary companies of giant corporations.
...after going to these studios and telling people about how there’s barely any female leads in films and the industry’s in crisis, people were aghast. "That’s horrible," they said. And then they changed the subject and moved on with their dinner and moved on with their lives. But I could not change the subject. I couldn’t turn to some man and say, "What do we do now?" This is my life. I’ve made movies all my life, for 25 years, since I was 14 years old. It was time to turn to myself and say, "Okay, Reese, what are we going to do now?"
And so Witherspoon, who has been "wondering lately why female ambition is a trait that people are so afraid of," is blazing forward at full speed. Hopefully, Pacific Standard Films will keep finding and developing roles for women like the "passionate and strong and flawed" ones Witherspoon herself has played — "except," she added, her star-turning role as Election's fiercely ambitious high school presidential candidate Tracy Flick. "She’s 100 percent perfect," Witherspoon grinned, "but she made me say that."