INTERVIEWS

TRAILBLAZING WOMAN: Illeana Douglas on hosting a show on TCM and women in cinema

Musings on a changing film industry

When last year I spoke with Illeana Douglas we discussed her work highlighting the accomplishments of women behind the camera. We also talked about her involvement as executive producer of the Kino Lorber five-disc collection “Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.” As I’ve discovered, Douglas is continuing her mission by hosting TCM’s annual “Trailblazing Women” series for the second year in a row. The current program, which airs on TCM every Monday night in October, focuses on female producers, screenwriters and editors. This week I had the opportunity to speak with Illeana Douglas about how it’s all coming together.

The films and co-hosts are chosen through a collaborative process which includes herself and TCM programmers including senior vice-president Charles Tabash. “Unfortunately, we can’t always fit everybody, so the challenge is to at least mention them, in some way.”

When asked if she believes the program would be helpful to current filmmakers, Douglas quickly said, “Absolutely!” She added, “fans of these films get to see great collaborations and are reminded that strong female films didn’t start with Patty Jenkins’s ‘Wonder Woman.’”

When asked about her favorite segments in the series, Douglas points to 1949’s “Adam’s Rib,” written by screenwriter/actress Ruth Gordon. The Big Sleep,” written by Leigh Brackett and “Singin’ in The Rain,” whose story was written by Betty Comden. “It’s important to get these names out there.” Douglas also mentioned the work of Virgina Van Upp, who produced the 1946 classic “Gilda.”

Would the women showcased in the TCM series be satisfied with the way Hollywood views actresses? “Probably not,” Douglas said. “Women today have to find their own properties. Actresses like Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak and Bette Davis had people protecting them. It seems today’s actresses are missing that guiding hand.”

The larger question is, has there been any kind of a linear progression toward women, since the early days of filmmaking? And if not, why not? Douglas answered, “in some ways yes,” but pointed to the perception of a woman’s ambition as part of the problem. “The idea of wanting to become mothers affects the longevity of a woman’s career.” So, what’s the answer? According to Douglas, it’s getting to the gatekeepers and hiring more female directors, producers and executives.

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Whatever happens, Douglas will continue championing women both in front and behind the camera. Her “Trailblazing Women” series is well-received, with a hugely positive response on Twitter. Next Monday night she wraps up the program with a “Women Who Produced Hollywood” theme. The evening will highlight the work of several female producers, including Julia Philips (1976’s “Taxi Driver”), Joan Harrison (“They Won’t Believe Me”; 1947) and Kathleen Kennedy, from 1985’s “Back to the Future.”

Rudy Cecera, senior writer, has written extensively about women in cinema. This is his second encounter with Illeana Douglas (see more)

  • BurbankLady

    Wonderful article. I’ve admired Illeana Douglas for a long time.