Powerhouse stars attack Hollywood's gender disparity in This Changes Everything

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      A documentary by Tom Donahue. Rated PG

      The title should be in quotes.

      And it is when Geena Davis, whose hard work led to this incisive documentary, refers to "This changes everything" as that thing people say whenever women take two steps forward in Hollywood-only to be followed by three steps back.

      After building a memorable body of screen work-including groundbreakers like Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own, which are seen here in apt clips-the '90s star set up the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, dedicated to moving past the Bechdel test to compile the hard numbers on who gets what kind of work in movies and television, and how much they get paid for it. The math was shocking even to people who expected the worst, but it gave activists something tangible to work with.

      Among the many voices heard here, powerhouse actors like Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Meryl Streep speak about their own thwarted expectations, while newer arrivals, such as Tiffany Haddish, talk about inspiration taken from trailblazers before them.

      Still, it's clear from the many female directors who started out strong and then struggled to find work that little has changed. Indeed, a big chunk of the story involves the legal manoeuvres-as yet unresolved-required to get the Directors Guild of America to advocate for all its members.

      The fast-moving doc is most illuminating when it goes back to the dawn of cinema, when the fledgling art form was loaded with female directors and (especially) screenwriters.

      As usual, men swooped in when movies started making enough money for the new business to get fully systematized.

      Similar points were recently hit in CNN's fine but absurdly compressed series The Movies. And an air of familiarity hangs over this earnest look at where we've been and where we're headed as a society, at least in how it's reflected on screens large and small.

      Its effectiveness is also slightly undercut by the knowledge that Everything—like almost, well, everything—was directed and shot by men.

      This takes nothing away from Davis's efforts or from the points raised here. As she states here, social norms start with early education, with Dick and Jane readers in which Jane never gets to do much. "But we see Dick all the time!"