Women Vs Hollywood (2021) – Helen O’Hara

Title:Women Vs Hollywood: The Fall and Rise of Women in Film
Author:Helen O’Hara
Publisher/s:Robinson/Jonathan Ball Publishers
Date of Publication:2021
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Helen O’Hara is a journalist and film critic who knows what she’s writing about. She may be opinionated and snarky, but aren’t all journalists and critics? And that’s the point, isn’t it? If Helen O’Hara was a man perhaps I might not be using certain words to describe her style. That being said O’Hara’s banter takes some getting used to, but her clear film knowledge will make up for it.

Women Vs Hollywood is not simply a film book for feminists. It is a notable book on film history, and yes feminist issues are alluded to – but this is not just about women working in Hollywood. This is about the fact that the place where all the movies come from is a place that has been sitting on a default setting for far too long now. This default includes old white males, and there is very little inclusion in this narrative. In this book of essays and think pieces, O’Hara breaks down just how Hollywood began, and just how far it still has to go, with an emphasis on everyone who has ever been excluded.

O’Hara includes a brief history of film with mentions of women who worked prominently in the industry as writers, directors, actors, critics, and crew members, and whose names disappeared from the history books. The book includes interviews with women who have worked in the industry, the shocking statistics evident that reveal just how broad the pay gap is, and how little Hollywood considers women, people-of-color (POC), the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities.

Women Vs Hollywood is a timeline of Hollywood’s naughty list. From the studio systems, the Hayes Code, censorship, Fatty Arbuckle’s scandal, the infamous casting couch, and the invention of the ‘male gaze’, this is a veritable treasure trove of trivia and sometimes downright shocking information about the film industry.

‘’It shows…that behind every great man is a woman hardly anyone has ever heard of.”

As much as this book is about the past, it also flashes forward to a new age of Hollywood – an age where the #metoo movement is in full swing, where the TimesUp movement traveled from Hollywood and infiltrated all industries and an age where people like Harvey Weinstein, the monstrous producer, is sitting behind bars because women have started to speak up. In many ways O’Hara’s book shows us just how impossible both action and inaction can feel sometimes, and to no fault of our own. This is not a book filled with judgement directed at the women who kept silent for decades, but it IS a judgement on those men who had the power to change the narrative for countless women who stepped aside (read: pushed aside) in order for straight white men to take credit.

This is also a book that begs Hollywood to do better, and not in the Woke generation sense. O’Hara has been writing for Empire magazine, and she knows her stuff. This is not about cancelling anyone – this is about acknowledging Hollywood’s honest to goodness bullshit. This is about how the capitalization of film and the industry it stands upon left women out in the cold, and it is not about perspective, or opinion – it is fact.

Even the most knowledgeable of film buffs will gasp and fume at the injustices that have been going on for far too long, and with delight readers will be tempted to catch up on some much-needed film viewing. O’Hara drops names and film titles like a boss, and you will not be alone in seeking out Jane Russell in The Outlaw, realizing exactly why it is we are expected to enjoy everything Martin Scorsese makes, and wonder what in the hell happened to the actresses Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino.

O’Hara’s oftentimes informal tone will make this even more compulsively readable, and every chapter holds new revelations and a fresh perspective on the history of an industry that began as early as 1895. This book deserves pride of place on the shelf with all of your film history books- but makes sure to put it in the front where EVERYONE can see it.

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