Sundance panel featuring Octavia Spencer, Jenna Elfman and Kyra Sedgwick discusses Women Breaking Boundaries |

Sundance panel featuring Octavia Spencer, Jenna Elfman and Kyra Sedgwick discusses Women Breaking Boundaries

Jenna Elfman, third from right, speaks during the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's "Women Breaking Barriers: Where Are We Now?" panel discussion Saturday afternoon, January 26, 2019. The panel took a look back at 2018 and discussed the progress and new challenges that have arisen for women in the entertainment industry over the last year. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Kyra Sedgwick summed up her thoughts during the “Women Breaking Barriers: Where Are We Now” panel at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday, when she said, “If you’re a women in power in Hollywood right now and you’re not reaching down to pull up another woman, you’re (messing) up.”

The award-winning actor and filmmaker went on to say women work harder in the film industry because it’s part of a patriarchal system.

“I’d rather hire someone in props who’s a little green, because I know, as a women, she’ll work her ass off,” Sedgwick said. “(And) heads of departments who are women who have done this for a long time need to bring people up.”

Sedgwick, along with fellow industry professionals Octavia Spencer, Jenna Elfman and Cassian Elwes, comprised the panel that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association held at Sundance TV’s HQ on Saturday.

Elwes, a producer and agent, was the only male presence on the panel. He agreed with Sedgwick and said the reason why women have to work harder is because Hollywood is still in the “dark ages” of gender relations, relating a recent experience he had negotiating a project’s salaries.

“I was in the middle of a negotiation in the last two days where the lawyer for the male star was saying he should get paid more than the female star,” he said. “I was like, ‘Absolutely not, she’s been in Hollywood for just as long … what do you got to say for that?’

“I said, ‘I’m just going to say two words for that — time’s up.”

Still, Elwes said, the demand for women in creative roles has increased over the past couple of years.

“Big change is happening, especially in the past year with the #MeToo and #TimesUp (movements),” he said. “At least those have put the issue on the table, and the men in the business are starting to see it. I think men are on this steep learning curve, (and) Hollywood is just starting to get the feeling that there should be gender equality.”

Spencer said that women need to have allies and advocates if gender quality is to be achieved in entertainment.

“(It’s) because we are going to be on that set the same amount of days as our male co-stars,” she said.

Spencer, an Oscar recipient as an actor, then revealed how LeBron James stepped up to help her when she was negotiating her contract for the upcoming Netflix series, “Madame C.J. Walker,” which is about the first self-made African American female millionaire and philanthropist.

James, an NBA superstar and a producer of the series, stuck behind Spencer so she could earn as much as her male counterparts, according to Spencer.

But the actor’s call to action doesn’t stop with gender equality – it’s intersectional.

“My goal is to make sure all women of color get equal pay, and all women get equal pay,” she said.

The only way to do that is for the women to talk numbers with their co-stars, Spencer said.

She then retold a story she had related at a similar panel during last year’s festival.

Spencer, who is black, successfully fought to get pay equal to her white co-star, Jessica Chastain, while filming “The Help” in 2011.

“The only way to do it is to have these conversations, to talk numbers with your co-stars,” Spencer said. “Jessica and I stood together, and that was interesting that she would take that position — well, I mean, she is Jessica Chastain.”

Elfman, known for her role as a free-spirited yoga instructor in the sitcom “Dharma and Greg,” offered another bit of advice.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you,” she said. “When I started acting, I just studied acting. I didn’t study comedy. I never knew I could do comedy.”

That changed with “Dharma and Greg.”

“All of a sudden I was the comedy girl,” Elfman said. “(But) after all that time, I wanted to turn the ship. I was ready to do drama after all my experiences as a woman. I was dying for that, but people still pushed me on the comedy thing.”

Her dream came true when she was cast as a tough former ICU nurse named June in “Fear the Walking Dead.”

“I’m 47 and having the time of my life,” Elfman said.

She gave the actors in the audience another bit of advice, which was to read everything from every producer they like, and learn from others in the business.

“Women, when you know you’re good at something, you can hold your position gracefully,” she said “You have worth and value and you know because you’re good.”

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