Entrepreneurs

Here's what makes Reese Witherspoon angry about Hollywood—and how she's solving the problem

Actress Reese Witherspoon
Jason LaVeris | Getty Images
Actress Reese Witherspoon

"My mother always said to me, 'If you want something done, do it yourself,'" says Reese Witherspoon.

For the actress, that means becoming a producer and an entrepreneur to help fix a big problem she sees in Hollywood: When it comes to women, "The film and TV business still needs to make meaningful change," Witherspoon writes in an essay for Glamour.

"Some people are realizing that projects with female leads are big-time moneymaking commodities, but I've also had studio heads say to me, 'We don't want to make biopics about women,' or more simply, 'We're not interested in female-driven material,'" she says.

In June, "Wonder Woman," which both starred and was directed by women, brought in a record-setting $100.5 million its opening weekend at the U.S. box office. But overall, research shows a lack of focus. A 2016 study by the University of Southern California found that "female characters fill only 28.7% of all speaking roles in film."

So the star has founded two companies to help even the balance: Pacific Standard, a production company, and Hello Sunshine, a multimedia company.

"I started a production company five years ago to create more roles for women onscreen and behind the scenes," Witherspoon says. "Today I have something like 23 projects in the works driven by great female characters of different ages and races. There is a film about an astronaut, a film about the entrepreneur who invented Barbie, and a film about the young, brave American girls who were the first women to serve alongside Special Ops in 2010 in Afghanistan."

Pacific Standard has seen success adapting the books "Gone Girl" and "Wild" into hit movies, which together brought in $422 million, according to Forbes. Hello Sunshine launched in 2016, and is focused on women consuming digital content.

"We're thinking about reaching women where they live, on their laptops or on their mobile phones," she explains to Forbes.

But, neither venture came without hard work.

"I self-funded my production company for years," Witherspoon says in Glamour. "Nobody hands me anything. I'll wake up earlier; I'll stay up later. I will put my money where my mouth is. I have to read faster, and I respond quicker than other producers. I have to call and call and call executives until they say yes to my projects."

Outside of media, Witherspoon is also the founder of a clothing and lifestyle brand, Draper James, which received a $10 million investment round in 2015 led by Forerunner Ventures, founded by a woman, Kirsten Green, and known for its investments in retail players like Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, Glossier and Warby Parker.

In any industry, Witherspoon emphasizes drive and ambition for women.

"All we can do to create change is work hard," Witherspoon says in Glamour. "That's my advice: Just do what you do well. If you're a producer, you've got to produce. If you're a writer, you've got to write. If you're in corporate America, keep working hard to bust through the glass ceiling."

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