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On the Basis of Sex

Felicity Jones says women have been 'put off' Hollywood by sexism

She was speaking ahead of the release of the film On The Basis of Sex, about US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Focus Features / YouTube

THE US SUPREME Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or RBG to her fans) is the subject of a new film about her trailblazing ways in the face of abject sexism – and the two stars of the movie say they are passionate about change being needed in Hollywood.

In the #MeToo era, post-Weinstein conversations about the film industry are focused on how to get a more diverse Hollywood, and how to ensure people can work safely on set.  For British actress Felicity Jones – who plays the Brooklyn-born Bader Ginsburg in the movie On The Basis Of Sex – there is much change yet to happen, but the film is an example of how it can be done.

“I would love to see the industry embrace a more 50/50 split in terms of the crews on film sets and television sets. That creates a much better working environment,” she told when we met her in a London hotel earlier this week. She and Hammer were there to promote On The Basis Of Sex, which focuses on Bader Ginsburg’s college and early career years. Hammer plays Ginsburg’s husband, tax attorney Martin, who was a man far ahead of his time, encouraging his wife with her career and running the household with her. 

On The Basis of Sex Screening - New York Armie Hammer and Felicity Jones arrive on the red carpet at the 'On The Basis Of Sex' UPI / PA Images UPI / PA Images / PA Images

Bader Ginsburg was instrumental in helping change sexist laws in the US, and now occupies an important role on the Supreme Court after being appointed by Bill Clinton. Notably, the movie is directed by another female outlier, Mimi Leder, who also directed Deep Impact, the Peacemaker, and episodes of ER and the Leftovers.

Leder’s feminist focus meant that equality on set was a given. “We were very lucky with On The Basis Of Sex that we did have that, and we shot in Montreal and [gender equality] was a huge priority for Mimi Leder the director, and it made for a much better working environment,” said Jones.

The film shows how Bader Ginsburg faced overt sexism throughout her time at Harvard (where she was one of nine female students) and when she tried to find a job as a lawyer. But despite this, she pushed forward and helped to literally change America.

A generational shift

Not Real News Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

What can the movie teach us in the #MeToo era? “Well, we’re starting to see the industry shift and adapt, and obviously we’re in a post-Weinstein era, and so what I think fundamentally is the working environment has to change so that it is for everyone,” says Jones, focusing on Hollywood.

“At the moment it is so difficult for people who have children, it’s a very unsociable industry to work in and we’re just starting to see the beginnings of that change. And also encouraging young women to go into directing at a younger age. And I think the more we will see a generational shift… but obviously women have been put off and I hope that with the changes post-MeToo movement, that we’ll see an industry that is more friendly to women going into it.”

This year’s Oscars have been the focus of criticism because of the fact that there are, yet again, female directors were snubbed (even though there were incredible films directed by women like Lynne Ramsay and Debra Granik). When asked if change in this area will come quick enough, Armie Hammer told

It’s funny when you say quick enough, will it ever seem quick enough for us? Probably not. But do I think that is a change that needs to happen? Yeah, definitely.

Hammer’s career took a sharp upward trajectory when he starred in Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 film Call Me By Your Name. It became an important LGBT film because of its depiction of a romance between his character, Oliver, and young student Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet. Like his current film, it showed how society’s view of topics can evolve. 

Justice Ginsburg once indicated that though culture can change, it’s a change in law that is needed to really transform things. But does Hammer think that movies can help bring about societal change? He’s not so sure. “While I am very romantic of what I think film can do, can film actually change the world, probably not… but at the same time it’s an art medium that is very easily digested. You can watch a film and it can have a massive impact or effect on one person,” he said.

So while you might not change the whole world you can change that person’s world. And film is a wonderful way for people to see another perspective, to sort of get an idea of maybe my idea and my way of thinking isn’t the only way and I think that’s a powerful part of the medium. / YouTube

For Jones, some of the frontrunners at the 2018 Oscars do demonstrate that changes are occuring. “Culturally I’ve seen the stories have shifted and obviously with Roma and The Favourite we are seeing women being front and centre of those stories,” she said.

“But still the key is to make sure the women are the storytellers. And that as we know is yet to shift.”

“It is so important that we effect change together, I think that is the key,” she continued. “And with someone like Mimi [Leder] it is because people who are in a position of being able to dictate who they employ, that they really pay attention to making sure that it is an equal landscape.”

Armie Hammer said that the MeToo era has “taught us is that the fight that Ruth Bader Ginsburg started in the 50s and 60s and 70s still has not been won”.

For Jones, it’s a matter of learning from the past in order to move forward. “I think what’s important to learn from that is that things can change, that countries have to adapt, societies have to adapt and we’re in a great period of massive change where we do expect equality between men and women,” she said.

“And we do achieve that by working together – ultimately to make the world equal for each other.”

On The Basis of Sex is released in Irish cinemas on 22 February, rated 12A.

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