J.J Abrams wants to make one thing clear: he does not feel worthy of the Athena Film Festival’s Leading Man Award.
He's wrong. Because the “Alias,” “Felicity” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” writer and director is being recognized at the event, which celebrates female leadership, for his ongoing support and advocacy of women in the entertainment industry, both with his films and his production company Bad Robot.
Abrams understands the importance of the accolade, though, especially considering the sexual assault revelations that have come out of Hollywood over the last few months.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to J.J. Abrams over the phone about the event and the award, during which time the director also divulged his plans to halt Hollywood’s marginalization of women and people of color.
Buckle in, because Abrams had an awful lot to say.
Before then, though, you should know that the eighth annual Athena Film Festival will run at Barnard College in New York City between February 22 – 25, and will showcase films and TV series from powerful and courageous women leaders in real and the fictional world.
What was your reaction to being given the Athena Film Festival’s Leading Man Award?
“Frankly I don’t feel worthy of any award. I am flattered and I am humbled and I am honored. All we are trying to do is do better.”
“And collaborate with as many talented women as possible and make sure that they are in the room where it happens and that they are part of the decision making process. And that they are leading the way and doing all of the things that typically men have been doing.”
“I don’t feel like I should be getting an award for it. I feel like we are just trying to figure it out as we go along. But this is a moment and a movement where this conversation is really important.”
“And for that reason I am proud to be part of it this way. And to be recognized by the Athena Film Festival is very generous of them.”
Have you been doing more at Bad Robot to help solve this issue?
“Very much so. To see that women and people of color have been so systematically marginalized in the process of just being considered for jobs, let alone the hiring process. Many times they wouldn’t even been on the list for potential hiring.”
“One of the things that Katie, my wife, and I did at Bad Robot is start a process where our agency was asked to only give us lists that only represent the makeup of the country so we could see people who typically would not be there. Whether that’s people or women of color.”
“And it was fascinating how that began to change the conversation. It has been very important to us at Bad Robot, and something that I don’t feel remotely deserving of an award for.”
“Because I feel that on a fundamental humanistic level it is simply fair. And also on a business level it is simply smart for business. It is a benefit everyway that you look at it.”
Just look at the success of "Black Panther."
“We want stories that are surprising. That are revelatory. That are honest and true. The best stories do not come from the haves. From the people that are cushy and comfortable. The best stories come from those that have struggled. Those that are in a fight. Those that are subjected and marginalized and had to fight back.”
“My guess is that if you think of your favorite story it is about people having to overcome something. It is about achieving something. It is about a main character becoming a better version than what they were. Those stories will come from people that understand what it is to struggle. Understand what it is to be real and in the world.”
“If you’re only looking at a list of people that have been incredibly successful for years, and are all cut from a certain cloth, and of a certain type, you are limiting what you can make. And as a producer I want to be involved in telling different stories that will reach as many different people as possible and will work as well as they could.”
“Some will work and some will not. But if you don’t take the chance. Listen, there are plenty of people that got a shot when their resume didn’t necessarily prove that they deserve it. But you take a shot with certain people. That’s something we have done at Bad Robot for a long time.”
“All I want to do is be involved in stories that are inspiring. And when you go off the beaten path you often find some sort of wonderful surprises. That’s why it is important to be looking beyond the usual suspects.”
You can also read about J.J. Abrams’ discussions with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy regarding her pursuit of female writers and directors for the “Star Wars” universe by clicking here.