When Freaks and Geeks originally aired for one season in 1999 and 2000, no one knew how deep the effect of those eighteen episodes would be. The show established the careers of performers like Seth Rogen, James Franco, Linda Cardellini and Jason Segel. It helped push American television away from middle-of-the-road programming.
More importantly, Freaks and Geeks launched the career of Paul Feig. He created the show, and has gone on to direct episodes of The Office, Arrested Development, and Mad Men. He has made films such as Bridesmaids and Spy. Above all else, Feig has consistently pushed the entertainment industry to change the way it hires and treats women.
The 55-year-old Feig isn’t an obvious advocate for women in Hollywood. But his projects are often driven by women. That’s the case with his latest movie, A Simple Favor, opening on September 14. The film stars Anna Kendrick as a blogger obsessed with the disappearance of her best friend, played by Blake Lively. The film is written by Jessica Sharzer based on the novel by Darcey Bell.
This reflects the way Feig has worked since he started making films. 2011 was a monumental year for comedy, thanks to the release of Bridesmaids. It wasn’t just the film’s cast that was just full of women; the script was also written by women. Feig encouraged the hilarious cast to be themselves, rather than try to live up to similar comedies that centered on a group of men.
We saw Feig use a similar approach to films like The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters. Feig has consistently emphasized the voices and roles of women in his films. His approach is a model for how studio movies could be made.
The writer/director/producer has used his power to push for change overall. Gender discrimination has been a constant problem in Hollywood, but the events of the past two years have finally made it impossible to ignore. As problems are brought to light in a way no one can ignore any longer, change is finally taking place. More women are producing, writing, and shooting films – and a more diverse group of women are getting lead roles in films.
In order for those roles to even exist, however, writers and directors, and other behind the scenes crew have to work towards change. Feig has been vocal about his life-long disdain for the ways women are often portrayed in movies, especially in comedy. As he became more of a power player in comedy, Feig decided to take matters into his own hands.
The director isn’t stopping with giving women a bigger voice in his films. This past March, he launched Powderkeg, a digital content company. The company’s primary goal is to give opportunities to women, LGBTQ creators, and filmmakers of color. Feig commented on the project in the announcement through Deadline:
“It has long been a goal of mine to create an outlet for new and little-heard voices, both in front of and behind the camera. Entertainment needs to be fully representative of our entire population, and I am thrilled to have this outlet to help empower and bring exposure to as many distinct and varied new voices as possible.”
Feig has subsequently vowed to include inclusion riders for his upcoming film and TV projects. (That’s a contractual process in which top-level talent mandates a certain level of diversity in cast and crew as a prerequisite for the shoot going forward.) His positive effect on women’s roles in Hollywood shouldn’t go unnoticed. If more people in power had similar priorities, real change would take a lot less time.
Check out Paul Feig’s latest work when A Simple Favor hits theaters September 14.