The Woman King Producer Cathy Schulman Discusses Warrior Woman Film

From creating the PCA stamp with producer Kathleen Kennedy to heading Women in Film as president for years, executive producer Cathy Schulman has been a trailblazer in Hollywood for decades. She has sought to bring margaonilzed voices to life, having been attached to projects such as Crash, Bad Moms, and The First Lady. Schulman’s most recent film is Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, which she discussed in an interview with Variety.

“After having developed this project for three years, it was time to identify a director. Both Viola and I are enormous fans of Gina’s work, specifically, Love and Basketball. She was in the process of editing The Old Guard and I asked her manager at the time if she would be able to get us in to see Gina at work. And we saw it, and it was fabulous. Her handling of the action made her the perfect candidate.”

When Prince-Bythewood came in, it quickly became apparent that she had a very personal connection to the trauma of Davis’ character, Nanisca. The director cried in the room when talking about how important a story like that was to tell. And tell it they did. In return, The Woman King became a tremendous success at the box office. When asked why, Schulman thought it was a combination of many things.

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“As a producer, what made this a different kind of situation was that pitching why a movie would stand out and be different became a positive. In the past, I always have caught up with a little of this and a little bit of that and remembered this worked and that worked.”

Beyond an enormously starved audience of black women who haven’t seen their stories and face in content, audiences are also exhausted by exaggerated action. The type that you see happen a lot in comic book movies. According to Schulman, audiences have become so immersed in fantastical action that grounded action suddenly feels new again.

“We’ve also been able to educate buyers, more over the last number of years, through all the advocacy happening. With Women in Film and ReFrame, organizations that I’ve been involved with, and gender-based activism, we’ve been able to prove the strength of the female marketplace, because it’s real. Over 70% of content is bought by women and girls and frankly, diverse women and girls. So, why not make a movie for the majority instead of the minority?”

Behind the Scenes

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While working on The Old Guard, Prince-Bythewood brought in an 85% female crew. According to Schulman, nothing is more important to her than directors embracing the pattern. Women in Film’s goal has primarily been to include women of different screen industry jobs by getting them introduced and supported.

“What was really clear to me in running that organization and being so involved as an activist was the fact that we were stopping short. We didn’t even have the bandwidth, and now, we’ve got these women immersed in the pipeline, how do we actually get them hired? That’s a different concept.”

How do you influence studios, networks, and streamers to hire women? According to Schulman, that requires leveraging and involving many people with influence. Ambassadors who are experts in different career fields, putting pressure on financiers to make inclusion conscience decisions. ReFrame also focuses on marketplace research, so if there’s a marketplace to buy the product, then the financier will make it right.

“So, how do you then create content that feels essentially female? Well, you have to change the decision-making table to be inclusive of women. So, at the same time, we were trying to instruct and enable the studios, the networks, and the streamers to understand that they have to have decision-makers who are 50% male and 50% women, and diverse.”

According to Schulman, you have to do that same thing on movie sets to ensure you’ve got an environment where all expressions are included. So is that what’s happening? Well, in terms of seeing a change, Schulman thinks that we’re doing better in television and streamers than in feature films and major motion picture studios.

“I think we’re doing better with diversity than we are with inclusion. We are getting better at making sure that people have different races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations are being hired. We’re still not necessarily hearing what they have to say and we’re not at a place where they’re being paid at parity levels, with white males. So, we are making progress, there’s no question about it.”