Reese Witherspoon Thinks Ambitious Women Can Change The Entertainment Industry — And The World

"All we can do to create change is work hard."

Reese Witherspoon is an ambitious woman. In addition to a successful and Oscar-winning acting career, she founded her own production company, Pacific Standard, in 2012 — which has gone on to produce such projects as Gone Girl and the Emmy-nominated HBO series Big Little Lies. She also has a lifestyle brand called Draper James.

"What the heck is wrong with being ambitious?" Witherspoon asks in a new essay for Glamour, inspired by a 2015 speech she delivered at the magazine's Women of the Year gala, during which she stated, "I believe ambition is not a dirty word."


In fact, she thinks it can have a powerful effect on how women are valued in the entertainment industry. Witherspoon recalls auditioning for and working on movies with few female cast members, and a crew dominated by men. "I was literally surrounded by 150 men. I remember thinking it was odd that women made up half the population but such small percentages of roles in Hollywood, on and off the screen."

However, the change she has witnessed in her own career leaves her hopeful. "Fast-forward to today, and I have never been on the job with so many women, ever." That includes her next two movies, Home Again and A Wrinkle in Timeboth of which were directed by women (Hallie Meyers-Shyer and Ava DuVernay, respectively).

Witherspoon is encouraged by the success of many female-driven ventures, including her show Big Little Lies and films such as Wonder Woman, but acknowledges that there's still a lot of work to be done in the industry as a whole.

"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,' " Witherspoon writes.

She also mentions the disproportionate pressure female filmmakers face for their projects to be successful, as well as the added obstacles for women of color. The key to making a change, she believes, is ambition — as her mother told her, "If you want something done, do it yourself."

Witherspoon is doing her part to create more roles for women, on and off the screen, through both Pacific Standard and her new multimedia company, Hello Sunshine. Her Big Little Lies co-star Nicole Kidman, meanwhile, recently shared she's making an effort to work with one female director every year.

"Today I have something like 23 projects in the works driven by great female characters of different ages and races," Witherspoon writes. "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."

"All we can do to create change is work hard," Witherspoon tells readers. "That's my advice: Just do what you do well."

She stresses finding the right environment and surrounding yourself with supportive people. "There's no point toiling away and wasting your ambition on people who don't value your strengths," she writes, adding, "Run away from a man who can't handle your ambition. Run. So many men think ambition is awesome and sexy!"

In the end, Witherspoon believes a new way of viewing and supporting ambitious women (without worry about being "likable," a word the actress says she's "allergic" to) can have an impact on more than just the entertainment industry.

"What would happen if we encouraged all women to be a little more ambitious?" Witherspoon asks to close the piece. "I think the world would change."

You can read the rest of Witherspoon's Glamour essay here.


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