DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:
Critics say "The Assistant" is devastating, shocking and effective.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE ASSISTANT")
JULIA GARNER: (As Jane) I didn't know who to come to.
MATTHEW MACFADYEN: (As Wilcock) I guess you came to the right place.
FOLKENFLIK: It's the first movie to stare directly at the story of Harvey Weinstein, and it does so through a fictional lens.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE ASSISTANT")
GARNER: (As Jane) I was worried for this girl.
MACFADYEN: (As Wilcock) She's a woman. She's a grown woman.
GARNER: (As Jane) Sorry. Yes.
MACFADYEN: (As Wilcock) You think a grown woman can't make her own choices...
GARNER: (As Jane) I never said that.
MACFADYEN: (As Wilcock) ...Because she's a waitress?
GARNER: (As Jane) I didn't - no. I did - I didn't say that.
MACFADYEN: (As Wilcock) What, then? What, then? Listen. Honestly, what do you want from me?
FOLKENFLIK: Julia Garner plays Jane. She's a young assistant at a growing film production company in New York. We watch her as she moves through a typical day of work, printing out scripts and emails, arranging travel, cleaning up after her colleagues, most of whom are men. Most important, Jane handles the powerful and demanding film executive who runs the entire operation.
Kitty Green is the director of "The Assistant," and she joins us from our New York studio. Welcome.
KITTY GREEN: Thank you for having me.
FOLKENFLIK: So you've directed and written documentaries before. This drama seems pretty keenly observed. Were you ever an assistant in Hollywood or in the industry?
GREEN: Not really in Hollywood. I'm Australian, and I did a little bit of time at the ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, doing...
GREEN: Yeah - doing some tape-pushing, basically. I was in the post-production facility. But I have been - I have had experience being the least powerful person in - at an organization.
FOLKENFLIK: So I got to think that many people - many of us have a lot of job duties that are pretty similar to what's expected of this young assistant. But there's so much that's not OK or just doesn't feel right. You know, I think of moments where she's exchanging medical needles and vials and things, where she's ordering food for people who aren't particularly thoughtful or kind about it. Can you break that down for us where boundaries may be crossed?
GREEN: Yeah. I mean, I interviewed a lot of people who worked as assistants and - not only in the film industry, but also in tech and finance and engineering. And they all had very similar stories about duties that were just - they felt a little bit uncomfortable about doing. I started sort of scripting a narrative around these tasks - tasks that women were being sort of asked to do - and particularly with a focus on gendered labor - and so this idea that the women are often getting the coffee and getting the lunches, and the boys kind of get to sit in on meetings and get kind of quickly promoted.
FOLKENFLIK: She has to take the panicked phone calls from the boss's wife. She's essentially cleaning up after everyone, literally and figuratively. Young male colleagues are shown working on other assignments. What does that do to her?
GREEN: Well, this is what I wanted to explore. And partly why I did it as sort of a narrative feature as opposed to a documentary was I really wanted people to be able to emotionally identify with how much doing those tasks can kind of mess with your self-confidence and your self-worth. And I know as a female filmmaker on the film festival circuit, often, people kind of assume I'm the assistant and hand me coats or, you know - or ask me to get a coffee for them. And so I've dealt with that a lot, and it really rattled me. And so I was thinking, well, what is this doing to women in the film industry when we're kind of being - I don't know - disregarded or something immediately out of the gate?
FOLKENFLIK: So this film is being pretty widely hailed as the first to address Harvey Weinstein's and - his circumstances directly - the sexual crimes he's accused of, his bullying, the way he treated women from the bottom, the top of the Hollywood hierarchy as targets more than talent. What were you trying to capture that's different?
GREEN: Well, I was particularly not interested in focusing on him or this boss. I mean, he's not named. It's not supposed to be Harvey Weinstein. It is just a predatory boss. I thought firstly that bad men have had enough screen time. And secondly, I was much more interested in the machinery and the system around these predators. Like, how is this behavior allowed to kind of continue and spread?
So my frustration with the #MeToo coverage is it often talks about the bad apples and this idea that if we get rid of the bad apples, like, everything will be OK. And as a female filmmaker, I know that it's such a messier problem than that. And it really is a system that needs to be completely deconstructed and built again 'cause there is so much sort of, like, unconscious bias. There's so much going on that is preventing women from getting into positions of power. And all of that needs to be deconstructed and analyzed. And that was - so those systems what we were trying to interrogate.
FOLKENFLIK: Tell us how you - about how you designed the structure of the workplace within the movie. Can you give us one example of a facet of that that kind of reflected what you're trying to get out there?
GREEN: I mean, probably the most obvious kind of example of it is when the children of the boss arrive at the office. And immediately, the two men that are working in that same room and their assistants, too, assume that it's the woman's job to take care of the kids. So this idea that that - that becomes woman's work. This kind of idea of caregiving is assigned to the women, and the boys can continue to do the real work, you know - so those sort of markers of, like, a system that really can, you know, destroy a woman's self-confidence.
FOLKENFLIK: And I've seen that happen, by the way, at workplaces...
FOLKENFLIK: ...That, you know, I've visited over the decades - that the assumption becomes the default and that to rebel against it is to create tension and friction.
GREEN: Yeah, exactly. I arrived at the Sundance Film Festival a few years ago so excited to have a movie there. And the first question I get is, oh, who gives you your ideas? Is it James or Scott? And these are my two male producers. And the idea that I'm not even in charge of my own work or creatively in control, that people assume someone else is, you know, pulling the strings or something was just really...
FOLKENFLIK: Among what are said to be the wokest (ph) of the woke in the industry.
GREEN: Completely. This is - yeah. That's why I keep talking about the system - this idea that it is bigger than just one person or a few people. It is something that we need to kind of really kind of analyze, deconstruct, analyze and fix so that we can have more women in the film industry, more women making movies and more women centered in movies.
FOLKENFLIK: Kitty Green is the director of "The Assistant." She joined us from our New York bureau.
Thanks so much for being with us.
GREEN: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.