Telling Lilly Ledbetter’s Story to the World

Posted on March 23rd, 2021 by Cathy Evans

As a female Hollywood filmmaker, Rachel Feldman faced many of the same issues trying to direct movies as Lilly Ledbetter did as a female night supervisor in an Alabama tire factory. Both were excluded and outed in their industry; both were underpaid, yet both persevered. Lilly Ledbetter sued the company that paid her 40% less than the young men they’d hired the month before and took it all the way to Congress, where both houses passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and President Obama signed it into law. Now Rachel has written a screen play, titled LILLY, telling Lilly’s story and plans to begin production in the fall.

Just as Lilly triumphed in her struggle, Rachel’s grit and determination has earned her over 70 credits in TV series, beginning with “Doogie Hawser, MD” and including the pilot and first season of “The Baxters,” and several episodes of “Blue Bloods,” “Criminal Minds” and “The Rookie,” and writing and directing several movies for Lifetime.

Women Are Finally Making Progress in Hollywood

Rachel says that this year’s Academy Award Nominations are history-making. Two women were nominated in the Best Director category and one of those was a woman of color. Rachel says, “In 92 years, there have only been five or six women nominated, two or three that have won.” When she came up in the industry there were only a handful, three to five women working in the industry. She said it was so rare, and bias was such a way of life that everybody bought into it. When Harvey Weinstein was arrested three years ago, the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns began. Rachel was involved in a lawsuit – as part of the leadership of the Directors Guild of America – investigating hiring practices in Hollywood.  She says there was a confluence of events and everything came together in a “gender quake,” a term she attributes to Melissa Silverstein of Women in Hollywood. Rachel says, “Things really changed very quickly in the last couple of years.”

LILLY—The Movie and the Impact Campaign

LILLY” is based on the Lilly Ledbetter’s memoir, Grace and Grit, written by Lilly and Lanier Isom. Rachel calls it a political thriller in the tradition of other movies about heroic women fighting for social justice, like “Silkwood” and “Erin Brockovich.” Rachel was attracted to Lilly’s journey because it has all the hallmarks of a great story. She had an epiphany when she heard Lilly speak about fair pay at the Democratic Convention that nominated President Obama. She says, “I heard her voice and I saw her face and I heard her ferocity and I thought I’ve got to know what this woman’s story is.” Discovering how Lilly worked for 20 years in an abusive workplace where she was not only underpaid, but where the men filled her car with tobacco juice, punctured her tires and demeaned her in a thousand ways, Rachel was driven to tell Lilly’s story to the world. Rachel says, “I believe that a great story and a powerful film that has heartbreak and euphoria and makes you sit on the edge of your seat and makes you want to eat popcorn and is entertaining while it influences you is the most powerful form of persuasion that we have.”

Now that Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner, Patricia Clarkson has signed to play Lilly, Rachel is very excited. Patricia Clarkson is the daughter of a New Orleans councilwoman, so has the political will to speak up for women. And “LILLY” will be a very strong voice. Several organizations, including Women Connect4Good, Take the Lead, The Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media, The National Women’s Law Center, The Female Quotient and many others have come on board to help support “LILLY.” After the film comes out, they will also begin an impact campaign to continue the message of fair pay and equity for women in the workplace that Lilly Ledbetter’s story of personal and psychological sacrifice drives home.

People are donating to the film with non-profit (social-profit) contributions through The Film Collaborative. Rachel says that they are talking to investors also. You can find out about all of this on their website, LillyMovie.com.

Listen to this conversation to hear more of Rachel’s story—her career as a child actress, post college non-events, being part of Take the Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World in Media & Entertainment cohort and her views on mentorship and collaboration. Check out Rachel’s website, rachelfeldman.com for more about Rachel’s directing career, her activism and personal views on “LILLY.” For everything about “LILLY,” and how you can get involved, be sure to read all about the history and the people at LillyMovie.com.

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