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9 TO 5: Women Make Things Better

9 to 5, the 1980 film starring Lily TomlinJane Fonda, and Dolly Parton, is a great film about women in business taking charge in a male-dominated world by joining forces. The content of the film is surprisingly relevant in 2019 with its message that by working together rather than judging each other, women can make big moves and defeat men in power who are trying to keep them down.

Superstar Trio

9 to 5 is an ICONIC movie I should have seen years ago. Though this film came out in 1980, its message is still, surprisingly and depressingly, relevant today. Just to be clear, this is 39 years after its release! Tomlin is Violet Newstead, the office supervisor at Consolidated Companies and Parton is Doralee Rhodes, the secretary to misogynistic boss Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman). Franklin treats Doralee as a sex object so boldly that others in the office believe she is having an affair with her married employer.

Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda - a power group if there ever was one!

Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda - a power group if there ever was one!

Enter Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly, a woman whose husband has just left her. She’s clueless about work and learning the tricks to working in an office (including navigating the largest copier I’ve ever seen), leading to several physically comical actions. Violet, Doralee, and Judy don’t initially hit it off with each other. They have three distinct personalities – as they should considering the talent behind these characters!

Joining Forces

The trio are separately inspired by their boss to do something about his behavior: Violet is upset that he’s given a promotion to an unqualified man over her highly qualified self, Doralee is upset to learn that he was hoping to sleep with her, and Judy – though new – is upset to hear an employee with longevity was fired. The three bond over describing the ways in which they would take revenge on Franklin. An accident the following day gives them an unexpected opening to take over the office which includes hospital, kidnapping, and detective hijinks.

Violet, Judy, and Doralee lead the office to equal pay, on-site daycare, and even help an alcoholic employee through a work-sponsored rehab program in Franklin’s absence. Upon his return he attempts to lay claim to boosting office moral through these new policies. Ultimately the women win out and we see

Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead

Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead

Relevancy Today

The story of Violet, Doralee, and Judy is not unfamiliar nor uncommon today – especially when it comes to the entertainment industry. It is a shame that in 2019 women and minorities are still incredibly underrepresented in this industry, numerous films still fail the Bechdel Test, and teams frequently led by male producers use the “If there were women interested in these roles we would hire them” excuse as though there aren’t qualified female directors, producers, or cinematographers (as well as the rest of crew!) vying for work in this industry.

Women in the film and television industry have job boards and community organizations like Women Make Movies, Women in Media, New York Women in Film & Television, to name a few. These are organizations built for women, by women to promote female-centric projects and productions while posting job opportunities in an effort to provide more opportunities to women in the industry. In a perfect world, these organizations wouldn’t need to exist because employment opportunities would equally vet applicants based on experience. There are numerous examples of men being given big opportunities though technically unqualified (see: Drew Pearce as director for Hotel Artemis with prior experience being a 14-minute short and a handful of Funny or Die videos, see also: Robert Stromberg who had extensive VFX but no directing experience prior to Maleficent) and few given to women who are qualified.

Aside from the sexism women face in the entertainment industry regarding obtaining employment, hired women in-front-of and behind-the-camera are often faced with inappropriate behavior including disrespectful comments, persistent come-ons, and the even more atrocious – sexual assault. There are plenty of Franklin Harts around today and while they are slowly being weeded out – often after detailed reports come out – they still take up places where the power they yield can cause harm.

Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly

Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly

9 To 5: Conclusion

Perhaps, rather than being surprised and depressed by its relevance, I should be more surprised that 9 to 5 was even made and released in 1980 considering its subject matter. It’s not likely that a film (that spawned a five-season television show!) with such high-profile talent and visibility would have discussed women in the workplace with such humor and accuracy without Jane Fonda or her production company at the time, IPC Films. The idea came to Fonda after hearing stories by female office workers who were members of a female-centric union for women in the office. The story was initially conceptualized as a drama, however Fonda found that it was coming off “too preachy” and, as a comedy, the film found firm footing.

9 to 5 has laughs from beginning to end, a catchy theme song, clever editing techniques, and inspirational characters who prove that we’re better united than divided. If you haven’t already seen 9 to 5 (as I wish I had!) you’re missing out and I highly recommend giving this female-centric comedy a shot and revel in the inspiration of women taking control of their destinies!

This article originally appeared on Film Inquiry.