“You know, a lot of people believe women who go to work do it out of some trip; the want to be liberated. I think it’s important to recognize that women work because they have to.”
During the 1970s, women were fighting for equality within the workplace. They were making 60 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. There was no maternity leave offered, and women were denied management positions, though more than qualified. A group called the 9to5 National Association of Working Women was founded in 1973–shining a light on the negligence that women suffered every day at work. Jane Fonda, along with her producing partner Bruce Gilbert, had two previous projects (Coming Home and The China Syndrome) that focused on important social issues that so many had swept under the rug. But how would these two producers find a way for the masses to watch a film about the inequality in the workplace?
Still Working 9 to 5 examines the ins and outs of making the comedy classic: 9 to 5. With its massively talented cast, 9 to 5 was able to become the #1 film in 1980. However, getting there was a bit of a bumpy road. Fonda knew who she wanted for the roles from the projects inception and each of the ladies were basically signed on just by Fonda’s enthusiastic idea. Dolly Parton was new to acting. Her only request for Fonda was that she would be able to write the theme song. Lily Tomlin was tougher to get, although she said yes initially. Once the script hit her hands, Tomlin was not happy with the jokes and turned down the role, but was persuaded by her partner to take the part in a “how could you turn it down” moment. With a huge overhaul of the script, basically scrapping a lot of the darker themes of the initial piece, and the creative mind of director Colin Higgins behind the camera, 9 to 5 began to take shape, becoming the film that we would all remember today.
Directors Camille Hardman and Gary Lane gently weave our way through this documentary with both a historical and filmmaking lens—juxtaposing real life events with an entertaining movie. It’s interesting seeing each one of these people associated with the film talking about how much it means to them. A moment I find particularly noteworthy is sound editor Nicholas Eliopoulos’ recollection of Parton playing him her nearly completed theme song, which is played during the opening credits, and again later in a rendition with singer, Kelly Clarkson. Though the documentary begins to lose steam, a bit over-glorifying itself at some points, or becoming a bit repetitive after the first 45 minutes, there’s still a lot to appreciate.
Since it was first released, 9 to 5 went on to create a spin-off television series and a Broadway Musical with music and lyrics by Parton. And though we wish a film like this would have been the last of its kind—creating a peaceful work environment in its aftermath—we have yet to experience that reasonable place. Whether it’s sexual assault we wrestle with, now we have the MeToo movement tackling ongoing allegations. But even the workplace is changing in what we are currently calling “The Great Resignation”—people tired of working in places where they are so easily dispensable, and work for incredibly low wages. Still Working 9 to 5 shows us that, as prominent as it was 40 years ago, there’s still so much more that has to be done.
Still Working 9 to 5
Directed by: Camille Hardman and Gary Lane
Starring: Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Allison Janney, Rita Moreno, and Dabney Coleman