In all likelihood, when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler authored a now-famous post about her “very strange year” at Uber and the culture of sexism she witnessed first-hand at the company, she had no clue it would have such colossal ripple effects.
Yet, here with are, nine months later, and not only has Uber’s co-founder Travis Kalanick lost what once seemed like an iron grip on the role of CEO; not only has one of the company’s earliest investors and staunchest supporters filed suit against Kalanick, ostensibly for hiding problems at the company; not only has Kalanick seen his super-voting shares annulled; but now, according to a new report in Deadline Hollywood, Fowler’s story could made into a film that’s being pitched to studios as you read this.
For Kalanick, that has to sting.
For Fowler — who, reached for comment, pointed us to her agent — it must seem a sweetly surreal victory.
So what do we know so far about what’s cooking? According to Deadline, Fowler has “pledged her life rights” to a movie pitch that will be written by Oscar-nominated “Hidden Figures” screenwriter Allison Schroeder and produced by former Disney executive Kristin Burr in “what is being described as a potential ‘Erin Brockovich’ meets ‘The Social Network,’ ” says Deadline.
It isn’t clear how many studios the seven-year-old, L.A.-based talent agency representing her, called Verve, has approached.
Fowler’s agent has not yet responded to our further questions about the project, but certainly, it’s timely, particularly given that Hollywood is currently reeling from the fall of one of its own power brokers, film producer Harvey Weinstein, who has reportedly sexually harassed women in his orbit for decades, included the actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.
Comparing Weinstein to Kalanick is comparing apples to bananas. Kalanick was accused of enabling a culture of sexism to thrive under his leadership; Weinstein’s crimes are far more serious.
Still, it was largely thanks to Kalanick’s forced resignation — the realization that speaking up about wrongdoings can actually help correct them — that other cases of harassment have come to light in Silicon Valley. Most famously, of course, Justin Caldbeck, a co-founder of the early-stage firm Binary Capital, was forced to resign from his young firm after numerous female founders came forward to say he had made unwanted and inappropriate advances.
Sentiment has shifted enough that even limited partners — who fund venture firms — feel they can and should ask questions that, in an earlier age, were seemingly verboten. As limited partner Elizabeth Clarkson of Sapphire Ventures told attendees at a recent industry event, “I think LPs have a license now to ask questions that are uncomfortable, and I think people are more likely to answer them fully.”
Hollywood may similarly be seeing the course correction it so badly needs, thanks to those now coming forward about Weinstein.
At least one earlier report about him was apparently killed, in part because one of his victims had been paid off and refused to go on record, and in part because Weinstein showed up in the newsroom, scaring its editors.
But as in Silicon Valley, attitudes about what’s acceptable and what’s job threatening appear to be shifting — fast.
Indeed, in a new interview, Paltrow — joining Jolie, Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, among a growing number of actors in speaking up — says that “this way of treating women ends now.”
Surely, women in the tech industry can relate.
We hope to have more information about Fowler’s project — including the degree to which she’ll be involved — for you shortly.
In the meantime, it’s probably safe to assume that a separate movie is being pitched about Weinstein’s rise and fall. Guess we’ll see which one gets to theaters first.