Wise Leadership Interview Series: Director Tonie Marshall is “Number One”

In each of these series of interviews, we spend 7 minutes (give or take!) talking with vital voices on leadership. Some of these esteemed voices are involved in media and film, some in business, others in education. With a focus on mindful, wise leadership and effecting positive change, what comes up in the span of 7 minutes is anything-but-conventional. In this interview series, we aim to take a fresh, open look at how people are reflecting stories of leadership in the Anthropocene Zeitgeist.

In October 2017, we sat down with director Tonie Marshall at Arthouse Le Paris in Zürich, at the screening of her film Numéro Une (Number One) at this year’s Zurich Film Festival.

“Tonie Marshall explores misogyny in the upper echelons of the CAC 40” — Luc Chessel, “Liberation”

Caitlin E. Krause (CK): Tell me a bit about your origins. Where do you consider home?

Tonie Marshall (TM): I’m from Paris; I’ve been a dancer, an actress, an editor; I’ve worked in many places in the movie business. I’m the daughter of a French famous actress. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, stories with very interesting characters. Characters that I would like to meet in real life, ones that I couldn’t see on movie screens. That drove me to write my own stories, and become a director, which I did in 1989; I was about almost 40 years old. So, I was not a “young one” in the business.

CK: Is that what makes you “come alive” — storytelling? What about it is most attractive, and what do you feel you gravitate toward, fueling your own energy?

TM: I like to create characters. I like to invent stories, I like to search in different places… Venus Beauty Institute was about women in a beauty parlor, and it’s because there was a nice beauty parlor just on the side of my home, and I came inside and I heard so many beautiful stories, just there, and I said, well, it’s the world, right there. It brings imagination, and I want to tell a story, and I wrote Venus Beauty. And that’s how I process.

Marshall’s 1999 film Venus Beauty Institute (Vénus beauté (institut)) won the 2000 César Award for Best Film and Marshall won the César Award for Best Director and for Best Writing — Original or Adaptation.

CK: That makes sense, because in this film (Numéro Une), there are so many beautiful characters. Emmanuelle is an amazing “tiger character” — yes — but also very vulnerable. She’s a leader. What do you consider to be defining about “wise leadership”?

TM: To get to those decision-making positions is a struggle. For the struggle, I suppose, for the moment, there is one, two, three women (in leadership positions), you know? So it is very, very hard. You have to put your feet in the man’s feet, in their step, mettre ses pas dans les pas des hommes. But, if there were 45–50% women in the high decision positions in small, medium and big enterprises, then it would be completely different. And that’s why it’s important now to tell to the young girls, at school or in university, that they have to force themselves to come to those positions because there are not many right now.

Marshall, photographed on-set of Number One, with lead character Emmanuelle Devos, has said, ”The power is occupied by 50-year-old white males.”

CK: Yes. They might have to expect it of themselves, in ways. To expect these positions; to demand them. Do you think it means, for women leaders, putting on armor to protect themselves and anticipate a battle? Or, is there a way that women can lead in a way that is more natural and open?

TM: Yes, I am sure, and I think, that it can be done differently. And, I didn’t want to show a woman that feels like a killer. She’s not a killer. She’s powerful, she’s competent, she knows exactly what she wants to do, and she’s going to win, because we can win without being a killer.

CK: This film shows difficult “must-win battles”, and truths underneath. It doesn’t sugar-coat or paint the expected picture of women in business. It shows every part of what happens as a woman aims to rise in power (in business). Did you feel the film needed to address a pain point in society? Did you look and say, “Something’s off here? I want to make a film about it.”?

TM: I think it’s the right time for showing a film like this, meaning that if it’s in the field of the CAC 40, which is the top of the top of the enterprise in France. But, it’s exactly the same in the small enterprise. It’s exactly the same.

Recently, Tonie Marshall spoke out about the Harvey Weinstein scandal (photo © AFP) http://plus.lesoir.be/120355/article/2017–10–20/tonie-marshall-reagit-laffaire-weinstein-la-femme-est-toujours-ramenee-un-corps

CK: Is it getting better?

TM: (Long pause; sigh.) Not really. Not really… In the 70’s and the early 80’s, it was much easier for women, in a way.

CK: Do you think through films like this, it’s pointing out the issues, so that people are more aware?

TM: I hope. I do hope. I did it for that.

CK: Is leadership learned or earned?

TM: I think learned more.

CK: Can wise leaders be full humans, all emotions showing?

TM: That should be possible in a way. If I understand your question, if you are asking if, for a leader, it is possible to show your emotion, it should be like that, yes, because this is the sign that you can be empathic.

CK: What should a wise leader’s stress release be?

TM: To deal with stress, I think you have to learn how to resist, calmement — tranquille — if you resist, you’re going to win.

CK: Is there anyone who is your hero?

TM: Many, many women and men are my heroes. Because I’m not against men. I want really a (pause)… voilà: Half and Half.

Many thanks to Tonie Marshall for our conversation; for inspiring leaders worldwide to rethink leadership.

About the Author: Caitlin E. Krause works in interdisciplinary arenas linking technology, learning, leadership, writing and immersive storytelling. Caitlin founded the company MindWise® in 2016; her upcoming book Mindful by Design (Corwin Press, 2018) addresses mindfulness, neuroscience, creativity and innovative learning. Caitlin is a co-founder of The Center of Wise Leadership in Switzerland. She and fellow CoWLs core members are currently conducting a series of interviews with global leaders about their approaches to positive change and social impact.