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May 16, 2018

Reese Witherspoon is Becoming the Next Great Super-Producer

With a documentary about tennis star Martina Navratilova now in the works, Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine continues its feminist media world domination.

Within just a few years, Reese Witherspoon has established herself as one of Hollywood’s most formidable producers. And it doesn’t look like she’ll be slowing down any time soon. According to Variety, her production company, Hello Sunshine, is currently developing its first feature-length documentary centered on legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova, in partnership with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and Suzanne Gilbert.

The documentary seems unconventional in that it doesn’t just aim to be a strictly biographical recap of Navratilova’s life and achievements. Rather, the film will examine Navratilova’s legacy as both a tennis star and social justice pioneer “through Greenwald’s personal lens as a gay child growing up in Reagan-era Florida.” The feature will also consider the broader questions of “how people find role models, and what people seek when they feel isolated, judged, or cast aside by society.”

Greenwald intends to explore Navratilova’s role as a sociopolitical trailblazer in conjunction with her tennis career, citing her contributions to causes such as “feminism, women’s athletics, equality for gay and lesbians across the planet, transgender visibility, immigrant rights, and the right of political dissent.”

The choice to focus on Navratilova’s political accomplishments as well as her athletic ones seems well-aligned with Hello Sunshine’s stated goal of telling stories that can both “shine a light on where women are at right now and…help chart a new path forward.” The company additionally characterizes itself as “a media brand anchored in storytelling, creating and discovering content that celebrates women and puts them at the center of the story,” and they have enthusiastically pursued that mission ever since setting up shop in 2016.

While Witherspoon’s evolution into a hybrid superstar-producer might seem relatively recent to audiences, it’s actually the culmination of years of ambition. She founded her first production company, Type A Films, back in 2001. That one eventually merged with Bruna Papandrea’s Make Movies to create the Pacific Standard banner, which went on to produce the Oscar-nominated hits Gone Girl and Wild. This current and latest phase of the so-called “Reeseurgence” only kicked into gear a couple of years ago when Witherspoon folded Pacific Standard into Hello Sunshine.

The label already has production credits on the hit series Big Little Lies, and in the past year alone Witherspoon has acquired a dizzying number of high-profile female-driven projects. They comprise a packed slate of TV productions, including three Apple series among the tech titan’s first scripted programs: an untitled half-hour comedy starring Kristen Wiig based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s short-story collection “You Think It, I’ll Say It”; Are You Sleeping, a drama starring Octavia Spencer about a true-crime podcast; and an untitled drama that will star Witherspoon herself and Jennifer Aniston as the hosts of a fictional morning news show.

As if that all wasn’t enough, Hello Sunshine is also set to develop Little Fires Everywhere, an adaptation of Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel of the same name for Hulu, in which Witherspoon will star and co-produce alongside Kerry Washington.

Up until now, Hello Sunshine has largely focused on adapting buzzy properties by female writers, and that trend has applied to its feature film productions as well. Witherspoon has also committed as both a producer and potential star of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, based on Gail Honeyman’s debut novel of the same name about a lonely, socially awkward office worker who develops an unusual new friendship.

She’s additionally producing Something in the Water, an adaptation of a vacation thriller by first-time author Catherine Steadman. And she’ll also try her hand at producing a period piece with the historical thriller A White Lie, which is in turn based on Karin Tanabe’s novel “The Gilded Years,” about the first black woman who attended Vassar College by passing as white — Zendaya will be both its star and a co-producer.

These projects span across mediums and genres, and it’s hard to pinpoint any one narrative element that unifies them — aside from the fact that they all place a relatively diverse set of women front and center, both on and off the screen. In this, Witherspoon seems to be modeling Hello Sunshine in the same grand tradition of female-led media empires like Oprah Winfrey’s Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Shonda Rhimes’s Shondaland.

Yet the Navratilova documentary is an as-yet unprecedented acquisition. While based on a real woman’s life, the project’s creators also seem eager to blend its biographical elements with the intimacy of a coming-of-age narrative. It’s a daring step forward that suggests Hello Sunshine is aiming to satisfy audiences’ hunger for female-driven stories in all arenas — it might only be a matter of time before we see Witherspoon producing animated features or action films.

Given the relentless rate at which Witherspoon has been acquiring new projects lately, we wouldn’t be surprised if she’s angling for all-around media world domination. As she herself once said, years ago: “What? Like it’s hard?”

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