Everything Right and Wrong with the Devil Wears Prada
The role of an assistant has been portrayed time and time again in pop culture. Recently, we see the role being depicted in Suits, Secretary, Mad Men, Veep, and our personal favorite, The Devil Wears Prada, and many more. In many films and dramas, assistants have been portrayed as pretty little helpers that answer phones and grab the office coffee. Hollywood writers do no favors in prolonging these misconceptions. For several decades, the role of assistants or “secretaries” on screen didn’t alter much.
All of this changed with the release of The Devil Wears Prada in 2006. The film was a blockbuster success with millions of women and men rushing to the box office for a glimpse. Huge stars such as Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and the lovely Emily Blunt captivated audiences across the world. Unfortunately, anyone looking for a realistic depiction of a career as an EA was left high and dry.
What was fact and fiction about the film? We dive into the differences between Hollywood and reality.
False: High-level Un-in-depth Interview
At the start of the film, the protagonist Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is a young graduate looking for her first job in the Big Apple. Andrea decides to interview for an assistant position to the editor of Runway magazine after struggling to find work in her major, Journalism. After the shortest interview known to man, Miranda (Meryl Streep) expresses her interest in the gritty newcomer and decides to offer her the job. Not only does this scene imply that assistants are not worthy of a proper interview, but it suggests their position is primarily occupied by individuals who failed to find work in their field.
True: First and Second Assistants
Andrea quickly realizes her new job isn’t anything to take lightly. Her status at the company hangs by a thread. Due to the support structure at Runway, Andrea isn’t Miranda’s only assistant. She fundamentally does all the “dirty” work for Miranda’s first assistant, Emily. While Emily is as strained as Andrea, her concentration is on the attending the glamorous Fashion Week in Paris at the end of the year. In many celebrity positions, and some executive and personal positions, there will be a hierarchy of multiple assistants, such as depicted in the film.
True and False: In a Relationship with Your Job
As time rolls on, Andrea’s career continues to interrupt her relationships with family, friends, and her longtime boyfriend. At one point, Andrea and her boyfriend break up, to which her boyfriend utters, “The person’s calls you take all the time? That’s the relationship you’re in.” While a small minority of top-level celebrity assistants are able to relate, many EAs, PAs and administrative professionals would not. Most assistants aren’t making emergency fashion runs at 3 am, although, certainly some have.
False: You Need to Embody Your Industry
Once Andrea becomes acclimated to the wild environment of an assistant, she begins taking the form of the fashion industry. She trades her frumpy sweaters for Dolce & Gabbana dresses and learns to embrace what true beauty represents in the fashion industry. While it’s smart to know your industry, it’s not necessary to embody it to be successful at your job.
True: Assistant’s Play a Pivotal Role
While one of the stylists, Nigel, explains to Andrea the importance of the executive designers’ work, he says, “Don’t you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art” It’s true that top-level executives and principals need a right-hand assistant to help them free up time so that they can take on the much larger tasks of shaping the world in which we live. That is why an assistant’s job is so pivotal, and the movie did a sufficient job of portraying that need.
False: Affairs to Get Ahead
Andrea’s mental struggle comes to light when she’s invited to assist Miranda during Fashion Week in Paris. After enduring multiple instances of harassment, Andrea sleeps with a high-level fashionista with connections to her real passion, Journalism. Out of all the over exaggerations and misrepresentations, Andrea’s Paris affair is by far the most damaging stereotype to be displayed in the film. Not only does the picture suggest it’s necessary to use your sexuality to get ahead, but it furthers the narrative that women are powerless over their superior. As we can see with the Me Too movement, this behavior can be illegal and doesn’t help any stakeholder’s career.
True: Adjusting to Uncertainty
One of the major dilemmas Andrea faces throughout her time at Runway is adjusting to a fast paced and unpredictable environment. From changing schedules to last-minute wardrobe modifications, assistants are the final line of defense for any executive. Andrea quickly learns that her job depends on her ability to stretch and flex her connections to achieve the desired result. While some assistants might never find themselves pulling a crucial last-minute favor for their principal, many celebrity assistants make a living off it. Knowing the right people at the right time is a significant competitive advantage.
True and False: Know the Family
About halfway through Andrea’s wild ride at Runway, Miranda requests her prized binder of designs to be delivered to her home. Andrea quickly finds herself tiptoeing passed curious children and the unsuspecting husband to Miranda. Her presence is not welcomed in the house. For the majority of assistants, interaction with their principal’s family is relatively minimal. Home visits don’t usually extend further than a quick stop to grab a package or relay a message. However, some celebrity or personal assistants are heavily involved in family affairs. As long as the assistants and their principal are on the same page about their needs and working environment, there shouldn’t be any major surprises.
False: Leaving on a Dime
Finally, to conclude the movie, after being unexpectedly promoted, Andrea sees Miranda’s true colors up close. On impulse, she decides to leave her assistant career at Runway, by recklessly walking out on Miranda during the largest event of the year. A positive reference is critical for any career, but especially for high-level celebrity assistants.
Where they got it Right
One of the most accurate themes illustrated in the film was the importance of knowing your principal. Andrea’s ability to learn and adapt to Miranda’s preferences is a necessary skill of the profession. At multiple points in their career, the majority of assistants will face some adversity in achieving their optimal routine. Assistants that are stubborn in their habits will naturally struggle to fit the mold. Because of the accelerated pace of the fashion industry, the ability to make high-pressure decisions is showcased throughout the film.
For clarity, individuals aren’t heading to the theater to see accurate depictions of their careers. Creative storylines and dominant performances will always outweigh the urge for realistic depictions. However, potential candidates shouldn’t be biased against entering a fulfilling and prosperous career by Hollywood stereotypes. EAs, PAs, and administrative professionals are some of the most motivated individuals in the modern workplace.