Still Hard For Women Filmmakers

By Rachel Menendez

elle women in hollywood power list 2010 movies i didnt getLast month, Elle magazine compiled its “Power List” of women in Hollywood. On this list, put together by’s Nikki Finke, were some notable mentions in Hollywood, ranging from the elite to the lesser known, but most notable to me was New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis. Dargis is a hero of mine, not only for her erudite knowledge of film but also for pointing out that, even in the wake of Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Director win for The Hurt Locker at last year’s Oscars, there is still a glass ceiling for women filmmakers in Hollywood. In an Article she wrote last year, she points out that there is still a lack of opportunities to produce the kind of success Bigalow has had.

Dargis is not attacking men, either; much of her anger is directed toward women in the industry. Hollywood is not just made up of misogynistic men, it’s filled with people who come from many backgrounds. Many people are involved in making decisions about who gets opportunities to show what they can do, and women are just as much a part of that. To boil this problem down to sexism would be an easy answer and just another reason for many women trying to make a career in film to give up, but as Dargis points out, the scarcity of opportunities for women is a legitimate problem and worth talking about.

“But I also hope that the money people, including Ms. Bullock, whose production company actually makes hits like The Proposal [2009], start giving female filmmakers a chance to do something other than dopey romances. (Good romances would be a nice start.) Every so often a new female filmmaker grabs the spotlight – remember Kimberly Peirce, the director of Boys Don’t Cry [1999]? – only to sputter and fade. If you have ever wondered what ever happened to Susan Seidelman [Desperately Seeking Susan, She-Devil], Penny Marshall [Big, Awakenings, A League of Their Own], Martha Coolidge [Real Genius, Rambling Rose, Lost in Yonkers], Amy Heckerling [Look Who’s Talking, Clueless], Nancy Savoca [Dogfight, Household Saints], none of whom had the career they should have had, you’re not alone. Come back, Barbra, we miss you! But does Ms. Streisand, who was never nominated for best director, miss Hollywood? I doubt it.

This isn’t just about money, or even male sexism. There have been women running studios on and off since 1980, when Sherry Lansing became the president of 20th Century Fox. But trickle-down equality doesn’t work in Hollywood, even when women are calling the shots and making the hires, as they presumably did a few years ago, when four out of the six big studios were run by women. Fat good it did the rest of us. Now, there’s just Amy Pascal, a co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. In the 1990s Ms. Pascal made movies like Little Women [1994] and A League of Their Own [1992]. In recent years, however, Sony has become a boy’s club for superheroes like Spider-Man and funnymen like Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow.”

— Manohla Dargis from her New York Times Article “Women in the Seats But Not Behind the Camera” December 2009

The EllePower List” does suggest that women have come a long way toward getting to the top of just about every major position in the film world, but these prove more often than not to be exceptions. If you consider that women make up about half (if not more) of the population in this country, and therefore about half of its moviegoing public, the numbers don’t add up. What’s more disturbing is the number of minority women represented in this category.

“In 2009, women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 3 percentage points from 2001 and is even with 2008 figures.

Women accounted for 7% of directors in 2009, a decrease of 2 percentage points from 2008. This figure represents no change from the percentage of women directing in 1987.

The following summary provides employment figures for 2009 and compares the most recent statistics with those from previous years.”

— 2009 study by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, School of Theatre, Television and Film, San Diego State University

As I said before, this isn’t just about men not giving women enough opportunity. A lot of Dargis’s anger is directed at women who write, direct, and star in the kinds of films everyone expects women to make – namely romantic comedies and teen dramas! A disproportionate number of women filmmakers, writers, and producers end up churning out more of these types of films than any other. And this isn’t an attack on the romantic teen drama genre (myself being the world’s greatest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan), it’s just a statement that women shouldn’t have to relegate themselves to making only these types of films, especially if they have the talent and aspiration to make other types of films. Women should have every right and opportunity to choose the types of films they want to make within the Hollywood system.

Hopefully women in the industry will hear Dargis and make more opportunities for women who want to explore stories outside of female stereotypes, and maybe then we will see a lot more Kathryn Bigelows at the Oscar podium.

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