The ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ For Women In Hollywood
9:35 am, January 24th | by Meredith Lepore
Well, this is great news for feminism. According to a new study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, only 9% of directors of the top 250 grossing Hollywood films in 2012 were women. For every Kathryn Bigelow, there is, well, no one else. This effect has been coined as the “celluloid ceiling.”
The research found women comprised only 18% of all directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers and editors. The study also pointed out that the statistic represents no change from 2011 and an increase of only one percent from 1998, and noted that women were more likely to work in the documentary, drama and animated film genres.
Another study showed though that women in the independent film industry fare better, bolstered by the female-dominated buzz from Sundance. In the independent film world, women are supported and have more freedom to collaborate, but mainstream Hollywood studios still see women as risky hires.
Plus, despite the success of films like Bridesmaids and The Help, studios don’t tend to push for films focusing on female protagonists and they tend to let women take the helms of films that aren’t female friendly. Actress and indie film director Sarah Polley (Take this Waltz) said in a recent interview, “Women aren’t really trusted with anything else [then women-focused films] right now. I know female filmmakers who would love to make an action film or a horror film or some kind of thriller and they just don’t get the financing for those kinds of movies. So I think that women aren’t necessarily trusted with [that] subject matter.” She noted that Kathryn Bigelow is a unique case because she is more of a “man’s director” but she was only able to do those man genres because she took the independent route. The Hurt Locker, which she won the Oscar for, was not a huge studio war film.
In a recent opinion piece for The New York Times Academy Award-winning producer Cathy Schulman (Crash, The Illusionist) wrote “Although women are more than 50% of the filmgoing public, predominantly male decision makers focus on making movies for boys and men, while systematically failing to support stories for women and girls. Female executives need to break this pattern by trusting their own judgments and interests.” She wrote that what it really comes down to is women really need to change the system:
“I don’t believe men maliciously choose men over women in employment decisions, but there is a certain laziness that has set in from habit. Why cast a female soldier when we are used to casting a male one? Why create a marketing campaign for girls when we already know how to market to boys? Women need to speak up and challenge this procedural ennui. Women often tell me it’s ridiculous that we still to need to fight for equality in a time when men have come to respect women and their abilities in multiple ways. But until these endlessly dismal statistics are cured, women need to speak up for their well deserved power in numbers. Let’s face it, if you’re not fighting for women, you’re endorsing the status quo.”
And Cathy isn’t the only one who sees that this is the problem. Meryl Streep recently said at a luncheon honoring women in Hollywood:
“In this room, we are very familiar with these dreadful statistics that detail the shocking under-representation of women in our business. Seven to 10% of directors, producers, writers, and cinematographers [are women] in any given year. This in spite of the fact that in the last five years, five little movies aimed at women have earned over $1.6 billion: The Help, The Iron Lady believe it or not, Bridesmaids, Mamma Mia!, and The Devil Wears Prada. As you can see, their problems were significant because they cost a fraction of what the big tent-pole failures cost. . . . Let’s talk about The Iron Lady. It cost $14 million to make it and brought in $114 million. Pure profit! So why? Why? Don’t they want the money?
Jane Fonda, another film legend, said that while women have made strides in front of and behind the camera, the entertainment industry needs more female decision-makers. ”Until more women wield the power to decide what movies and TV shows get made, Hollywood culture won’t really yield all the fascinating complexities that are the realities of women’s lives,” she said. “Until then, we’re accepting supporting roles in an industry many of us have devoted our lives to.”