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Guest Post: How Can We Get More Women In Power As Directors?

by Martha Coolidge
September 6, 2012 11:15 AM
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So how can we create opportunities? Pressure works. Employment of women directors rose in TV when the DGA publicly pressured the Networks to hire minorities. However, now the statistics tell us that the number of women directing TV has remained static at around 11% for years. Worse, according to Martha Lauzen in her Celluloid Ceiling report of 2011, women comprised 5% of feature directors, down from 2000 when women made up 11 % of feature directors, (the best it’s ever been.)

What is happening? I had more women in my class when I attended NYU Film School in the twentieth century than I have in the directing classes I teach at Chapman now. I have spoken to young women who love directing but don’t see it as a viable career. They may be right.

I was raised to believe I was equal, and discovered, working in movies, it wasn’t true. I’ve spent my life trying to change that. Though women directors are now a small part of the industry, we are an invisible minority. Even in government, we lack representation and our right to choose (ie. our freedom) is in question, again. It feels like we have gone backwards. The cultural dismissal of women is so ingrained that the public (including some women) doesn’t seem to perceive a problem.

The only people who know how big the problem is are the women who suffer the consequences of lack of opportunity and loss of career and income. But, in a real way the public looses by not seeing the work and insights or having the example of the women who are shut out.

So here is my dramatic answer to how to get more women in power in directing careers: I believe we need an intervention in hiring practices like a law. This would have to be a Civil Rights or Equal Opportunity Employment act against discrimination in private employment. Are Republicans and Democrats going to join hands to pass this? No.

Conversely, we have to level the playing field to put women directors in positions of equal power. Yet, we won’t be looked at equally until the cultural attitude toward women and our entire belief system changes. Perhaps the best we can ask for is more pressure public and private on the men at the studios to include high on their agenda “success for women”; and in practice equal hiring of women directors in all genres.

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  • Liz Rizzo | October 8, 2012 10:49 PMReply

    This one really spoke to me: "7. Competitive women in particular would have to want success as a director before anything else, like finding a man, or having a family. Successful directors are workaholics who define themselves by their careers and seek the company of their creative colleagues."
    I think it's considered very strange that I am like this, but I have strove as time's gone on to simplify, simplify, focus, focus. Finally this year I seem to be getting somewhere and am slowly getting small opportunities. It's incredibly gratifying, even on a small scale. I feel like there are so many other things I'm supposed to care about, but just today I was driving and I realized how I could have made a shot better, and it made my day, that lesson learned, and that I'd made enough progress to see it.
    Thank you so much for writing.

  • dedeej | October 9, 2012 6:38 PM

    I am just getting started in the field. Where should I begin to get the training to become a director? How do you get a foot in the door.?

  • Korky Day | September 7, 2012 7:46 PMReply

    Author Martha Coolidge unfortunately is correct that such a law would not pass, and even if it did pass, it wouldn't work very well. However, a different law could pass, and we have an excellent example. The Canadian federal government about 4 decades ago said that radio stations had to play a certain minimum percentage of music by Canadians. That percentage has been raised, to 40% now, I think. Over the years that created a music recording industry in Canada almost from scratch. From that popular example, which no political party in Canada (except the miniscule Libertarian Party) would dare mess with, we can learn how to do the same for women. Legislate that each movie theatre and movie channel has to show 5% of movie screenings with women directors or women writers. The requirement jacks up 5% every year until it reaches 50%. --Korky in Vancouver, BC.

  • JaySmack | September 19, 2012 6:59 PM

    Your example defeats itself, Korky.
    Canadian radio is a very different beast than american movies. It took 4 decades for, as you say, Canadian-derived music to achieve 40% of airtime. That's far less than the "5% every year," you'd like to mandate for female-written/directed fare for movie theaters.
    All the NATO would have to do is appeal to the studios to lean on Congress for loopholes, (which, as Barack Obama's utter dependence on Hollywood support has shown they would EASILY get!) and your mandate is dead.
    Look, there's no getting around the fact that the only way for female writers/directors to increase is for those women to do more quality work.

    You can whine all you want about the opportunities you feel Hollywood is --or is not-- giving women, but the problem here is female filmmakers are not risk-takers. Think back to the 70's, the wild west era of break-out filmmakers. How many were women. None I can think of. Today we have digital tech that makes it easier than every to make a movie. But consider the video-to-film "phenomenon" of the last 15 years, from Blair Witch to Paranormal Activity. Now ask yourself, how many of those were the work of women? How many of them could have been? The answer in both cases is none.
    Women aren't concerned with making art. They see entertainment as a vehicle for female fantasy wish-fulfillment. Long as they get a bi-annual installment of Twilight or 50 Shades, Hunger Games or some other variety of daydream character choking on her own estrogen they'll be docile and happy.
    Ask women when they'll get off their behinds, up their game, and start doing work people actually want to see.
    Women now, outnumber men on college campuses. But as you've seen, your classes have less and less females in them for the same reasons computer science classes have seen the numbers of women in them decline steadily the last 20 years. Women gravitate to English Lit, Psychology and Nursing. When a field is too competitive or requires more than abstract emotions women are quickly weeded out.
    Social engineering won't change this because women have to want it too, and they don't. Instead of complaining about society or institutional sexism you ought to just focus on improving the bumper crop of female filmmakers in your midst.

    BTW, as the number of female network executives grows I expect that you'll also be complaining soon if/when women's numbers there outstrip their social percentage.
    I'll be waiting to see.

  • Sarah Miller | September 6, 2012 2:53 PMReply

    Thank you for writing this article! I have uttered these very words myself: "I was raised to believe I was equal, and discovered, working in movies, it wasn’t true." It was a very rude awaking!

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