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The Celluloid Ceiling Just Keeps Getting Higher and Higher

by Melissa Silverstein
February 1, 2011 4:25 AM
9 Comments
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Groundhog Day might be tomorrow, but it sure feels like today with the release of the new Celluloid Ceiling Study from Dr. Martha Lauzen Executive Director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The news of the study is that there is nothing has changed. Nothing has changed for a really long time. In fact things are actually worse than they were in 1998 when Dr. Lauzen started tracking women working in Hollywood.

But we're making progress, right? Things are much better for women, right? Stats don't lie.

Here are the numbers (all are based on the top 250 grossing films of 2010):
• Directors - 7%
• Writers - 10%
• Executive Producers - 15%
• Producers - 24%
• Editors - 18%
• Cinematographers - 2%

This is a cultural crisis. Women are being systemically shut out of this business. Most all the movies we see - big and small - are made by men. I;ve always wondered if the nature of the business, the fact that people job in on each film, has made it easy for women to be left out. Stats aren't kept. No diversity committees asking questions like they do in the TV business.

Each year these statistics illuminate a harsh reality. Catherine Hardwicke -- the woman with the highest grossing opening weekend box office -- went on the record with The Wrap yesterday about her experience trying to just get an interview about The Fighter:


I couldn't get an interview even though my last movie made $400 million...I was told it had to be directed by a man -- am I crazy?...It's about action, it's about boxing, so a man has to direct it ... But they'll let a man direct "Sex in the City" or any girly movie you've ever heard of.

The bottom line is that the majority of people with power in Hollywood don't think this is a problem. They are making money, so they don't have any reason to rock the boat. I am waiting for the day when one of thee bigwigs who only hires men to direct gets confronted by his own daughter with the stories about how she couldn't get a gig just becuase she is a woman.

But the good news is that women will not give up. There are storytellers out there who believe in their stories and believe in their visions and are fighting the fight, most days all alone. They are my sheroes.

Dr. Lauzen answered some questions about the statistics:

Women and Hollywood: The data seems to be consistent with last year's and the year before. Is there anything that surprises you about the unchanging numbers for women in the business?

Dr. Martha Lauzen: What is so surprising about these numbers is their remarkable stability. They reveal an industry that is incredibly resistant to change. In addition to the "Celluloid Ceiling" report that I produce every year, I also compile "Boxed In," a study examining women's representation in prime-time television. "Boxed In" reveals slow but incremental growth in the percentages of women working in powerful behind-the-scenes roles on television, as well as in the percentages of female characters on screen. The television industry appears to be more welcoming of women than the film industry. Both studies, as well as others, are available at http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu.

I know many people were expecting Kathryn Bigelow's visibility and well-deserved success last year to create a "halo effect" for other women who direct. While I suspect it has given Ms. Bigelow's career a boost, I don't think that complex issues such as bias in employment and representation can be so easily resolved.

WaH: Why do you think the numbers stay so dismally low?

ML: Women's under-representation is the result of many factors operating at multiple levels. For example, over the last decade or two, filmmaking has become more of a business. As businesses with huge sums of money on the line, the film studios are very interested in minimizing their risk. It is my impression that women are still viewed as "riskier hires" and, as a result, are not considered for the big-budget, high-profile films and/or films in genres other than romantic comedy and romantic drama.

Second, the film industry does not exist in a vacuum. The attitudes about women that are held by those working in the industry reflect more general beliefs about women and what they can accomplish. Because these attitudes are very deeply held, it can take a long time to change them.

Finally, it is my impression that many powerful individuals in the industry do not perceive women's under-representation as a problem. You can't change what you don't or won't acknowledge.

WaH: What -- if anything -- do you think can be done to help move the numbers?

ML: I think the stability of the numbers provides reasonably convincing evidence that the industry will not change of its own accord. I also don't believe that the industry can be embarrassed into change (regarding gender). At this point, I would like to see our legislators ask the powers-that-be in the industry some pointed questions about the lack of diversity in behind-the-scenes and on-screen employment and representation, perhaps in the form of congressional hearings. The film studios as well as television networks are not like other businesses. The film and television industries are much more powerful in that they help to transmit and perpetuate our culture. Perhaps public hearings and some sort of incentive structure for the studios and/or filmmakers might encourage greater diversity in film.

WaH: Do you see anything positive in the numbers?

ML: I am encouraged by my students and the filmmakers -- who happen to be women -- who continue to write, direct, produce, edit, and shoot entertaining and important films.

Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film

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9 Comments

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | February 5, 2011 4:19 AMReply

    "We have far more power than we are employing. We need to start using it now.

    Exactly, Diane! Women have "the power of the purse," but we refuse to use it. As long as more women buy tix to [say] BLACK SWAN than [say] WINTER'S BONE, the situation will not change!

    I urge you all to learn more about International SWAN Day [Support Women Artists Now] which is coming up on March 26, 2011 & make a personal pledge to join the WITASWAN movement: Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists Now!

  • Melanie | February 3, 2011 9:21 AMReply

    I'm also down for this boycott.

    When I first moved to LA, I would meet girls in film school and ask what the male to female ratio is and they always said "about half". Pretty depressing to know that most of those women will hit the glass ceiling so early in their careers.

  • Marza Panther | February 2, 2011 11:47 AMReply

    Diane:

    How can we organize this boycott?
    Let's do it!

  • Inkhuldra | February 2, 2011 3:37 AMReply

    You'll be happy to learn that the Norwegian movie "Happy, Happy" ("Sykt Lykkelig"), which won the Narrative World Cinema Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival last weekend, had females in the following positions:

    Lead character: Agnes Kittelsen
    Script writer: Ragnhild Tronvoll
    Director: Anne Sewitsky
    Producer: Synnøve Hørsdal
    Cinematographer: Anna Myking

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1664892/fullcredits#cast

    There are reports of great interest in making an American adaptation of the movie. Time will show whether there will be as many women involved in that one...

  • S.V. Medaglia | February 2, 2011 3:23 AMReply

    These numbers are so discouraging. I know I should keep a stiff upper lip, and give 'em hell and all that, but honestly, I get so tired of trying to put on a happy face about trying to get into an industry that doesn't want anything to do with me.

    I am currently in a digital filmmaking program and I've had exactly ZERO female instructors, and given no expectation that I will see ANY during my program. We watch film after film made by men, about men. In lectures I hear nothing but male pronouns, and when I speak up to remind them that women make films too, I get reminded that if I want to go to work in a "male dominated" field, I better get used to being the only woman in the room.

    I am realistic about my chances of making it in this industry, but I'm not going to lie -- it sucks that I will have to be twice as good as any man, and I will likely still be ignored.

    Sorry for the rant. Thanks so much to all you warrior women who are doing what you can to make a change.

  • Nancy Trier-Metzger | February 2, 2011 2:51 AMReply

    A very interesting and disturbing post. It's unfortunate that the film industry is so far behind the other arts in diversity in employment and, quite frankly, hypocritical. The more light shed on this issue just might put pressure on the studios although I'm not hopeful. Woman have been fighting for equal rights for many years. However, the accompanying photo undermines the post, reinforcing the image of women as sexual objects (skinny high heels, slit skirt, very trim and attractive blond).

  • Virginia DeBerry | February 2, 2011 12:33 AMReply

    This blog and Diane's comment have summed up the situation perfectly. I am part of an all female production company that has been struggling to bring a best selling book (by women about women--and OMG black women!) to film off and on for 14 years. Our heads have hit the ceiling too many times to count. Yet while we are bloodied, we are still unbowed.

  • Diane Meier | February 2, 2011 12:20 AMReply

    No matter how compelling and dire a problem, legislation hits all kinds of buttons those of us who value freedom in the arts should fight to avoid. But - if we could find a way to hit Hollywood in the "motivation place" -- Money --we might have something that can make a difference.

    Here it is in a nutshell:
    Men will not go to see "Women's" films -- but we are perfectly happy to buy a ticket, take a seat, rent or download "True Grit" or "Avatar" or "No Country For Old Men". All good films, no doubt - all part of the art of film. But the message we are sending to Hollywood is that films by men for men WILL make more money than films by and for women. Because they do. And they do, because we are complicit.

    Very simply: Women need to VERY actively support the work of women in film. See the films at theaters, take your friends, buy, rent or download the DVD's. And, sadly, we need to do this while actively boycotting (vocally, in-print -visibly NOT consuming) the work of men; particularly the work of men who don't employ women in top production/writing/producing roles.

    You must let your local theaters know that you are doing this. Let your rental companies know. And - conversely -- let them ALL hear from you when you DO support a film made by a woman. (Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Katherine Bigelow, Jane Campion, Isabel Coixet, etc. etc.)

    These corporations really do listen to consumers. And it's a big problem that they're not hearing us say anything that suggests we think there is a problem. Certainly we're not saying anything with our wallets.

    We have far more power than we are employing. We need to start using it now.

  • Loren E. Chadima | February 1, 2011 9:37 AMReply

    Thank you for keeping track and keeping us aware. Thank you Catherine for sharing your story. Keep working women - keep working. Persistence prevails when all else fails.

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