‘The world is round, people!’
by Aimée Lagos
“The world is round people!” Cate Blanchett’s words rang out with strength and indignation at the Oscars this year as she gave voice to a groundswell that is becoming a force to be reckoned with. People on both sides of the camera are calling for action in addressing this bizarre gender disparity in Hollywood. It’s a disparity that comes close to an omission both on camera and behind the scenes, but the craziest part about it is that most people believe the myth that the disparity does not exist.
According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, of the top grossing 250 films in 2013, women accounted for 6% of (U.S.) directors, 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 17% of editors, and 3% of cinematographers. This actually marks a decline in women’s employment since 1998 in each of these areas except for producers, which has increased by 1%. One whole percent.
Let’s just make sure we got that – in the past 15 years the number of women directing, writing, executive producing, editing and shooting films has decreased to the level that now for every 94 men who direct a top grossing film in the U.S., 6 women do the same. 94% men. 6% women. Again, this “gender disparity” is creeping dangerously close to an omission of women.
But even more disturbing than the numbers themselves is the reaction to those numbers. Women In Film and the Sundance Institute commissioned a study of independent film recently that also showed a huge gender disparity behind the camera (although the numbers were slightly better for independents), but this study took it one step further. They brought their findings to executives and producers to ask what they thought might be causing this chasm. When presented the facts, 29.4% of respondents resisted the accuracy of the information. 66.7% of those resisters flat out said they didn’t believe the numbers were correct. Faced with a report commissioned by two very respectable organizations and executed by USC Annenberg School’s Professor Stacy L. Smith, a renowned expert on diversity and the media, they flat out denied the truth of the findings. Evidence be damned.
In looking at gender disparity on screen, a great tool to use is the Bechdel Test. There are only three questions in it and the answer must be yes to all three questions in order for a film to pass the test. (1) Does the film have at least 2 female characters in it? (2) Do those female characters talk to each other? (3) Do they talk to each other about something other than a man? Almost 70% of the top grossing 250 films on IMDb cannot pass this test. Wow.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recently did a study on gender representation in films for kids and found that male characters outnumber female characters 3 to 1, and that in crowd scenes, only 17% of the people on screen are women. Last time I checked women made up 51% of the population so that number seems more than a little off.
The numbers beg the question: Is the drastic underrepresentation of women in film a result of so few women making those films or is it that we’ve all grown up in a world that from even our earliest days has shown us that men are the majority, that men’s stories are the important ones to tell, that women play supporting roles in life as well as on screen and has that message not only impacted our own ambitions as women, but the willingness of men (and women) to hire women and to tell their stories? Either way, it’s clear that what is represented on screen and what happens behind the camera are inextricably linked.
The good news is that despite the deniers, there is a groundswell of action afoot. The Sundance Institute and Women In Film recently invited a group of female filmmaker to participate in a finance forum to help address the lack of access female independent filmmakers have to money sources. Many of us who participated in the event were inspired to take further action and as a result both the WGA and the PGA have started Women’s Initiatives to begin to change the status and perception of women in the industry. There are also several companies that have turned their attention to making female driven films including Will Ferrell’s company, as well as Gamechanger Films which is dedicated to financing films by female filmmakers. But the work has only just begun.
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” – The Usual Suspects
This devil, however much we want to deny it, does exist. We’ve got the proof. The numbers are in. This shameful gender disparity in film is an embarrassment to our industry and is harmful to every person who watches the movies we make – every kid just figuring out who they are in this world, who their sister is, their mother, their father – who they might want to dream of becoming someday. It’s time we join forces and take our heads out of the sand and fight for change – not just for our daughters, but for our sons as well. The position of women in this industry must change. We must be the ones to change it. “The world is round people!”Tags: Aimée Lagos, Bechdel Test, Cate Blanchett, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, Entertainment industry, Film and TV business, Gamechanger Films, Geena Davis Institute on Gender In Media, Gender disparity, Gender inequality in Hollywood, Hollywood, Sundance Institute, WGA and PGA Women's Initiatives, Women in Film