From 1998 to 2014, you would have expected women to have moved somewhat closer to gender equality that has been such a big talking point for over half a century. More so in a place like the USA, in a massive industry like Hollywood. That sadly is still not the case at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. I chose the period from 1998 because that is when The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University started analysing the number of women participating behind the cameras in the movie and TV industry. This group publishes its findings online through its report called The Celluloid Ceiling. It has recently published the findings for the year 2014, and going by the figures, things have not really gotten any better.
The top 250 domestic grossing movies have been considered for this study and the positions of director, writer, producer, executive producer, editor, and cinematographer, have been considered. If you are a woman, then you would not like this statistic much. The study shows that only 17% of these above mentioned positions were held by women. That is up by 1% over last year, but hardly anything to cheer about, as it was 17% even way back in 1998. The following chart published in The Celluloid Ceiling will make things clearer.
There is definitely a great gender gap when it comes to working behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. For example, take the coveted position of the director’s seat. Only 7% of the top 250 movies of 2014 had a woman in the director’s role. Only 7%! No wonder Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director in 2009, some 80 years after the first Oscar was awarded.
I do not buy the argument that women would not be interested in film-making as much as men. There is instead something flawed at a more fundamental level. The fact that this is high-money business for the studios which are essentially run by men, and who believe in only men to be able to handle such high-stakes responsibility? Probably. Though it is still a terrible and utterly flawed perception to live with. Or maybe since the audience is usually male, the studios prefer men to work on the films? This argument is weak on account of two reasons. A) women directors like Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and Angelina Jolie (Unbroken), to name just two, have worked on war movies that are quite male-centric and dealt with these topics successfully. B) it is the female audience that has driven some of the hits of last year like The Fault in Our Stars and The Other Woman, showcasing along the way the dearth in movies aimed primarily for the female fans.
Just as female actors are considered quite essential in movies, there is a need to develop a similar feeling about bringing in more women for roles that are behind the cameras. These percentage points of women participation that we have talked about are not something which would automatically improve in due course of time, if the period from 1998 to 2014 is anything to go by. It requires a conscious effort, from both male and female executives in responsible positions in the movie industry, to encourage females in these varied roles. It is absolutely fantastic to see a Kathryn Bigelow pick an Oscar for Best Director, a Diablo Cody win an Oscar for Best Screenplay, a Jennifer Lee become the first female director of a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film, an Angelina Jolie make a smooth transition from a highly acclaimed actress to a successful director (though she is still young in the latter role). As little as I am interested in the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, I was still elated to know that it would be directed by a female (Sam Taylor-Johnson), while the screenplay has been written by a female too (Kelly Marcel). Actress Elizabeth Banks is now directing a movie, Pitch Perfect 2, which comes out in 2015, and it would be great if this one manages to be as successful as its predecessor. These women are role models, inspirations for the ones who wish to enter the movie business but not as actors; their importance cannot be expressed in words.
There are those who would argue that pushing for more positions for the female gender arbitrarily would compromise the quality of the cinematic output. To them I say, it is yet another baseless argument. Do you really want the world to believe that only 17% of the females deserve to be working behind the cameras in Hollywood? Some of the most atrocious movies I have seen in 2014, some of the biggest flops of cinema of the year, were movies directed by men, produced by men, and undoubtedly had men in many other roles ranging from screenplay writing to editing. Quality of work should be gender neutral, and the fact that the count of women in the world of cinema (just like the case in many other industries) is not even close to 50% clearly shows a bias as well as a lack of support to the woman counterparts from a junior level. I hope that there is a reversal of trend sooner rather than later, that the percentage points move only upwards until we needn’t debate about gender equality anymore, that women are encouraged to shine in all possible roles behind the cameras as much as they have done in front of it over the years. A lot of this may sound like wishful thinking, but if most of us started thinking in the same way, it would be a worthy start, wouldn’t it?