The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

It’s a male, male movie world

with 32 comments

OK, this isn’t breaking news, but have you noticed how few women there are around in the film industry? Probably you have. But I actually hadn’t reflected over it until recently.

However I’ve crawled out from the rock I’ve been living under and I’m standing here, scratching my head, wondering what the f… is going on.

Can you give me a good reason why over 90 percent of the movies that come out from the Hollywood factory should be directed by men? I can’t and believe me – I’ve tried hard to come up with something. We’re not talking about fire fighting, mining or some other traditionally heavy job requiring a physically strong body. We’re talking about people who spend their days thinking, talking, leading, negotiating, marketing, occasionally being creative. Why wouldn’t women be as interested or successful at doing this?

Filmspotting’s interviews
My new insight was triggered a little while ago by one of my favourite podcasts, Filmspotting. It wasn’t anything they said on the show though; it was completely unintentional. I was visiting their website and landed on a page where they had links to the guest interviews they’ve had over the years. It contained various sorts of film workers, mostly directors and actors as far as I could tell. And when I looked at the pictures it suddenly struck me how few of them who were women – a total of five out of 60 interviewed persons.

Since the hosts of the show never have come across as misogynists, I suspected that the numbers might have to do with the looks of reality. This was confirmed as I started to google about to see what all this was about.

From the website Women and Hollywood I got some statistics from 2010:

  • Women directed 7 percent of the top 250 grossing films
  • Women wrote 10 percent of the top 250 grossing films
  • Women comprised 15 percent of all executive producers
  • Women comprised 24 percent of all producers
  • 18 percent of all editors were women
  • 2 percent of all cinematographers were women

Taking a risk
The question is: why is it like this? Is it because women don’t want to make movies? Maybe they don’t accept to work insane hours for a low salary, maybe they prioritize family before making a career? Is it because they’re bad at making movie? Well, how could you get good at it if you never get quite get the chance? Or is it because men won’t let them make movies? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of it.

In my search for an answer I stumbled upon an article on this topic where they quoted Jodie Foster:

“I don’t think it’s a plot and these guys sat around and said let’s keep these women out,” Foster said. “I think it’s like race psychology. When a producer hires a director, you’re hiring away your control completely. You’re bringing on somebody that will change everything. When you give that amount of power up, you want them to look like you and talk like you and think like you and it’s scary when they don’t, because what’s gonna happen? I’m gonna hand over $60 million to somebody I don’t know. I hope they look like me.”

It sounds plausible to me.

The question is: Is there anything we can do about this? Do we even need to? What’s the problem if nine of ten directors are guys?

Well to start with the last question, I imagine diversity brings us more variation. I don’t suggest women make one sort of movies and men a different one. We’re all individuals and can’t be sorted into boxes that easily. But it sounds likely that by leaving out almost half of the population, you would miss out some perspectives and experiences that could have added something.

Special treatment
In Sweden the numbers are far more even. In 2010 about 30 percent of the directors were women and 40 percent of the producers.

I would call that decent, but it’s not considered enough, and because of this, the Swedish film institute has given out extra financial support to movies with female directors. Recently the film festival of Stockholm announced a scholarship of 700 000 dollars to a director, but it’s only available to women.

I’ve never been a big fan of special treatment to women as a way to promote equality. In the ideal world we don’t need it. Quality should be more important than gender and there’s no reason why women shouldn’t be competitive in their own right. Discriminating male directors by giving them less financial support is not the way to go.

On the other hand I can see what they’re trying to do. The more we talk about how few women there are in the film industry and how tough it is for them to get by, the fewer women will be inspired to try it out. Or as someone who recently made a research report about why women are in minority in the film industry put it:

“To recruit women to the film production you need to create an image of the film industry which tells you that women can survive there”.

She has a point. The question is: can you create this image without handing out subsidiaries?

Media has a certain role in this, no doubt. The portray they give of the women who actually have made it to Hollywood will affect how they’re regarded by the industry, and can also inspire or scare away potential female movie makers.

And that’s when I came to ask myself: what am I doing in those regards? Do I make an effort to make women more visible? Probably not. Just throw a glance at my blogroll. Out of 37 linked blogs, only two are run by women as far as I know of, and both of them are Swedish.

All this has given me food for thought. How can we make the movie industry into less of a men-only business?

I don’t have the answer yet. But at least I’ve woken up and realized that the question is valid. That’s a start.

Written by Jessica

September 22, 2011 at 12:53 am

32 Responses

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  1. Perhaps you should look at the indie world. Are the male/female ratios better or worse? And not just films chosen, because that could skew either way, but films submitted. For example, of all the films submitted to TIFF, how many of them have female directors?

    Independent filmmakers are less dependent on other people, so theoretically you should see a 50/50 split. Unlike mainstream Hollywood, the barriers to entry for making an indie films is extraordinarily low. Women should have no excuse for not making up 50% of that pool.

    However, what I think you’ll find is that the vast majority of films submitted to something like TIFF are by men. Resolving that discrepancy is a lot harder than something like “institutional discrimination” or the various “women need more support” arguments put forward by the people in your post.

    Rohan

    September 22, 2011 at 1:11 am

    • Well, if the women get the impression that Hollywood discriminated women, I suppose it won’t make them more eager to start out a film making career – indie or not.
      But you’re right – the statistics I’m referring to here only will give a very shallow picture. You need more to make a full analysis of the situation. Again speaking from the Swedish perspective, as far as I’ve understood it, there are a lot of women among the indie makers and the newcomers.
      The question is if they can make it into the more commercial side as well. I think there’s a value in having a diversity there too, not just in the arthouse movies.

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm

  2. I do think social networks factor in heavily. It’s the same thing in politics over here in the US (less so in a system that uses party lists, women are far more represented under those types of systems). Women win just as often as men when they run, but they are far less likely to run or be asked to run. More men are currently involved and when they look in their networks for someone to push to run, they see other men.

    And as a cinephile, I like to have balance in my lists, whether it is directors, films or performances, but try as I might, I always find my lists depressingly male-centric (my #1 film, 12 Angry Men is your picture up there, and the fact that my #1 is just a bunch of men in a room gets me down that much more). But I guess that’s because the supply is bottled up.

    Still, I’m optimistic. Even if women are not just breaking through in the mainstream world, though Bigelow’s Oscar win helps a bit there, there’s a lot to my liking in the new generation of directors like Andrea Arnold and Debra Granik and some slightly more experienced including Bigelow and Suzanne Bier (Oscar winner for foreign language film). You’ve also got the male directors like Mike Leigh and Pedro Almadovar who consistently bring more quality for the actresses than many directors. To the degree that there is such a thing as a feminine touch on films in terms of their approach to characters and themes, I’m a big fan so the more this develops and we get women involved in film at all levels, the better it will be for movie watchers.

    Bondo

    September 22, 2011 at 1:21 am

    • Thanks Bondo for your input. I too am hopeful but a little bit impatient. The site with the statistics I’m referring to had statistics for several years and to be honest it appears not to be that much of a development. But cursing and crying doesn’t help very much I guess. All I can to do is to try to make my share to make the changes I want to see happen. Blogging about it like I do now. Reflecting over it. Making other people reflect. Fostering my daugthers to not surrender. My youngest one is talking about a career in making documentaries. I’ll do whatever I can to suppiort it, how hard it may be to succeed.
      Dispair brings us nowhere. Action does.

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

  3. Excellent post, Jessica. I don’t like to think about this question too much, simply because I get too depressed and angry, but it is a question that should be asked – until we don’t have to ask it anymore. In the world of literature, the tide turned (still needs to turn a bit, but things are positively cheery on that front), so I’m hopeful that in the newer world of film, women will join the ranks as equals, too – but there’s a long way to go.

    I agree with you that women don’t necessarily make one sort of movie and men another, but I think you raise a completely valid concern when you say, “But it sounds likely that by leaving out almost half of the population, you would miss out some perspectives and experiences that could have added something.” There is a certain something that I get when I watch the films of Varda, Campion, Granik, Reichardt, Holofcener – something I can’t always put my finger on, but something that feels familiar, more like a feminine perspective than most of the films I watch. And I want more of that. At the very least, I’m very, very, very tired of women, most often being so peripheral to a film’s story – either peripheral or having a life that revolves around her relationship with a man. (You’ve heard of the Bechdel test, right? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLF6sAAMb4s) Leigh and Almodovar are two directors whom I love for not doing that – but they are so rare.

    As to reasons why so few women at the filmmaking level, there must be something of a vicious circle going on, too, in addition to the excellent suggestions you’ve offered – namely, if most movies are not really about women or about women’s lives, then fewer women want to go into an industry that isn’t about them, so fewer films are made or produced by women – and it goes on. Maybe?

    Melissa (@oneaprilday)

    September 22, 2011 at 6:09 am

    • Thank you!
      I know about the Bechdel test and actually I think about it a lot, applying it in my mind to more or less every movie I watch. And it’s amazing to see how few movies that pass it. It really is an eyeopener.

      The circle is vicious indeed. It needs to be broken, but how?

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  4. Scandinavia proves that quotas work. not because it’s ideal, but it’s the not ideal answer to an already not ideal world. women need special help because they are especially overlooked – it’s an answer to a problem. so, all they need is a chance. once they do, they can prove whether they fail or succeed – and from there it’s usually all good. but if the chances are being denied from the start, we will never get positive role models. so, I’m all for quotas – men have received special treatment for millenia.
    that’s not to say, that in some areas and jobs, you simply see less women or less men, because there might simply be less of them attracted to the subject.

    Syl

    September 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

    • Considering how bad the situation is I can see the point, at least as a starter. As you say: we need role models to break the trend.

      I’m honestly a bit surprised to see how male dominated this world is – it actually seems to be worse than the gaming world I’m just coming from. I had expected something different. After all – as far as I know of both women and men consume a lot of movies. So why women wouldn’t like to be on the producing side is puzzing to me.

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  5. Here’s how I approach this – until you have roughly equal number of male and female secretaries and nurses, you will never have an equal number of male and female (film directors, bank executives, etc).

    I totally agree I think lack of diversity is a very great shame, becuase increased diversity would surely lead to increased creativity (and options for the viewing public) but one can’t look at any one sector in isolation in this – or rather, one can but personally I think that is a flawed approach.

    The problem, or rather the primary problem is not the culture any specific industry but rather how our society tends to define jobs as “masculine” of “feminine”. There are relatively few roles out there where most people wouldn’t stereotype to gender. And concentrating on getting women in some of the more prestigious unfortunately doesn’t really solve that problem, because getting women and men into the less prestigious counter-gender stereotyped roles (such as nurses, secretaries, builders, etc) is I think surely the only way to change the culture to where we no longer gender stereotype job roles. And at that point, the rest I think follows naturally.

    Now I have no idea how one goes about that 🙂 I suppose one should take comfort we are better than we were fifty years ago.

    Lewis Maskell

    September 22, 2011 at 11:59 am

    • We’re definitely a lot better of now than we used to be. I’m just a bit impatient.

      I guess Hollywood reflects society, but it could also have the power to change society and the view on genders. It can reinforce what’s already there, but it also can introduce other perspectives. A quote from Women and Hollywood, the site where I found the statistics. This comes from their four year anniversary post:

      “What always gets me is that the idea is simple. Take us seriously. Give us opportunities. Count out dollars as much as you count the guys.

      But it really isn’t that simple. It’s about our culture. Hollywood is a reflection of our culture and it also has the opportunity to push the culture. That’s why it is so important that we keep fighting the fight. That’s why it is important to put women’s voices and visions out front. Because they matter. Because they have value.”

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

  6. Interesting but depressing to think about, indeed. When it comes to filmmaking, I truly believe that the social network plays a huge role. And isn’t also the fact that one often have to point out the the director for example is a woman a bit telling because male participation is never commented on? That whole “AND she’s a woman”-attitude towards for example Bigelow, how many articles did you read about about Tom Hooper this year that mentioned specifically how great it was that he was a guy?

    When it comes to movie content, I really, really like the Bechdel test (mentioned above), not least because it cuts both ways — a few movies are actually just as skewed towards a female perspective

    http://bechdeltest.com/

    Sofia

    September 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    • I’m a fan of that test too. It’s very thought provoking. Even if it’s a bit sad to see how few movies that will pass it. I’m looking forward to the day when the gender isn’t an issue because women are as common as men as directors. I wonder if it will happen in our lifetime?

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm

  7. Wow, I never really thought about it before. That Bechdel test was a total surprise to me, too.
    It would be interesting to see statistics on the make-up of cinema goers. I always imagined that most people went as a couple, so now I’m wondering if that is not the case, and that there are cinemas filled with just men watching films that only appeal to them, and by that argument also only appeal to male film-makers.

    AliPally

    September 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    • Yes, I wonder about that too. The cinema market isn’t the only one of course, there’s also the home video market, digital downloads etc etc. it sounds complicated to measure it but I guess it’s done somewhere; if nothing else the producers must be pretty interested in the demographics to adjust their marketing.

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm

  8. It’s disturbing to see just how low the numbers are, despite superficial gains (first Best DIrector Oscar, etc.) First of all, there is still an old-boys network at many studios, so they’re more likely to look to men, especially white men. Foster’s quote makes a good point. People still go with how things have been done before, in both gender and race. There have been improvements, but there’s still such a long way to go. TV shows have run into this issue, where the perception is held that women can’t write comedy. That impression is flawed, and following that trend is just maintaining the status quo instead of challenging it.

    I also agree that it’s not a specific plot across the board to keep women out of these jobs. The main problem is that there are long-held notions from individuals that need to be changed. If we see more female directors and writers involved with big productions, it’s going to inspire young people to try to attain those types of jobs. If that’s not happening, then the trend just continues and no progress is being made. There’s no easy solution, unfortunately, especially in the U.S.

    Nice post!

    Dan Heaton

    September 22, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    • I kind of like the remark whether it is winning Best Director or becoming President, that equality isn’t having your first female Best Director winner (or Black President), it is after the next 70 consecutive female/non-white winners. On the other hand, you have to win the first in order to win that 70th one.

      Bondo

      September 22, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      • That is so true Bondo. It’s easy to stare so blindly at this first thing that we forget the whole picture. But as you say – you need those early victories or we won’t get anywhere.

        Jessica

        September 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    • Thanks! But not a nice content. Honestly I wish there was need to write it. In the best of worlds…
      I guess the best way to make a statement and inspire and get access to the networks is by action. I may not have been the biggest fan of Bridesmaids, not seeing it as particularly revolutionairy. But seeing those nombers, putting pieces together, I see what ground it’s breaking. As far as I understand it’s been a box office success, far exceeding the expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be way more important as one step forward than Oscar wins.
      One step at a time. Never give up. And yeah. No easy solutions. I think this isn’t the last time I’m going to talk about this. My eyes have been opened. And I’m pissed off. More mad than sad. Which is a good thing.

      Jessica

      September 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      • I definitely agree that Bridesmaids will likely have a more positive effect than Bigelow’s win for the Hurt Locker, which was good too but in a different way. It’s hard to say for sure, but the high box-office numbers are what really speak in Hollywood (sadly). I haven’t seen Bridesmaids since I’m not that drawn to gross-out humor, but I’ve read good things about it. Hopefully it will spark more than just a few copycats.

        Dan Heaton

        September 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm

  9. This might fall into the category of focusing on someone being a woman instead of them being good at what they do, but for those wanting to put a nice movie on their “to see”-list that happens to have a female director, Happy, happy ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1664892/ ) is one of the nicer recent films here in Norway.

    Syrien

    September 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    • I’ve never heard of that movie before but I’ll look out for it if it comes up in Sweden. Not all that many Norweigan movies go up on the theatres here tbh.

      Jessica

      September 23, 2011 at 9:15 am

  10. Never really thought about it before. But I can only think of two female directors that I really like (Sophia Coppola & Kathryn Bigelow). In fact, I’m having trouble trying to list three other female directors.

    I’m employed in a male oriented business myself (PC programming, about 80% men). It’s just a field that women aren’t interested in. If you find out how to fix it, share it as I’d love to get a few more female colleagues 🙂

    Carra

    September 23, 2011 at 12:06 am

    • Some great female directors to check out, Carra: Suzanna Bier (I adore her films), Agnes Varda (also adores hers), Clarie Denis (love 35 Shots of Rum), Mira Nair (love Monsoon Wedding, quite like The Namesake), Catherine Breillat (Sleeping Beauty – really beautiful and interesting), Mary Harron, Amy Heckerling, Jane Campion (love Angel at My Table, Bright Star – Sweetie is really interesting), Nicole Holofcener (check out Lovely and Amazing and Please Give), Lynn Ramsey (Ratcatcher is brilliant), Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff -both fabulous), Miranda July.

      Melissa (@oneaprilday)

      September 23, 2011 at 12:21 am

      • @Melissa: that’s a lot of names to check out! To be honest I’m unfamilliar with most of them. I will probably watch Angel at my table soon. I borrowed it at my library a few days ago.

        Jessica

        September 23, 2011 at 9:18 am

      • Lots of names indeed. I really liked Monsoon Wedding and Biers After the Wedding, just never looked at who directed these movies.

        Some of these movies are on my “to watch list”: bright star & white material to name two. I’ll have to watch them one of these days. And others in here that I never heard of, I’ll have to check a few out.

        Carra

        September 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    • @Carra: Then I’m not the only one. I really never payed much attention to it until I saw that list of interviewed people. All those images with guys, guys, guys made me wonder what was going on.

      Jessica

      September 23, 2011 at 9:16 am

  11. This has been a problem I’ve noticed and been disturbed by. Especially because there are female directors who make such excellent films– Melissa’s list is an excellent example.

    Something should be done to promote woman producing/directing movies. We can’t do much, but perhaps a marathon of female directors is a step in the right direction?

    Steve Kimes

    September 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    • Talking more about them probably would help a bit. I generally don’t like when you highlight someone because they’re a woman rather then just because they’re an awesome director, regardless of gender. But on the other hand… maybe it wouldn’t hurt to actually keep an eye out for good female directors and write about their work. I wonder if the ratio of interviews at Filmspotting could have been different with just a little bit more of effort?

      Jessica

      September 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    • I like the idea of doing a personal marathon of female directors, Steve, and I think I might try something like that soon. (I would love Adam and Matty to do a marathon focused on a female director; I think they’ve never done that? Even the marathon subjects they choose, eg. Westerns, Blaxpoitation, generally mean that marathon films will feature men directors.) I’ve even been wondering recently what it might be like to take one full month or maybe two (hey, maybe a whole year!), and watch only films directed by women. I’m not sure the experiment would prove anything, but I do wonder, since the majority of films I watch now are directed by men, how my experience with movies might change if I flipped the ratio?

      Melissa (@oneaprilday)

      September 28, 2011 at 11:39 pm

      • I’ve seen experiments like that in newspapers, where they’ve made an effort to portray women for a week. Sometimes they haven’t even made it all female; they’ve only tried to make it even with as many women as men on pictures, in interviews etc. And the difference is noticable – to the readers as well as to the staff, who suddenly get up their eyes for the ordinary conditions. Once they actually make the effort they start to see that there are more women who are suitable for interviews etc than they had thought.
        And maybe that could be the effect of a female director marathon? We would start noticing and widening our horizons.
        I hope you’ll go ahead with this idea.

        Jessica

        September 29, 2011 at 7:28 am

  12. […] So far, so good. I’m the first one to think that the film industry would do wise to try to include more women in the film production. […]


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