Lowering the celluloid ceiling
Industry must try harder, says report on women in media
The proportion of women working on the top grossing films is now lower than it was 19 years ago. When we watch a new movie, chances are we are watching a male view of the world. These are the latest findings of the Celluloid Ceiling report. We are going back to the dark ages of 1998, the director of the longest-running study on women in media, Martha Lauzen, told K magazine.
“Exposure to a male view of the world is not a bad thing but when the ratio is so heavily skewed, it narrows our understanding of our world,” opines Dr Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, and professor of television, film & new media at San Diego State University.
Lauzen knows of what she speaks. She is the author of Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2016. “There are a number of alarming percentages in the latest report,” she tell us. “The percentage of women directors declined from 9% in 2015 to 7% in 2016. Overall, the percentage of women working on the top 250 domestic grossing films is now lower than it was in 1998. This means that when we walk into a theatre or stream a film, in more than 9 out of 10 cases we are watching a male interpretation of events. ”
Whoever is seated at the top of a film has a trickle-down effect. “The percentage of women working as directors is incredibly important,” she says, “because when films have at least one woman director, the percentages of women working in other key behind-the-scenes positions, as writers, editors, cinematographers, composers, are substantially higher.”
When we walk into a theatre or stream a film, in more than 9 out of 10 cases we are watching a male interpretation of events.
For example, the statistics show that on films directed by men, women accounted for only 9% of writers; 17% of editors; and 6% of cinematographers. But on female-directed films, women accounted for a much larger proportion of behind-the-camera roles: 64% of writers; 43% of editors and 16% of cinematographers.
Cinematographers and directors are probably the most “male identified of the key behind-the-scenes roles, so it's interesting that women are most under-represented in these positions.”
Traditionally, the study has tracked women’s employment on the top 250 grossing films in the US; it excludes foreign films and reissues. This year, it also analysed the top 100 and top 500 films of 2016. Lauzen found that women accounted for a measly 17% of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers of the leading 250 movies. “This is the same percentage achieved in 1998,” she notes.
No woman, no cry
Why is this continuing to be an issue? “The bottom line is that the powers-that-be in the film industry have not viewed women's under-employment and under-representation as a problem. As a result, there has been no real will to change. Recently, in light of all the negative publicity regarding the diversity issue, the studios and others have introduced small-scale and piecemeal programmes to address the skewed gender ratios. While these programmes may be well intentioned and benefit a handful of individuals, they have failed to meaningfully address the problem.”
Should women march on Hollywood next? “Women's under-employment is an industry-wide problem in need of an industry-wide solution. Hopefully, the current EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] investigation into the possible discriminatory hiring practices of directors will result in some far reaching solutions,” she says, referring to an investigation by the Commission, prompted by women activists like Rachel Feldman of the Directors Guild of America.
Lauzen has played her own part in trying to promote change. Each year, the Center produces five to six major studies, though Celluloid Ceiling is the most comprehensive. For this year’s report, she looked at the employment of 3,212 women working on the highest grossing films. The statistics continue to astound:
Ninety-two per cent had no women directors; 77% no women writers; 58% no women executive producers; 34% no women producers; 79% no women editors; 96% no women cinematographers. And a staggering one-third, or 35%, of films had no or only one woman in these roles.
Alarmingly, of the top 250 films, only 2% employed ten or more women. Three-quarters, however, employed 10 or more men.
A few of the figures improved in 2016. Women writers were up two percentage points from 2015, though this figure is nonetheless still on par with 1998. And 77% of the top 250 films had no female writers at all.
“It is all somewhat remarkable, given the current EEOC investigation and the abundant attention the diversity issue has received over the last couple of years, the percentages of women working in important behind-the-scenes roles actually declined last year,” she says.
Should we be surprised then that no woman director has been nominated for an Oscar this year?