28 October 2018
Women in Film
In today’s society, movies and TV shows have a big impact on pop culture. They provide one of the biggest forms of entertainment and help dictate new trends. However, behind the scenes exists an entirely new world called Hollywood. Establishing a successful career in Hollywood is a complicated business, even more so for women. What most people do not realize about filmmaking, both behind and infront of the camera, is the historical role of women, the discrimination, and actions being taken to overcome this.
From the very beginning of filmmaking, women have played a major role in film-making. The first female director was Alice Guy Blaché, who made around 1,000 films during her career, with only 130 of them known today. Blache started her career as a secretary to Leon Gaumont, who owned a firm that manufactured cameras. “Ironically, it was apparently her gender that enabled her jump into directing. As the story gees, in 1896 she asked Gaumont… if she might use some of his equipment to film a story about fairies. Believing her request was just ‘a young girl’s thing,’ he was happy to comply,” (Kilston 155). Blanche’s film appealed to audiences and launched a revolutionary career in filmmaking. Among Blache’s accomplishments are directing the earliest film with an all African-American cast, co-establishing a film company called Solax in 1910, and experimenting with color-tinted scenes and double exposure, (Kilston 155). Blache’s developments in filmmaking were revolutionary and paved the way for modern filmmaking.
Not only were women making contributions in live action films, but also in animation during the 20th century. Lotte Reiniger used to cut out paper silhouettes of beautiful designs and characters. She began working for a German film company making title cards for silent films decorated with her silhouettes. Later, Reiniger used her skills for animation:
In 1918, she was asked to provide stop-motion animation…for wooden rats in the movie The Pied Piper of Hamelin. It was a breakthrough that led to her branching out on her own, first with short films and then, in 1926, with The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the first full length animated film. (Rehagen 22)
Reiniger’s first full length film paved the way for Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The film industry at this time was female dominated, with Universal Studios having eleven female directors, each making hundreds of film. Despite this, women in the film industry are often forgotten, outshadowed by their male counterparts, due to society’s attitude towards women at the time.
The role of women in film-making today is very small compared to its previous years. “Behind the scenes, women accounted for 6 percent of directors and 10 percent of writers working on the top-grossing 250 films in 2013,” (Lauzen 18). These numbers are actually lower than what they were in 1998. On screen, according to Lauzen, only 15 percent of main protagonists and 30 percent of speaking characters are women in the top 100 grossing films (18). The women that are shown on screen are usually sexualized or cause problems for the male protagonist, and very few are women of color.
In Hollywood, women are discriminated against because of their gender, which makes it harder for them to establish a successful career. In an interview done by Angelini Francesca, director and writer Nancy Meyers says, “No, a man doesn’t go to movie jail for making a bomb. But women have a really tough time if one of their movies doesn’t work,” (6). Establishing a career depends on one’s connections within the industry and making a mistake could be costly. People tend to hire those they already know and trust, and since the industry is male dominated, the women often get left behind. The women that are lucky enough to make it have to deal with blatant sexualization. ” Cate Blanchett made headlines…when she asked a red carpet cameraman panning up and down her body if he did the same to men,” (Marshall 50). Women are often sexualized, with 30 percent seen wearing sexualized or revealing clothing, compared to 7 percent of men, (Marshall 50). In a male dominated field, and with little job offers, it is often hard for women to overcome the sexualization.
In addition to discrimination against gender, women of color have to suffer the discrimination of race as well. In fact, in 2015, women of color made up only 13 percent of all characters in movies, (Marshall 50). According to Marshall, after the #OscarsSoWhite movement, it was revealed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership was 77 percent male and 94 percent white (50). Women of color are rarely seen in films, however several directors are trying to overcome this with new movies such as Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians.
Women are also discriminated against for their looks, as much as they are for their gender and race. The majority lead female roles are played by women with a certain standard of beauty and more often than not sexualized. Often times, if they do not have the looks, then they do not get the part. Once women reach a certain age, it is harder for them to find jobs. In an article by M. Zeitlin, story editor Hindi Brooks says, “‘There was a time when my name opened doors,’ says Brooks. But then a few years ago, her agent told her, ‘I can’t sell you. They the new studio heads are telling us not to send them any gray hair,'” (Zeitlin 33). In 1991, a video called Power and Fear: The Hollywood Gray List was created. It showed the increasing unemployment among people in the film industry the older people get, which has been known to cause depression and even suicide. Acting roles for women are often hard to find by the time they are in their 30s or 40s compared to men who usually have roles well into their 50s. With it already being hard enough to find employment in the industry as a women, as they age, many are forced to find a new career.
One way people are trying to overcome the discrimination against women in Hollywood is by bringing awareness to society. For example, British actor Tom Hiddleston recently starred in a short film called Leading Ladies, a film that uses satire to point out the blatant discrimination and sexualization of women. In the film, different women are seen auditioning for the role of the ‘leading lady’, with some given seemingly ridiculous instructions of how to act the part, and others being asked to leave because of their race, size, or age. In the end, Tom Hiddleston ends up getting the part as a reference to the fact that men vastly outnumber women in the industry. In addition, according to Marshall, “Film producer Ross Putman is raising awareness by posting female character descriptions from Hollywood scripts – routinely posed in physical and sexual terms – on Twitter,” (50). For example, in Putman’s tweets, she gives examples from the TV show The West Wing, where one female character is described as, “25 and sexy without trying too hard, DONNA is devoted to Josh,” while a male character was characterized as, “A youthful 38, JOSH is Deputy Chief of Staff and a highly regarded brain.” Along with the #MeToo movement, a movement where women are coming forward about sexual harassment, more women are coming out to point out other discriminations as well, such as the pay gap. Forbes magazine shows the pay gap between women and male actors:
Annual Hollywood earning data compiled by Forbes magazine illustrates the pay disparity. The magazine’s list of top-earning male stars…shows that Lawrence, who topped the magazine’s female stars list with $46 million, earned only about 71 percent of what the top male star, Dwayne Johnson, earned, at $64.5 million. (Puente et al.)
With more people coming out about the truth, audiences and society are realizing the extent of discrimination in film-making.
In addition to women bringing awareness to the discrimination, many people are showing their support for their cause. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch has publicly stated that he will not work on any films where his female co-stars are not given equal pay. Movie critics are putting films to a test to figure out just how bad the discrimination is, comparing the number of women on set and behind the scenes to the number of men. Movements such as #HollywoodSoMale points out facts such as in 2014, “Just 20 percent of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles on the top 700 theatrically released films…were women,” (Marshall 50). As more people bring awareness to the discrimination, more supporters rally together to try and change this.
Many women in the industry say that the first step to overcoming discrimination is getting people to recognize it. “‘The solution is studios putting out more films with women at the center, marketing them well and audiences buying tickets,’ Schaffer says. ‘….Change takes time, but we are definitely seeing greater awareness of the gender pay gap, which is the first step,'” (Puente et al.). This awareness is a new phenomenon, because people are just now starting to believe and accept the truth of what women are saying. Women are also pushing to become a part of higher grossing films, for example, Patty Jenkins who was hired to direct Wonder Woman, making her the first female to direct a $100 million live-action film. Even though these are small steps, they are important in starting the change society needs.
Despite Hollywood’s female dominated beginnings, today women are discriminated against because of things such as their gender, race, looks, and age. However, steps are now being taken to slowly but surely overcome this. Many women in the industry, as well as some men, are speaking out against discrimination, fighting for a more equal society within the film industry. Women are starting to fight to have more women on screen shown as strong non-sexualized characters. With a gathering base of supporters pushing for change, many are hopeful for a more equal society seen both behind and on the big screen.
Francesca Angelini. “What Women Film-Makers Want.” Sunday Times, The, Oct. 2017, p. 6,7. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=7EH130122592&site=ehost-live.
Kilston, Lyra. “Alice Guy Blaché.” Art in America, vol. 98, no. 5, May 2010, p. 155. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=55148970&site=ehost-live.
Lauzen, Martha M., and Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “To Studios, Men Are the Heroes.” Variety, vol. 323, no. 7, Mar. 2014, p. 18. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=95111532&site=ehost-live.
Marshall, Catherine. “pass:#HollywoodSoMale.” Eureka Street, vol. 26, no. 4, Feb. 2016, pp. 49–51. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=113756730&site=ehost-live.
Puente, Maria, et al. “Hollywood Pay Gap Shows Little Sign of Closing.” USA Today. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=J0E014936707316&site=ehost-live. Accessed 4 Nov. 2018.
Rehagen, Tony. “Lotte Reinger: Meet the Female Animation Pioneer Who Helped Set the Stage for Walt Disney.” Jack & Jill, vol. 79, no. 6, Nov. 2017, p. 22. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=126768619&site=ehost-live.
Zeitlin, M. “Too Old for Hollywood.” Progressive, vol. 56, no. 1, Jan. 1992, p. 33. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=9202104749&site=ehost-live.