Think things are improving for women in film and television? Think again - Women's Agenda

Think things are improving for women in film and television? Think again

This year’s Golden Globe Awards created a lot of buzz around the presence of women in Hollywood. We saw two hugely successful female hosts calling out the industry’s sexism and we saw more women winning awards for both on and off-screen pursuits than ever.

Overall, the awards left some of us feeling hopeful that perhaps the status of women in Hollywood is improving. Sadly, we were misled.

A study released today by the Center for the Study of Women in Television andFilm at San Diego University has revealed that, for the most part, the number of women in the industry has actually fallen in the last 17 years. 

Alarmingly, there were actually more female directors in the late 90s than there are today. Since 1998, the number of women directing any of the top 250 highest-earning films has dropped by 2%.

This issue has come to the fore in recent months with the release of Angelina Jolie’s first foray into the directing world with Unbroken. Having a female director take charge of a likely box office hit is encouraging, but it also draws our attention to just how rare an occurrence it is.

In 2014, women only made up 7% of directing roles on Hollywood’s biggest films. Perhaps this is why it wasn’t until 2010 that a woman won an Oscar for best directing (the record was broken by Kathryn Bigelow, who won the title for her film The Hurt Locker).

The issue extends to all behind-the-scenes roles too. The number of women working as producers, editors and writers has dropped off as well and women make up only 5% of all cinematographers on today’s films.

The results were slightly better in production than in any other field. Women have the strongest representation as producers (where they make up 23%) and executive producers (where they make up 19%).

The poorest results were in sound direction and design: women account for only 1% of all composers and only 5% of all sound designers.

The study also looked at overall employment figures for men and women in the industry. It found that only 3% of films employed more than 10 women in any of these major roles and that 38% employed no women at all or one single woman in a major role.

“It’s remarkable that we’re still at 1998 levels,” the study’s author Dr Martha Lauzen said. 

“Whatever is being done to address this problem is not working and we need to look for industry-wide solutions.”

She added that the discrepancy does not correlate with women’s interest in the film business. Women still dominate enrolments in most major film schools and women consistently make up more than half of all cinema audiences. So given that women seem level with or surpassing men in terms of interest and education in the film world, why are they so drastically underrepresented in its top echelons? And what is the solution?

Perhaps something can be learned from the relative success of the television industry in promoting women to top jobs. Two of 2014’s most successful television programs – Girls and Orange is the New Black – were created and directed by women. Last year, women made up a record-breaking 28% of all creators, producers, writers, directors and directors of photography on the small screen.

Girls creator Lena Dunham’s advice to the business is that it should get used to seeing more women in leading roles and work on changing the heavily male-dominated status quo: “The film industry [should] stop treating every successful female project as an anomaly,” she said at the Venice Film Festival last year.

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