PRIMARY: Secondary data analysis

I have carried out secondary research on the lack of women in top roles within the US & UK Film industry, both mainstream and independent, using articles from a range of well-respected sources, such as The Guardian, The BFI, Directors UK, and CNN. During this investigation, I was able to accumulate numerous statistics on the issue, as well as reasons for the lack and counter-arguments towards them. I also picked up on the effects of the lack, such as the psychological effect that the lack of women on and off screen has on maintaining the lower position of women in society.

I used a rather improvised method of data collection based on methods I have successfully used in the past on other research projects. For each source I would take notes, after which I would embolden what I believed to be the key information. I would then highlight the key information using the following colour scheme:

– Purple = fact/statistic

– Pink = reasons for lack of women

Sky Blue = counter argument

Pale green = self-identified reasons natural to women

Pale orange = effect of the lack of women

Once the key information was highlighted, I compiled it into a separate document which I used to present my information. I then assembled the most useful information under subheadings depending on their colour. This would allow me to quickly access the key information when discussing it for my data analysis.

The internet makes clear that Hollywood is easily the most troubled area in terms of lack of gender parity. Both the University of San Diego State (Source 2, The Guardian, 2010), Fandor (Source 14, 2013) and CNN’s Melissa Silverstein (Source 11, CNN, 2013) have found that the current percentage of female directors in Hollywood stands at 9%. This is an improvement on 2011’s WFTV-figure ( Source 3, Sight & Sound, 2014) whereby only 5% of directors were women. Nevertheless, to evidence the significance of that tiny percentage, Fandor (Source 14, 2013) found that there are 15.24 male directors to every 1 female director. Anna Coatman in her article (Source 3, Sight & Sound 2014) links this percentage to the fact that many women are choosing to stay clear of the mainstream industry, and instead pursue a career in the independent industry. An example of this, pointed out by Jodie Foster, is Kathryn Bigelow, who is mentioned on many of the sources for being the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director, who, despite her success with Hurt Locker, decided to make her next feature with an independent producer (Source 9, SuperPopINTERVIEWS, 2013). 

There seems to be a common belief that the independent industry is a far better place for female directors to flourish. During a video conference at Cannes, Director/Writer/Actor Jodie Foster (Source 9, SuperPopINTERVIEWS, 2013) touches on this by saying that “there’s always been a good chunk of female directors in Europe…we also have a really good chunk in the independent industry”. The BFI’s 2011-2012 report (Source 6, 2013) contradicts both of these points, to some degree, as only 11.4% of all UK independent films in 2011 were directed by women. To support this, DirectorsUK (Source 4, 2012), the union for UK directors, states that the current level of female directors in drama has remained consistent for the last 20 years. Nevertheless, the BFI (Source 6, 2013) has also found that 37% of the top 20 UK independent films were written by women, marking a massive leap forward for female writers. This improvement was reflected by British Writer/Director Andrea Arnold (Source 7, Indie Wire, 2013) who stated, “I don’t feel discriminated against particularly as a woman writer”. Promisingly, indie festivals are expressing similar progress as 40% of directors at the London Short Film Festival were women whilst female directors made up 50% of the documentary field at Sundance 2012. This latter fact corresponds with Fandor’s (Source 14, 2013) calculation that 34.4% of all documentary directors are women anyway.

Despite the progress in the indie sector, the very top of the industry is still very male-dominated as the Melissa Silverstein (Source 11, CNN, 2013) found that only 18% of directors, exec producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012 were women. Some sources linked this directly to sexism. Skillset found that, “a number of older participants reported direct experience of overt sexism”. Director Martha Coolidge (Source 2, The Guardian, 2010) argues that this is caused by the fact that most male Hollywood executives are led by money and sex with “gorgeous girls”, and so don’t want older women around. She believes that this applies to anyone outside of “a small circle of privilege” which excludes black, working-class, and gay filmmakers too. 

Coolidge’s argument links to a number of common factors, one being that women are often perceived as creative risks by Hollywood executives. Jodie Foster (Source 9, SuperPopINTERVIEWS, 2013) relates this to corporate concerns: “you have a group of people with an incredibly risky job, there’s a lot of money on the line…they want to be the most risk averse…women represent some kind of creative risk where [Hollywood] are scared they won’t get their money back”. As a result, Anna Coatman (Source 3, Sight & Sound, 2014) believes that there’s “still a resistance towards new female talent at the top of the industry”. Actress/writer Alice Lowe (Source 2, 2010) argues that the sheer lack of female filmmakers does carry some positives as it means women’s work is often anticipated as new, exciting and “kind of taboo”. However, Melissa Silverstein (Source 11, CNN, 2013) counters this by arguing that the consequence of there being so few female filmmakers is that movies about women are “held up to absurd scrutiny” because women’s successes are still seen as flukes. 

Kira Cochrane in her Guardian article (Source 2, 2010) links this to the perception that Hollywood executives seem “perplexed by films with female themes”. As the majority of people in power are men, Cochrane believes that they will personally relate more to male characters and so feel that audiences will relate more to male characters too. This is rather odd considering that, according to the New York Film Academy (Source 10, 2013), half of all cinema tickets in the US are bought by women. This Hollywood perspective gives an impression that, as Anna Coatman has pointed out, the mainstream film industry doesn’t seem to consider stories told by women as “interesting or commercial”. However, Melissa Silverstein (Source 11, CNN, 2013) would argue that films like Bridesmaids and The Hunger Games are helping to diminish the total male domination of the mainstream industry. Nevertheless, Jodie Foster points to the fact that, although Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win is a big step forward for women in the industry, it’s significant that the first female director acknowledged by the Oscars won it for a male genre (Source 9, SuperPopINTERVIEWS, 2013). This may have been helped by the fact that, according to the New York Film Academy (Source 10, 2013),  77% of Oscar voters are male. 

Prominent actress Meryl Streep counters this strongly by drawing attention to 5 films about women from the last 5 years: The Help, The Iron Lady, Bridesmaids, Mamma Mia!, and the The Devil Wears Prada. Together, these films earned $1.6 billion. With such a large amount of money, Streep is bemused as to why films with female stories aren’t being taken up by Hollywood, saying: “Pure profit! So why? Why? Don’t they want the money?” (Source 5, The Guardian, 2012). Felicia Taylor’s CNN article (Source 12, 2012 ) reveals how having more women in leading roles does lead to more women’s stories reaching the mainstream screen as Donna Langely, Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures, oversaw the production of Mamma Mia. 

Producer/Writer/Director Naomi Foner (Source 7, Indie Wire, 2013) links this idea of rooted discrimination to the traditional expectation of society that women should take out time from their careers to raise their children: “Society has yet to catch up with laws about discrimination…the culture still undermines women, even when it comes to raising family”. Filmmaker Beeban Kidron supports this by confessing that bringing up children “has a material effect on all women’s careers”. Atonia Bird believes this is due to film directing being a full-time job, and as a result, hasn’t had children, concluding that “trying to have children and being a film director is virtually impossible unless you’re rich” (Source 2, The Guardian,2010). Anna Coatman (Source 3, SIght & Sound, 2014) suggests that Hollywood doesn’t like using female directors because “the business culture of mainstream film doesn’t allow for people taking time out to have a family”. 

On the other hand, Donna Langley (Source 12, CNN, 2012) managed to become Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures and still have a family, however, she had to put off having children until she was 40, so that her career had a solid footing first. She also admits that she had an “incredibly supportive husband”. This suggests that a supportive husband is a necessity for women wanting to maintain a film career. In comparison,  Naomi Foner (Source 7, IndieWire, 2013), who apparently didn’t receive much help from her husband at the time, director Stephen Gyllenhaal, confessed that, “it may have taken me 30 years [to direct a film because] I also felt incredibly responsible for my kids”. Donna Langley (Source 12, CNN, 2012) understands this feeling, “as women we carry a huge amount of guilt every second of every day we are not with our children”. 

Despite the difficulties that women face in breaking into the industry, including the effect of raising children, women like Donna Langley prove that it is possible for women to reach the most important roles within Hollywood. Along side Langley sits Amy Pascal as Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as Sue Kroll, who serves as the President of Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution for Warner Bros. Pictures (Source 11, CNN, 2013). Donna Langley (Source 12, CNN, 2013) counters the idea of male domination, saying that it doesn’t feel like a man’s world to her as she is surrounded by “great and fabulous women”. She also suggests that women are very useful for the industry as they “have a unique way of multi-tasking” and can serve as “the ultimate diplomats”. 

Whilst Langley has identified the attributes that make women perfect for the film industry, a number of women have blamed the lack on self-identified flaws carried by all women. Anna Coatman (Source 3, Sight & Sound, 2013) suggests that women generally have less confidence in themselves. Naomi Foner (Source 7, IndieWire, 2013) agrees with this, saying that when it comes to roles like directing, “women are more prone to being self-critical”. Kate Kinninmont of Women in Film & Television UK, the “leading membership organisation for women working in the creative media” (WFTV, 2014), admits that whilst “women are brilliant at pitching somebody else, they’re often not good at pitching themselves” (Source 2, The Guardian, 2010). It is quite significant for such prominent women within the industry, who both campaign for parity for women to be targeting the blame on women’s inability to promote themselves. However,Kira Cochrane (Source 2, The Guardian, 2010)  suggests that part of the problem is the cultural differences between men and women, including how “women are brought up to negotiate in very different ways from men”, which is partly why fewer of them make it into the top roles. 

Whether the reasons for the lack of women are external or internal to female characteristics, the effects of this absence are inescapable. Statistics from the New York  Film academy  (Source 10, 2013), collected from institutes such IndieWire and Sundance Institute, show that, in between 2007-2012, 1/3 of speaking female characters wore sexually revealing clothes or were partially naked. On average, the ratio of male actors to female actors were 2.25:1 (Source 13, neontommy, 2013). These statistics can again be linked to the domination of male stories within our culture. Melissa Silverstein (Source 11, CNN, 2013) believes there’s a “continual sense that male stories are universal, for everyone, and that women’s stories are just for women” and that “men won’t go see stories about women”. As a result, the most popular films each year are male superhero films, giving the impression that only male films are “the movies that matter”. She concludes that, when we don’t see enough women on screen and we don’t see enough women’s stories, “we get the message that women don’t matter as much, that our stories don’t count, that our experiences are less valid”. This chimes with filmmaker Carol Morely’s belief that it is ideologically and politically important for women to make films because “they offer a different perspective on the world” (Source 3, Sight & Sound, 2013).

Evidence from the New York Academy (Source 10, 2012) shows just how important it is for there to be more women behind the camera. There is an approximate 10.6% increase of female characters on screen when a female director is attached, along with a 8.7% increase when a female screenwriter is attached. Its hard for these percentages to go any higher as the top roles within the top 250 films of 2012 were also dominated by men, with women consisting only 25% of producers, 20% of editors, 17% of executive producers and a measly 2% of cinematographers. Kira Cochrane (Source 2, The Guardian, 2010) argues that, as a result of there always being fewer women at the top, there are fewer role models and fewer mentors to inspire young women to get into the industry. Filmmaker Alice Lowe (Source 3, Sight & Sound, 2013) agrees that it’s much harder for young female filmmakers beginning their careers because they need a mentor who’s similar to them, however, there’s just not enough women directors to provide that. This concluding point suggests a doomed cycle, whereby the amount of women in the industry will only increase slowly as there are too few women already in the industry to inspire the next generation of female filmmakers. Short-filmmaker -aspiring feature filmmaker – Lauren Tracy supports this idea as she finds herself to be one of the few current female filmmakers, even in the short film industry (Source 8, X-Factor Filmmakers, 2013). 


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