The following is an excerpt from Martha M. Lauzen, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University for Women’s Media Center. The center is the most widely cited and trusted source of information on the representation of women in film and television.
With this year’s Academy Awards ceremony just around the corner, Oscar has rounded up the usual suspects for filmmaking’s most prestigious honor. Not surprisingly, the demographic profile of the nominees for the coveted Best Director award closely resembles that of the academy’s governors. As Michael Cieply states in a New York Times’ Carpetbagger blog, “All are male, all are white, and most have been a presence at the Oscars before.”
The annual under-representation of women on the list of Oscar nominees is merely a symptom of the larger illness ailing the mainstream filmmaking industry in this country.
According to the annual Celluloid Ceiling study released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women comprised only 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2011.
By role, women accounted for 5 percent of directors, 14 percent of writers, 18 percent of executive producers, 25 percent of producers, 20 percent of editors, and 4 percent of cinematographers last year. The abysmally low number of women working as directors is especially troubling, as women comprised 9 percent of directors in 1998—so much for creeping incrementalism.
The bottom line is that women can’t keep company with Oscar if they’re largely unable to gain employment in key roles. It’s that simple.
The filmmaking and nomination processes engage, consciously or not, their participants’ comfort levels. People feel most comfortable telling stories that reflect their own reality. People nominate individuals and stories they can relate to. There’s no grand conspiracy here. We feel most comfortable with those that look like us.
Related: The Global Gender Gap
Film scholar and critic B. Ruby Rich observes, “For women today, directing films is like playing against the house in a Vegas casino. The odds suck, the game is rigged.” The Oscars help juice this system, reinforcing a status quo in which white men rule virtually every step in the process. As one of the most influential and visible organizations in the film business, the academy could do more to encourage those in positions of power to provide opportunities for members of more varied social groups to tell their own stories.
- For more daily expert updates, follow genConnect on Twitter and Facebook.
- To stay on top of the latest contributions from experts: Sign Up for genConnect.