Feb 20

[The Lack of] Women in Film


As Giselle and I sat around discussing what we wanted to cover for our next few posts, I told her about a topic I’ve wanted to share here for a while now: the LACK OF WOMEN in the industry.  Then I said, jokingly, that I might lose my shit while writing this article.  Giselle laughed as she elatedly (because my internal and superficial torment gives her joy in a very Scorpio kind of way) continued with, “I know! Do it anyway!”  So, three weeks later, I’m sitting at my laptop typing away, trying not to outwardly lose my shit in a very public place.

Here we go.

We’re always attempting to keep it real and relevant here at Tips for Actors.  And although I have a tendency of, not flat-out exaggerating (much?), but embellishing (a little?) for mere entertainment purposes when writing — I often ask myself if my sarcasm translates properly on paper, digital paper, if you will — unfortunately, this topic is not a tall tale concocted by my storytelling ways.  I promise you that if everything I wrote was 100% serious, 100% of the time, you’d be asleep from boredom within seconds.  But let me tell you about something that is extremely relevant and so not sarcastic on any level and 100% serious, yet completely beyond me that these statistical numbers areavaduvernay still so incredibly high in the year 2015: gender matters, and a whole damn lot, in the grand scheme of things.  I won’t bring politics into this article, but I will say that this is an ongoing issue that doesn’t seem to be nearing its end, I don’t know that it ever will.

Before going any further — this subject is usually a sensitive matter and some people do indeed take offense to it, depending on how it’s expressed, obviously — I find it necessary to kind of preface what will follow below to NOT be misconstrued.  There will be absolutely no man bashing, nor should this be considered a feminist piece of any kind: I honestly don’t like to throw that word out too often, because it literally is a misinterpreted word more often than not.  I won’t exaggerate and say that I have to fight for equality every single day of my life, but I do find myself overcompensating (mainly in a work-related atmosphere) more than anyone should ever have to.  Why is it so common to just assume I don’t know something or can’t do something, simply and solely, because I am a WOMAN?  Just the idea that this actually happens, not because I lack knowledge or experience in a certain field, but because of my dual X chromosomes, is plain sad, depressing and so completely demoralizing.

A couple of weeks ago, while going through all my crazy awards season coverage, I came across a quote by Rose McGowan from when she accepted the New York Film Critics Circle “Best First Film” award on behalf of Jennifer Kent for “The Babadook” (if you have not heard of or seen this film, look it up NOW, it’s brilliant!) and it instantly floored me.  “I ask you to take up the hand of the female director until we no longer say ‘female director.’ It is a unisex term. I am a director. Jennifer Kent is a director. Let’s do smart, let’s bring it. She did. I think she’s thrown down the gauntlet.”  Why has this NEVER occurred to me?  I immediately shared this quote with almost everyone I know!  They HAD to know too!  It is a unisex term, yes Miss McGowan, you are 100% correct, it is.  A quite intelligent friend of mine said, “Well, maybe the word ‘female’ is placed in front of director because it’s so uncommon for a woman to helm a film, especially a huge studio film. Maybe it’s labeled ‘female director’ purposely, to bring a specific kind of attention to it, since it’s directed by a woman.”  I believe that — but it frustrates me no less.  And do we really need to bring attention to the director’s gender?  Can we not allow the film to stand on its own and speak for itself — as do all the other films directed by men?

julie-taymorHere’s a statistic for you: only 6.8% of the 250 top-grossing films of 2014 were helmed by female filmmakers. Uh huh, you read that correctly.  Forget the percentage, let’s get perfectly accurate, women directed only 17 out of the top 250 grossing films of 2014.  I would love to say that this shocks me, but being an active filmmaker, this is no surprise whatsoever.  In all my years and, give or take, the 100 sets I’ve been on, I can say that I have only ever worked on 2 films that have been helmed by a woman.  Only 2, my film friends.  What certainly surprised me — an understatement if there ever was one — was the other percentage: only 4.7% of major studio films between 2009-2013 were directed by women.  Um, yeah, that is about 22 out of 470 films.  The percentage seems slightly better in the world of independent film at 10% being directed by women between 2009-2013, but then you calculate these numbers and come to the disheartening conclusion that that is only 90 movies out of 880.  Thanks mathematics, I can always count on you to put me in my place.

If there is a bright side here — at all? — women directors are up .8% from 2013’s top-grossing films.  That, and the #34 highest-grossing film of 2014 is “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie, with $159,949,820 worldwide box office (even with it having a December 25th release).  “Unbroken” is also the highest-grossing film directed by a woman in 2014 — and is up for 3 Academy Awards in the Cinematography, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories.  This is fantastic and all, but where are the women in the Best Screenplay and Best Director categories?  No one is going to tell me that there wasn’t a great enough script or film in 2014 written or directed by a woman that wasn’t deserving of an Oscar nomination… I watched a few of them that were deserving of an Oscar nod, absolutely.  I LOVE watching the Oscars and anything related to it (I’m like a kid at a candy store when it comes to Oscar week, and Oscar Sunday, don’t even get me started), anyone I know well will tell you so, but c’mon, the Academy had such an opportunity to make history this year.  Ava DuVernay, who directed “Selma,” would have been the very first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Director category — if only.

In fact, the Academy Awards has immense gaps between nominations for women in the director category.  Let’s gokathryn_bigelow into details, shall we?  The very first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929 — making this Sunday’s ceremony the 87th — and it wasn’t until 1976 that a woman was first nominated in the Best Director category.  I mean, it only took 47 years to get there.  Forty-seven years!  That historical nomination went to Lina Wertmüller for her film, “Seven Beauties.”  It then took just another… wait for it… 17 years for the Academy to nominate another woman in the director category: Jane Campion for her 1993 film, “The Piano.”  We’re decreasing here, people, because 10 years later, in 2003, Sofia Coppola was recognized by the Academy for her film, “Lost in Translation.”  And finally, in 2009 — a mere 80 years after the Academy Awards began — another historical moment: Kathryn Bigelow won a Best Director Academy Award for “The Hurt Locker.”  It has now been 5 years since a woman has been nominated for an Oscar in the director category.  But, the even crazier detail that comes to mind this very moment, there have only been 4 women nominated in the director category in the last 87 years.  I won’t go into the Best Picture and Best Screenplay — CEO positions or any other Key roles that are not considered the Art Departments — specifics for women, because it’ll be another 1400 words.

Do a bit of research on your own, you’ll be astounded by the statistics.  And I didn’t even mention the statisticsCelluloidCeilingReport about women in front of the camera — not very many 3 dimensional roles available out there.  How about the lack of female-led action movies?  Unless women are playing the role of “girlfriend” and/or “sidekick,” it’s too much of a box office risk for a major studio to take.  Women aren’t funny either, I’m told.  Just ask all the “strong female characters” penned without a sense of humor, while the hero gets the fantastic, witty dialogue.  I think you know this better than I do, I’m not an actress going out to castings.  As for superheroes?  We’re getting there, both in front and behind the camera.  The latter has not happened yet — if it’s on IMDb it must be true, right?  Nope.  So many things change, and even at the last second, with so much money, egos and logistics flying around; I will believe it when the film is in the can.  Also, rumor has it… this is a monumental maybe.  Any “news” whose source is a tabloid should ALWAYS be taken with a grain of salt.  Of course every outlet is reporting on it; if this does become a reality, it will be a huge step, one I cannot even begin to fathom until there is tangible proof sitting before me.  Alas, it is a constant one step forward and three steps back.

Written by: J.D. Koumendakis


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  1. gmarie

    So many of our friends can relate to this post. It was important to bring it up and I’m glad you had the “chest balls” to write about it. – Giselle Marie

  2. Sara Werner

    Wow…well I must give JD kudos for penning a very emotionally charged subject. Wonderfully composed article and to the point, great job to both of you! And thank you for the visibility. To start I don’t want to sound defeatist in my options, but when asked to work at a bar on Sunday during the Oscars (without TVs and connection to the media, besides “Tears For Fears” Pandora…which I must recommend) I didn’t even bat an eye, granted it is my last week working for an establishment that supports my career, I haven’t even been working there a month when my dry spell of directing (waiting for that deal or this deal to go through…all the waiting when proactive nature could come across as pushy).
    An offer in Miami has finally come through. I have to uproot my life but isn’t that what us artists are always prepared to do, we have accepted living for our art, but what we give up we always have pay off. These offers haven’t come easily.
    In my short 2 1/2 years so far in the city of dream making and the mecca of film as we are led to believe I have faced all sorts of the usual stigmas, tropes and stereotypical situations you’d expect as a creative and that unfortunately as a female creative. I’ve been told by potential representation and producers I’ll get you ahead if you sleep with me (literally verbatim and when the verbal assault from me began and ended, unphased they would say “well you’re not going to make it then” talk about fueling my fire), always being assumed for an actor (no offense Giselle) but getting told “you’re too pretty to be behind the camera” is a backhanded complement, even my extremely good male director friends accidentally will do the same, posting pictures of me saying “”Female” Director” or “Support Women in Film” when we don’t need this distinction for it is doing more harm than good. Shouldn’t we all support one another.
    Even my good male friend, an aspiring(that’s also kinda a shitty term) writer said of “Wild”, “I didn’t expect to like it, you know it’s a female lead, but then I realized she was on a journey similar to the character I am writing about and it inspired me.” Right there, he hit upon a huge point, we need to stop separating ourselves immediately according to gender and assumption.
    WE ARE ALL HUMANS HAVING A HUMAN EXPERIENCE and those experiences should not differ by our chromosomes. Blame the church for labeling Mary Magdalene a prostitute and not a holy deity like Jesus just because she’s a woman, blame health care restrictions, blame the fact that we carry children(no matter what strength that takes) because that must make us weak and demure and needed to be cared for. Honestly no rant could come close to solving the gender gap but the truth will always remain that we are the same. Art that connects to that human experience cross genders and tells the tales that affect us to the core will always be the strongest tales told and hopefully they will be nominated for a seemingly draconian award whether penned and directed by a person containing an XY or a XX.

    -Sara Werner

    1. Koumendakis

      Sara, Sara, Sara: I couldn’t have said it better myself! Completely agree that the constant need to point out “female director” is doing more harm than good. And yes, lots of people won’t bother to watch a film if its lead is a woman/women, whether it be comedy, action, horror; some audience will just not give it the time of day. Sad, really. But hey, you know what they say about assuming. Here’s to closing the gender gap!

  3. John Timmons

    J.D………..great article. I daresay that I am an “evolved” male( women have described me as such) and never have and never will hesitate to work with a woman or for a woman in ANY capacity. You have only my word for that but it is true and always has been……………. I say this to assure you that I read the entire article and could not agree with you more. Things need to change for women in EVERY field of endeavor. …..Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the Oscars made that clear. ………….but I would like to point out, to you, with all due respect, that the first two paragraphs in your blog, especially the second, are a profuse apology for what you are about to say. I almost couldn’t read the article. Without being unnecessarily rude or blunt, women ( or anyone with a just grievance) cannot afford to apologize for feeling the way they do. This age of political correctness and instant criticism, often just for its own sake, has cowered us all. ( my self included. I fight the tendency every day……………”…. conscience doth make cowards of us all and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pitch and moment, with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.” ………….. I know you think it took balls to write this blog and because you feel that way, ……..IT CERTAINLY DID. But it shouldn’t have. If people think it’s men-bashing….f**k ‘em. We deserve it, anyway. You have my respect……………. Rock On !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! John T.

    1. Koumendakis

      Thank you for your great comment, John! I wanted to say that it was never my intention to sound like I was apologizing for feeling there is never a step forward without taking a few steps back in the process of equality for women. Not that this needs to be explained, but there is a preface in the article simply for what you pointed out: age of political correctness and instant criticism. I do agree, however, that people tend to apologize for their just grievances more today than, I think, ever before — unfortunately. Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech was inspiring!

      I appreciate you reading the article and sharing your thoughts. Your support means a lot!

  4. Lillian

    Great article. Anything that has to do promoting visibility for women in the industry is fantastic and much needed. Saying that, I believe it IS important to say “female” director as much as it is important to say “black” director or “Asian” actor. Until Hollywood insists that its directors, lead actors, screenwriters, and key players are more diverse, the visibility of these nearly nonexistent subgroups is necessary. Representations of life, as seen through a Hollywood lens sans gender or cultural diversity, offers nothing more than a white male perspective, which is not wrong (or invalid), but it is not representative of the whole world or real life. Creatively that is disturbing. If you are a part of the industry and NOT disturbed, you should be. The lack of diversity (and by extension ccreativity) will ultimately determine Hollywood’s evolution and sustainability as a leading industry.

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