Women (not) in film

6 May 2010

They’re vastly underrepresented in all aspects of filmmaking, a new study shows us.  Of the 100 top-grossing films made in 2007, only 2.7% of the directors were women, while only 11.2% of the writers and 20.5% of the producers were women.  This radical gender imbalance is likely largely the reason why women characters onscreen are so few — and generally so shallow or used as eye candy.  As the authors of this study show, “the lack of gender symmetry on-screen” (only about 20% of films feature a solo female as the main character) might be at least partly explained by “the biological sex of behind-the-camera content creators.”

Director Aparna Sen

This study led by Stacy L. Smith of USC shows that overall, men in prestigious positions behind the camera outnumber women by five to one, and women are most profoundly underrepresented in the role of film director.  Yet when women do serve as writers, directors, and producers, their films are far more likely to show girls and women on screen.

Director Lucrecia Martel

The study is hardly a feminist rant, especially considering that its authors specifically reject a particularly ignorant New York Times piece last year that claimed, preposterously, that a small group of female screenwriters now constitutes a “fempire” of their own.  (Can we please have a moratorium on these words?  I’m as sick of “mansplaining” as I am of “fempires.”)  Indeed, the study’s authors frequently imply that they expect things will improve for women behind the camera as in front of it.  “As women inhabit these prestigious posts, we may begin to witness a representational sea change on-screen,” they write in a representative line.  Smith et als, let me conduct your rant for you:  considering it’s 2010, when exactly is this sea change going to occur?

Jane Campion directing "Bright Star"

Look: there is no “fempire” of women behind the camera.  Even more due to this study, we must celebrate Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Awards win as a Pyrrhic victory, as it was one of those few films that featured no women characters at all.

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3 Responses to “Women (not) in film”

  1. didion Says:

    Thanks, RJP, for sending me the link — fascinating.

  2. rjp Says:

    My pleasure!


  3. […] The stats are clear:  stop denying that the male/female ratio in film directing, producing, and screenwriting is radically out of whack.  […]


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