“We started this line of research [about the Celluloid Ceiling] about a decade ago… There was a lot of press coverage at the time suggesting that women had finally achieved parity with men in the entertainment business, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes, so we just started counting… My research clearly shows that if you have women working behind-the-scenes on a film (as producers, directors, screenwriters, etc), you get more female characters on screen. It is a statistically significant and consistent finding over the years… If you can change women’s representation in the media, you will change women’s place in the world. I think it’s that simple.”
Article based on
Jan’s Women’s History Month Presentation
@ Monmouth College in Illinois
March 25, 2004
My purpose tonight is to persuade all of you to become smart movie consumers. I intend to convince you that the decisions we make as audience members can change the kind of options we have when we go to the movie theater. I’m talking specifically to the women here tonight, because women have to take the lead on this, but obviously we need all the guys with us too. The idea that guys won’t go to see films by women because they’re “chick flicks” – where does that come from? It’s important for guys to see films by women. In the end, we’re all just people, and movies have a lot to teach us all about each other.
When the Oscar nominations were announced in January, recognition for women filmmakers took a tremendous leap forward. [Click here for Jan’s article
REFLECTIONS ON OSCAR
2004.] Now my belief is that the future rests in our hands. Will 2004 be the beginning of a trend toward truly equal opportunity for women filmmakers, or will we look back and say 2004 was a fluke? If 2004 was a fluke, then next year we’ll simply return to the same dismal statistics that we’ve had in the past, and the gains we made in 2004 will quickly be forgotten.
I’m going to start with a little historical background about the concept of the “Celluloid Ceiling.” I’ll define what it means and review the research that supports it. Then I’ll tell you why I think we’ve entered a new “golden age” based on three new technologies that have changed the balance of power, expanding the options for filmmakers and audiences everywhere.
Martha Lauzen is a media specialist, a communications professor at San Diego State University in California. She received her Ph.D. from the School of Communications at the University of Maryland, and for the past 11 years she’s been tracking women’s roles behind-the-scenes in film and in television. Tonight, I’m only going to talk about Professor Lauzen’s film research. But you should know that she’s done comparable research on opportunities for women behind-the-scenes in television as well.
Professor Lauzen has been compiling statistics for over ten years, and the really scary thing is that things are not only NOT getting any better for women behind-the-scenes in Hollywood, but things are actually getting worse. Her statistics defy the trends in almost every other occupation, where women’s participation has been growing over time, albeit gradually. (Think of how many women are in the U.S. Senate today versus twenty years ago, etc.)
Here’s what Professor Lauzen does: every year, she complies a list of the top 250 films released that calendar year (defined by domestic box office grosses). Then she tabulates all the behind-the-scenes roles. She looks at six categories: Producer, Executive Producer, Director, Screenwriter, Editor, and Cinematographer. How many women filled those roles in the top 250 films? There’s a cumulative effect here. Her research clearly shows that the more women you have working behind-the-scenes on a film, the more women then come onto that film, especially when women are in either the producer or the director role. [Click here to read Jan’s 2003
CHAT WITH MARTHA LAUZEN.]
Her last set of statistics was released in June, 2003, based on data collected from all the films released in calendar year 2002. In calendar year 2002, for the top 250 films (measured by domestic box office grosses for that year), men had directed more than 9 out of 10 films on the list. Even worse, 83% of those top 250 films had no female screenwriters. Now, a lot of films have two, sometimes three, or maybe even four credited screenwriters. So the fact that 83% of the top 250 films had no female screenwriters at all is a pretty shocking statistic. Objective, quantitative results like that should wake people up to the fact that something is seriously wrong.
Sure enough, when Professor Lauzen’s team did their “content analysis” of these films, they found that 77% of the identifiable protagonists were male, and only 16% were female. One statistic demonstrated that you had a greater chance of being seen on the screen if you were an extraterrestrial than if you were an Asian woman.
I hope we all agree that this is not good, right? It means that there are whole categories of people in the world that nobody ever sees on screen, people whose stories are never told. It means that there are very few films depicting the real lives of women and girls around the world today. It also means we have a limited number of films about our historical figures.
an example. Did any of you see the film
POLLOCK from 2000? It
starred Ed Harris as painter Jackson Pollock, and Marcia Gay Harden as
his wife, artist Lee Krasner. They were both nominated for Oscars, and
Marcia Gay Harden actually received the Oscar that year for Best
Supporting Actress. If you think back, you’ll remember that was a huge
upset. Everybody was expecting Kate Hudson to win for her role as the
loveable groupie “Penny Lane” in
ALMOST FAMOUS, because she’d
won the Golden Globe Award.
Marcia Gay Harden received the
2002 Best Supporting Actress Oscar
for her portrayal of Lee Krasner in POLLOCK.
(AFP PHOTO/Demmie Todd/Sony Pictures
When Marcia Gay Harden won her Oscar, I thought: “Great! They can just take
POLLOCK, re-cut it, and then add on details about the life of Lee
Krasner.” Then you would have a new movie called KRASNER (the sequel to
POLLOCK so to speak). Now you need to understand that Jackson Pollock died in his early 40s, but Lee Krasner lived into her 70s. This woman had an amazingly important and influential life, not only as an artist in her own right, but as the manager of Jackson Pollock’s estate. She pretty much changed all the rules for marketing American art after he died. She was a very, very influential person in the world of modern art.
When I interviewed Barbara Turner, the woman who wrote the screenplay for
POLLOCK, I asked her: “Are we ever going to see
KRASNER?” She looked at me with this big question mark on her face, and then she realized what I meant, and she said: “No, not in this lifetime.” Now I ask you: why is that? What makes Jackson Pollock’s life more important or more inherently interesting than Lee Krasner’s life? Why should that be? Ask yourself that... As long as the powers players in Hollywood believe that audiences won’t turn out for films about women, movies like KRASNER will never be made. Now, you’re all thinking: what about
FRIDA? Trust me, we’ll get there!
Women can fight back now because we have three new technologies.
First of all, we have Digital Video
(DV), which allows new filmmakers to make movies on the cheap using handheld cameras. Did any of you see the film
THIRTEEN by Catherine
Hardwicke? She came to Chicago to do a presentation at the Gene Siskel Film Center a couple of weeks ago, and she said there were only two tripod shots in the entire film. Every other shot in
THIRTEEN was done with a handheld camera. She was literally chasing the characters around the set with her camera. It makes the film feel very real. You can actually get into the actor’s faces, see into their characters.
Digital Video is great news if you’re a new filmmaker with a big vision and a small budget. Catherine Hardwicke said she started making
THIRTEEN with the money she got from taking out a second mortgage on her house. She wrote a part for Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter, and Hunter liked what she saw, so came aboard as Executive Producer. Hunter brought the project more visibility, more “buzz,” and enough money to complete post-production. And in the end, Holly Hunter got an Oscar nomination this year (for her role as the mother in
THIRTEEN) because Hardwicke had created a fabulous “meaty” part for her. So Digital Video is important because it’s cheaper than ever before to make a good film. If you have the vision and the commitment, you can do it!
The second new technology is the DVD. Because of the DVD revolution, films can find an audience even if they don’t get wide theatrical distribution. For example, the movie
ANNE B. REAL, directed by Lisa France, just came out on DVD. It played at a lot of film festivals last year, but I think it only opened theatrically in New York and LA, so it could qualify for an Independent Spirit Award. Well,
ANNE B. REAL received two Spirit Award nominations last year: Best Feature under $500,000 (the John Cassavetes Award) and Best Debut Performance (for star JaNice Richardson). It’s a wonderful movie, but it won’t be included in Professor Lauzen’s 2004 statistics because it won’t ever make the list of the Top 250 measured by domestic Box Office grosses. But you can see it now on DVD, and if you like it, you can tell your friends, and they can tell their friends. And the next time you see that a “Lisa France movie” is playing at your favorite theater, maybe you’ll go, right?
Word-of-mouth brings us to the third new technology, which is the Internet. You can find specialized websites and listservs now that are devoted to promoting films by women. A prime example is called
THE FIRST WEEKENDERS GROUP. You can sign up for their list, and every week they will tell you which new movies directed by women are about to open. You can add your own opinions to the content of these websites, and you can even start your own word-of-mouth campaign: you tell your friends and they tell their friends. Because we now have the Internet, we can bypass the big marketing campaigns that are run by the studios, and actually take control.
So WE have to get the word out. WE have to generate “buzz” about the films we like. Does this really work? Yes! Here are two success stories from calendar year 2002, movies that definitely generated sufficient box office revenue to make Martha Lauzen’s list in 2003.
(remember, I promised you we’d get to FRIDA!) opened to mixed reviews in November, 2002. Nevertheless, women everywhere really loved
FRIDA and they told their friends to see it. This wonderful film about a larger-than-life heroine eventually received six Oscar nominations and won 2 Oscars.
But director Julie Taymor wasn’t nominated for Best Director, and there was a huge outcry among women on the Internet about that. (I did a lot of screaming about it myself <g>) One year later, in 2004, Sofia Coppola became the first American woman ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar. I think that nomination was really meant for Julie
Taymor, but that’s the way things work in Hollywood. This wasn’t the first time in Oscar history that Academy members have had to catch-up.
Our second victory in 2002 was MY BIG FAT GREEK
WEDDING, which now holds the record as the most successful indie
in history. The budget for
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
was $5 million and it grossed $240 million in the U.S. (this is
just the domestic box office revenue, not counting video, DVD,
soundtrack, or overseas grosses).
MBFGW was a “little” movie
written by a woman, based on her own experiences. By the night of
the Oscars, Nia Vardalos had come out of nowhere to receive a
nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Real women like us were
responsible for these two success stories, not mainstream film critics.
Take a look at the blurbs in the movie ads in your local paper this
Sunday. There are a lot of male film critics in the world! This is a
particular bugaboo of mine because I live in the city of Chicago.
Chicago is a huge city with a very diverse population, and yet most of
our movie choices are controlled by three middle-aged white guys. Now I
know Roger Ebert (of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES), Jonathan Rosenbaum (of the
CHICAGO READER), and Michael Wilmington (of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE) are
very different people, and I don’t mean to imply otherwise, but they
don’t represent the diversity of opinion in a city like Chicago.
When Roger Ebert published his 2003 Oscar predictions, he wrote: “Salma Hayek [nominated for Best Actress] has the role of a lifetime in
FRIDA but the film got more respect than affection.” I read that condescending comment and I just couldn’t believe my eyes.
FRIDA got six nominations and every woman I know loved it, so who’s opinion was this? I know it wasn’t my opinion. Was it yours?
Then there’s David
Denby, film critic for the NEW YORKER magazine. (People think of the NEW YORKER as a “woman-friendly” publication because Pauline Kael used to be their primary film critic. News flash: Pauline Kael was retired for years, and now she’s dead!) David Denby wrote a full four-column review of
8 MILE, including a picture of
Eminem, and then at the bottom of these four columns, he tacked on half a column about
“I have to admit that after an hour or so of this Punch-and-Judy show with its noisy drinking, hurling of brightly painted kitchen items, partings and
reconciliations, I was ready to knock both lovers flat with a large red chili pepper. Still given its ramshackle construction and its repetitions
FRIDA is much better than it has any right to be.”
Wow! Is that what YOU saw when you saw FRIDA? So if you had just looked at the blurbs from the critics without listening to word-of-mouth from your sisters, you would never have put
FRIDA on your “Must See” list.
Do you any of you remember the reviews for
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING? They were really horrible. One (male) critic even wrote: “This is a movie that was made for my grandmother.” The reviews were really horrible, and yet, women loved this movie. So, OK, it wasn’t the greatest movie of all time and artistically I don’t think it’s in a category with
FRIDA, but it was a lot of fun and it told the story of real women’s lives in a very funny way. That’s good enough for me!
So now it’s up to us – to the collaborative efforts of women filmmakers and women audience members. We have three new technologies. We have Digital Video as the means of production, we have DVDs as the means of distribution, and we have the Internet as the means of communication. Always remember that people in backrooms are tabulating what we do. When we choose films by women filmmakers and we put our money where our mouths are, Hollywood notices. Every time one of these “little” movies succeeds, it increases the probability that more will be made, and that’s how the system works. Women have proved themselves to be “smart shoppers” in every other domain. If we want to smash the “Celluloid Ceiling,” we can!
Here are some of the statistics from Martha Lauzen’s recently-released Celluloid Ceiling Report for 2004. You can either read these numbers & weep, or you can make your own personal commitment to the steps described above. We continue to support Professor Lauzen’s essential research & we urge all of you to do the same.
The Celluloid Ceiling:
Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in the Top 250 Films of 2003
Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D.
School of Communication, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182
In 2003, women comprised only 17% of individuals working in key behind-the-scenes roles on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This is the same percentage of women who worked on the top films of 1998.
Approximately one out of five films released in 2003 employed no women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, or editors. Men directed more than 9 out of 10 films.
The following summary provides employment figures for behind-the-scenes women working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2003. It also provides a historical perspective on the employment of behind-the-scenes women, comparing 2003 figures with those from the last 17 years.
This study analyzed behind-the-scenes employment of 2,359 individuals working on 209 of the top 250 domestic grossing films (41 foreign films omitted) of 2003 with combined domestic box office grosses of approximately $8.8 billion.
Women comprised 17% of all executive producers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 grossing films of 2003. This represents no change from 2002.
Women accounted for 15% of all executive producers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 100 grossing films of 2003. This represents a decline of one percentage point from 2002.
Twenty one percent (21%) of the films released in 2003 employed no women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, or editors.
A historical comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2003 and 1998 reveals that the percentages of women executive producers, directors, editors, and cinematographers have declined, the percentage of women writers has remained stable, and the percentage of women producers has increased slightly.
Women comprised 14% of all executive producers working on the top 250 films and 14% of executive producers working on the top 100 films of 2003. Seventy two percent (72%) of the top 250 films and 3% of the top 100 films had no female executive producers.
Women accounted for 25% of all producers working on the top 250 films and 23% of those working on the top 100 films of 2003. Thirty seven percent (37%) of the top 250 films and 36% of the top 100 films had no female producers.
Women comprised 6% of all directors working on the top 250 films and 4% of directors working on the top 100 films of 2003. Ninety three percent (93%) of the top 250 films and 96% of the top 100 films had no female directors.
Women accounted for 13% of writers working on the top 250 films and 11% of writers working on the top 100 films of 2003. Eighty two percent (82%) of the top 250 films and 83% of the top 100 films had no female writers.
On films with male executive producers only, women comprised 15% of those working in other behind-the-scenes roles considered in this study. On films with at least one female executive producer, women comprised 22% of those working in other behind-the-scenes roles.
By genre, women were most likely to work on documentaries and romantic comedies and least likely to work on horror and sci-fi features. Women comprised 29% of individuals working on documentaries, followed by 26% on romantic comedies, 24% on fantasy features, 19% on animated features and dramas, 16% on comedies and action adventure features, 10% on sci-fi features, and 8% on horror features.