Hollywood’s Production Problem: The Gender Gap in Film

You’ve watched Jurassic World, right? If you have, you’re one of about 98 million other people since it came out in June (and if you haven’t, let’s just say you’re missing out).

It’s definitely blockbuster season: production studios are churning out more action-packed digitally-enhanced movies than ever, hoping to rake in the billions of dollars the market has to offer. Movies now are bigger and more lucrative than ever; the top three grossing films of this year were Jurassic WorldAvengers: Age of Ultron, and Furious 7. Bigger doesn’t just mean in value: production crews have had to grow in size to produce, film, and edit such a visual spectacle. You would think that the pool of applicants and employees to fill such positions would be growing in diversity, but unfortunately what most movies have in common, both on the screen and off, is a vast underrepresentation of women.

In 1985 Cartoon artist Alison Bechdel inadvertently created the Bechdel test, which can be applied to any movie, TV show, or book. The criteria are threefold: in the story there must be (1) at least two women, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about anything other than a man. The amount of movies that don’t meet this bar are disturbingly low. Why is this? Beyond blatant sexism in Hollywood, the problem has its roots in lack of female representation in behind-the-scenes film production.

The New York Film Academy has released an infographic that shows the vast disproportion of female to males in the industry. Among the top 6 prestigious (and, consequently, lucrative) jobs, women barely crack the 25% mark, with especially abysmal representation in cinematography (2%).

 

Across the industry there is a perception that the film industry is a gendered market place; directing a profitable movie is a “man’s game” while women feed more into a niche, independent audience. A recent report by the Female Filmmakers Initiative (co-founded by Sundance Institute and Women in Film, LA) cites the predominance of men in gate-keeping positions and a male-dominated industry socialization process as one of the reasons why women have less opportunity to climb the ranks within their field. The same study mentions that women are provided with little support and few opportunities, and that their women’s competency was constantly doubted, especially in certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.

This is not the only male-dominated field where these issues are presented. In STEM, women face similar hardships; as WOW reports in their Review of the Current Research on Women in Community College STEM programs, women in STEM classrooms often experience a “chilly climate”, where they report being the only woman in the classroom, feeling isolated and unsupported, and with faculty who have lower expectations of their abilities to succeed. Lack of academic and social support also played a role: female students reported less guidance and counseling, leading to a lack of understanding of career and academic pathways in their field.

WOW’s report also includes best practices to close the gender gap, which are applicable to the sub-fields within the film industry where women are also underrepresented. Gender targeted recruitment strategies (including outreach information that prominently show women), endorsing viable and diverse role models (including the opportunity for prospective students and professionals to interact with expert, experienced women), and staff development within the field (including training on gender equality and nondiscrimination) are viable ways to begin closing this vast gender gap.

The cry for more female-led movies has gained momentum within the last few years; Amy Schumer’s new comedy Trainwreck has made a whopping $82 million, and the all-female reboot of the 1984 classic Ghostbusters is set to be released in next year. What we can all hope for is that this trend continues and that need for more female filmmakers becomes more apparent.

 

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