What do Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick all have in common? The popular response would be to say that they are all major film directors, and that’s true. Yet another, perhaps less obvious likeness that groups them together lies in a more unsettling truth: they are all men.
These names were the first presented to me upon typing “film directors” into Google. After scanning through the images of 51 filmmakers, I only managed to come upon the names and faces of three women — Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow — who, along with Lina Wertmuller, have been the only women nominated for Best Director in Academy Award history, with Bigelow being the only woman to have won.
Although this list does not account for every director that has ever made a film in the U.S. or has been part of the Hollywood system, it does serve to exemplify the overwhelming propensity of male dominance within the film industry today.
As a woman and a film minor, I have experienced this oppression firsthand through my studies of the form. As the opening and closing credits of various films rolled by in my classes, I repeatedly jotted down the names of writers, producers, directors and cinematographers. Yet, a woman’s presence was often hard to come by, if available at all.
My encounters with women in film have largely been limited to acting roles in which the female character is often infantilized, marked by hysteria or celebrated for her sexual appeal. It might require less effort to come up with the names of actresses than women directors, but that is not to say that they face less of a challenge receiving equal representation in films.
In terms of genre, only certain types of roles are perceived as being suitable for women. Research conducted by the University of Southern California found that women were more likely to be offered roles in comedies versus animated films, and even less so in action films. However, they don’t mean just any women.
From 2007 to 2013, half of all female characters in top grossing films were between ages 21 and 39, while less than a quarter were between 40 and 64, which reveals the intersectionality of the issue.
In retrospect, I suppose young Hollywood actresses are actually pretty lucky. Even if their career amounts to them being at the butt of a joke, at least they aren’t old and irrelevant, right?
Well, not so much. In fact, Huffington Post reported that films released in 2014 had an average of 2.24 male characters for every female character and less than a quarter had a female lead or co-lead at all.
Additionally, according to a study on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2014, women made up just seven percent of directors, five percent of cinematographers and 11 percent of writers. What’s more is that these numbers are almost identical to those reported in 1998.
This is the moment when I pause and listen for the opposition to proceed with the cringe-worthy reply: “Maybe women just not interested in these roles and occupations.” If by “not interested,” you mean Sienna Miller turned down a Broadway role because she was offered half as much as her male co-star, then I am right there with you. It is hard to have interest in something when that interest is prevented or out of reach.
In times when the issue of gender inequality is perceived by many as something we have already overcome, a 16-year gap illustrating the lack of change in the opportunities given to women in film becomes especially startling. If women make up over half of the population of filmgoers who find themselves to be underrepresented in the industry, then why is it that we let Hollywood get away with such unfair, sexist and discriminatory actions?
Of course, film is only one aspect of the entertainment industry through which these gender divides bleed. Take, for example, the ongoing disputes between Kanye West and Taylor Swift on her consecutive wins for Album of the Year. Swift’s speech at this year’s Grammy Awards functioned as a rebuttal to West’s targeted claims and called for the empowerment of women everywhere, urging them to never let anyone take credit for their success: “As the first woman to win album of the year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, some day when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around, and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there — and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
Unfortunately, women in virtually every job position, at every level, across all races have been, and will continue to be, taken advantage of or prevented from attaining their success if we refuse to recognize the roadblocks that stand in their way.