Women and Hollywood: A Review of the WFTV Discussion

By Marése O’Sullivan

The perception of women in Hollywood is fraught with judgement and jealousy.

Even now, women in the film and television industry are being sized up not on their talent, but on their appearance.

Why are studios determining the right person for the job based on their sex? Since when are women not trusted to lead a big-budget movie? And why are the top ten grossing movies of all time all directed by men?

Last week, the Women in Film and Television UK (WFTV) organisation led a discussion on the current status of women in Hollywood. From actors, to writers, to producers, to editors, we heard the hard-hitting facts: women still do not exert the kind of power in the industry that men do. Right now, under 30% of behind-the-scenes and front-of-camera roles are filled by women.


Most of the women in the film and television industry are known for their acting success, but not behind the scenes.

Melissa Silverstein, Women and Hollywood blogger and author of In Her Voice, took to the stage to debate these figures. She is about to celebrate the sixth anniversary of her blog and is a co-director of the Athena Film Festival. She questioned the lack of female CEOs for the six major film studios in the U.S. – Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros Pictures – with only one, Warner Bros, boasting a woman as a co-executive.


Melissa Silverstein, author of In Her Voice, and guest speaker at the WFTV event.

Melissa explained how Hollywood works, indicating its focus on the opening weekend and on earning the highest gross possible, and revealed: “It’s all about the money, not all about the movie.”

Women are not seen as a market by Hollywood, she said, nor apparently does Hollywood believe that women go to see films. This illusion directly contrasts with data published by the Motion Picture Association of America, which revealed that, in 2012, women actually attended more films than men.

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She remarked that a woman’s story is just as important to be told as a man’s story, but that doesn’t seem to have clicked with the film industry yet, because female success is generally believed to be a fluke.

Producing is a far more popular career for women in the industry – but if only 19% of screenwriters of British films and 15% of UK directors are women, it’s clearly time for a change.

“In 2006, less than a dozen of the 307 films eligible for Oscars were women-driven,” Melissa told us. “Only three women have directed a film with a budget of over $100 million. Those films were animated.”

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Jennifer Yuh Nelson, director of Kung Fu Panda 2. Image from Hollywood Reporter.


40th Annual Annie Awards - Arrivals

Brenda Chapman, co-director and screenwriter of Brave. Image from MailOnline.


Brave. Image from Disney.


Vicky Jenson, center, co-director of Shark Tale, along with Bibo Bergeron and Rob Letterman. Image from movpins.


Shark Tale. Image from unionfilms.org.

Incredibly, only four women have been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards in nearly ninety years (Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) – with just one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, winning the title. Ever.

Although Melissa is hopeful for the future of women in the industry, she believes that we need to continue to support each other to make a real difference. She encouraged us to believe in our female vision.

“Trust in your stories – they matter just as much,” she smiled.

How do you think women can have their voice heard more clearly in the film and television industry? Comment below with your thoughts!

Is it ok to want to be a princess?

By Harlen Leonard

This week a hypothetical online letter on Salon.com, written from a father to his daughter, has captured the What I See team’s attention. The letter comes from Mo Elleithee, a Democratic political consultant in Washington D.C., and addresses his daughter’s misconception that she can never be the President of America.

He writes:

You and I were walking down the street and I pointed to the picture on the front page in the newspaper stand.
“Do you know who that is?” I asked.
Beaming with pride that you knew the answer, you looked up and said, “President Obama!”
“That’s right!” I congratulated you.  “President is a very important job.  Would you like to be President some day?”
Then, turning to me with a look as if I had just made the silliest suggestion ever, you laughed and said, “Daddy…I can’t be president! I’m not a boy!”
Talk about a verbal gut punch.

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Mo then goes on to note how he is aware that his daughter is only three and that her only frame of reference for ‘President’ is a man, and isn’t that sad? He points out that, in America, women make up only 20% of senators and only 10% of governors, and yet they make up over 50% of the population. He hopes that these numbers will change as she gets older.

But then it got worse.
When I asked you what you did want to be, you said with all the certainty in the world, that you wanted to be…a princess.
And not just any princess. You like Arielle, and Cinderella, and Jasmine, and Aurora, but you really wanted to be Belle. And I had to be the Beast.

Secondly – your mother and I really did not want you to fall into the “princess trap.” You know the one – where the helpless princess has only one singular path to happiness, and it revolves entirely around winning the affection of her Prince Charming. I thought those stories were lovely and cute before I met you. But when I began to realize the lesson that they were teaching in the context of what you might take from them, that all changed.

It’s not easy to avoid that message. It’s everywhere. We can’t walk through a store without finding some imagery of the glamorous princesses beckoning to you.

Brave (2012). Image belonging to IMDB

Now I understand exactly what Mo is saying. He wants his daughter to succeed in life, driven by her own independence and ambition. Not the so-called ambition forced on to young girls by the media.

I agree with him. I could understand his frustration, especially as he was the travelling Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign.
However, is it really so wrong to want to be a princess? I am sure that people rolled their eyes at Kate Middleton when she said the very same line at the age of three. The idea of the princess waiting around and swooning is long gone. The Duchess of Cambridge has her own career and has certainly not done things by the ‘royal/traditional book’. Let us also consider recent Disney princesses, such as Tiana from Princess and the Frog, who actively worked to make her dreams come true, and the ever awesome Merida from Brave. Is wanting to be a princess such a bad thing with role models like this?


Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Image from Disney.co.uk.

It is clear that Mo’s issue is his daughter conforming to social and media pressures in regards to gender roles and careers. I can also understand that he doesn’t believe his child has chosen her definitive career path and he is simply using this experience as an example of the media presence in his child’s life and the pressures that befall her. After all, it is a sorry state that a child, who has never watched a princess film, is under the impression that she is expected to be a princess.

However, on another note…she is three. She is a three-year-old child and the chances are that her views will likely change as she gets older and is exposed to different role models and ideas.

Mo ends his letter on a positive note as it turns out it is his daughter that wants to rescue him:

“Daddy, I have to marry you!”
“You do?” I asked, more than a little amused.
“Yes. Because you’re the Beast and you didn’t turn into a prince yet. So I have to marry you.”
While the conversation went on a little longer (and got even more hilarious as you started ticking off your invite list, which included the Tooth Fairy), that moment struck me.
In your mind, you weren’t the demure little princess waiting for Prince Charming to come save you or sweep you off your feet. You were the one coming to my rescue, to help me reach my potential.

You were the one who was empowered.

On a final note, Belle was my favourite princess. She was sassy, smart, knew her own mind and defended her family. I still like to believe that, after getting married to the Beast, she went on to have a successful career as an archivist. However, this is my personal princess preference.

Does it matter what career a woman has, as long as she feels empowered?

Would you mind if your child wanted to be a princess? If so, please let us know in your comments.