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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Brave. Image from Disney.

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

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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!