Women in Film: Where We Are Now and Where We Need to Be

While presenting at the 2018 Golden Globes, actress Natalie Portman called out the “all-male” nominees for the “Best Director” category, causing audiences on social media to commend her for drawing attention to the lack of female representation in the awards ceremony. In this year’s past Oscars, there were no women nominated in the categories for best cinematography, best directing, best editing or best original composition. Out of the top 100 films in 2018 , just 40 featured a female in a leading or co-leading role. This begs the question: why does Hollywood continue to underrepresent women?

The answer may lie in what goes on behind-the-scenes. According to a study from the University of Southern California on gender inequality in Hollywood, only 28 percent of the 1,200 films surveyed from the past 10 years featured a female lead. Another study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that out of the top 100 gross films of 2018, women only represented four percent of directors, 15 percent of writers, three percent of cinematographers, 18 percent of producers and 14 percent of editors. In comparison, 94 percent of major film studio executives were white and male, as found in a 2015 report from UCLA. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that 94 percent of Oscar voters were Caucasian and 77 percent were male. The disparity between women and (specifically white) men show how the industry is dominated and skewed to favor the latter. The notorious “boy’s club” mentality that the Hollywood elite maintain, continues to impact the stories that are told on screen and which voices are heralded over others. More importantly, the problem spans beyond just the faces in the foreground—women in all fields of film are continually shut out of jobs and projects in place of a male alternative.

What’s even more alarming is the even smaller amount of opportunity available to women of color and women past a certain age. Out of the 40 films in 2018 featuring a female lead, only 11 were women of color and another 11 were women ages 45 and above. Moreover, 21 percent of female characters in the top 100 films of 2018 were black, while 10 percent were Asian, four  percent were Latina, and an abysmal one percent were women of other races or ethnicities. Circling back to the Oscars, just one woman has won the award for best director (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker), while only five have ever been nominated for the category, all of whom were white.

However, not all hope is lost. With the arrival of organizations like Time’s Up Now and Women in Film, as well as the rise of the #MeToo movement, female filmmakers, directors, actors and producers are making sure that the internal changes in Hollywood continue to evolve and grow. At the 2018 Oscars, actress Frances McDormand ended her acceptance speech for best actress with a call for “inclusion riders” or clauses that actors can put in their contract to mandate a certain level of diversity within a film’s cast and crew. Actions like these are contributing to a more diverse and less homogenous film industry, one that understands the value and necessity of allowing a seat for everyone at the table.

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