The rates of employment for women in film production are below what they were over a decade ago. Each year, the Center for the Study of Women In Television & Film at San Diego State University conducts a “Celluloid Ceiling” survey of who was employed behind the scenes in the year’s top-grossing 250 domestic films. The 2013 results found that among the films studied, 2,938 people were employed. Only 16 percent of those employees were women. This statistic is down 2 percent from the previous year, and down 1 percent from 1998′s employment levels. Yes, fewer women are employed in film production than in 1998. In the time it took for crop tops to go completely out of style and come all the way back around to trendy again, the film industry has not gotten any closer to gender equality. In fact, it’s actually gotten worse.
“The film industry is in a state of gender inertia. There is no evidence to suggest that women’s employment has improved in key behind-the-scenes roles over the last 16 years,” says Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the Center. The survey focused on who held the major production roles in movies – the ones with most of the creative control. In the survey, women accounted for 6 percent of directors, 10 percent of writers, 25 percent of producers, 15 percent of executive producers, 17 percent of editors and only 3 percent of cinematographers.
Gender inequality in Hollywood is often overlooked, and it’s something that few people are aware of. After all, there are plenty of women onscreen, so naturally a viewer’s first thought wouldn’t be that they are underrepresented. The problem is that while there may be thousands of women in movies every year, they’re often featured in relation to men or as narrow caricatures through the male gaze. That’s to say nothing about how many ladies are employed in the high-powered behind-the-scenes jobs. Most people don’t think about this stuff, and of course we don’t. Who stops to think of the name of their favorite movie’s cinematographer or producer, let alone whether they’re a man or woman? Most days, I certainly don’t.
This is important, though, because movies are a major frame of reference for the way we live. Whether it’s healthy or not, we base a lot of our reality and our idea of what is “normal” on what we see in films. People like directors and executive producers are the ones who are running the show and shaping these films. If the imagery and themes of the majority of blockbuster movies are steered by the perspective of just one demographic, a huge aspect of how we look at the world can become skewed. Ideally, there should be a balance of opposing opinions and voices running the film industry, but of course, there’s not really a simple fix for that. It should also be noted that gender is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to underrepresented groups in Hollywood. Race and socioeconomics certainly come into play in a huge way, but that’s another post for another day.
The entertainment industry is a weird a business in which working hard and being amazing at what you do is just a prerequisite that doesn’t guarantee an equal shot. Being dedicated doesn’t ensure that you’ll climb the promotional ladder like other jobs. Once you’re working hard, finding success comes down to luck and timing and who you know. That’s even true among the dominant group in the industry (in this case, dudes), and that’s before we even bring gender inequality into the picture. In a business that’s famous for being such a gamble for people who aspire to be part of it, it’s hardly easy to imagine somehow revising the process in the name of “being fair” — but it’s so, so important to at least consider. Pushing for equality in Hollywood is a daunting idea, but there must be at least some small steps we can take to make it happen.