As the end of the year approaches, there’s an influx of award nomination lists, critics compile their top ten films of the year, and the New York Film Academy releases an infographic showing the inequality for women in the film industry.
While it’s certainly important to be aware of the numbers, the statistics are oft quoted, but not fully analyzed. The 6-9% that gets thrown around as the percentage of women directors in fact considers only the number of women who directed one of the 250 top-grossing films.
Recently, I attended a women in entertainment conference at a local university. They handed out a sheet of similar statistics to every attendee. The woman sitting next to me had a daughter who hoped to get into the film industry. The day before, her daughter attended the conference and left feeling rather defeated because of the emphasis placed on the unequal numbers.
This is precisely why these statistics do more harm than good. Before future filmmakers even start their careers, the continuous recitation of the numbers deflates hopes of potential Sofia Coppolas or Kathryn Bigelows or Melissa Leos.
A friend my age recently posted the NYFA stats on Facebook and mentioned how discouraging they were. People commented with advice like, “Don’t be a statistic. If you want it in your life, make it happen” and “Someone doing better than you is no reason to give up.”
Agreed on all accounts. In a time when technology is rapidly growing and the film and television industry is changing, it’s easier now than ever before for someone to create their own content without having to wait on an option or greenlight by a studio. Buy a camera, edit your film on your laptop, find funding through sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Seed and Spark, and distribute your own films through TUGG or Gathr.
So much emphasis is placed on the studio system by film critics and industry experts, it often seems like if women aren’t succeeding at the studio level, women aren’t succeeding at all. I don’t agree with this viewpoint.
Take Kathryn Bigelow, for example, the only Oscar winning (female) director in the past eighty years. The film that won her an Oscar, The Hurt Locker, was made on a shoestring budget ($14 million.) All of her films have been independently financed, not backed by a studio.
At the beginning of 2013, her latest, Zero Dark Thirty opened in wide release. The film grossed over $200 million at the box office and was nominated for five Oscars. Working outside of the studio system can succeed.
As many directors commented in a recent article in Variety, content is king (or queen, if we’re going to insist on gender-based labels.)
Lake Bell, who this year directed her first feature, In a World, said she’s received more lucrative offers for her second film. “It’s not necessarily what I want to do next,” Bell told Variety. “Maybe a woman is less inclined to want to take someone else’s huge mess that a studio’s been trying to make from a concept that’s already had 15 cooks in the kitchen. I’m not acting by monetary gain.”
The directors who are consistently working seem to be happy creating content they choose rather than bowing to a studio’s wishes. Look at Bigelow, Lynn Shelton, Nicole Holofcener, Ava DuVernay, Jane Campion, among others.
Why do women have to buy into the system? Film critic Manohla Dargis cited that until women are being considered for tentpole movies and wide release films (think 4,000 screens), the system is failing.
But by telling young artists the studio system is broken, we’re doing them a disservice by failing to mention what is working.
Although Variety and many other film acolytes are bemoaning the lack of women directors this awards season, let’s look at what is actually out there.
Nicole Holofcener wrote and directed Enough Said, which has received critical praise and is thought to be an Oscar contender, if not for directing or best picture, at least for writing. Julie Delpy, who co-wrote Before Midnight, was present on The Hollywood Reporter‘s writers roundtable and is a potential Oscar candidate.
Wadjda, directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, is campaigning for Oscar consideration as best icture and best foreign film. Fifteen other foreign films on the Oscar shortlist were helmed by women.
Sarah Polley‘s documentary We Tell Stories has been receiving a variety of critics awards and is shortlisted for an Oscar. The Square, directed by Jehane Noujaim, is also part of the Oscar shortlist for best documentary.
Yes, it would be wonderful if five of the best picture nominees were directed by women, but as a wise Facebook commenter said, “Don’t be a statistic.” Statistics aren’t everything.
Personally, I don’t think making big budget films or breaking box office records equals parity. Yes, money talks, but in a society where four people in the same room can be watching separate content on separate screens, content is gaining more weight.
Simply citing stats or pointing out the inequality at awards shows is defeatist. If you want to create, create. There are more avenues out there for artists—male or female—than ever before.
In the words of Kathryn Bigelow, who has been directing films for thirty years: “Never give up on your dream. Be tenacious. Work on stories you truly, truly believe in, because then no obstacle is too great.”
- Women Directors Nearly Absent in 2013 Awards Season (variety.com)
- Ava DuVernay to Recieve the Adrienne Shelly Foundation Award (theurbanfilmstage.com)