Lately, due to the #OscarsSoWhite,#OscarsSoMale and #AltOscarParty campaigns, a lot of attention is being paid to how The Academy, and Hollywood in a more general sense, fails to reward women and people of color for their work. It’s no longer just a group of angry Tweeters: The conversation is actually, finally reaching the mainstream, and more people than ever are paying attention to what is happening during awards season this year. Never before has The Academy been scrutinized to this degree, circumstances which led to their hasty overhaul in voting rules.
Here are some numbers to remind you of why this is happening. Over its 88-year existence, The Academy has only nominated four women for the Best Director award. Namely, Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” in 1976, Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993, Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” in 2003 and Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009. The latter was the first woman ever to win the Best Director award. No woman was ever nominated for the Best Cinematography award.
Never has a black director, male or female, won a Best Director award. Only three black (male) directors were ever nominated: John Singleton for “Boyz N The Hood” in 1991, Lee Daniels for “Precious” in 2009 and Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave” in 2012. Only one black man was ever nominated for Best Cinematography, Remi Adefarasin for “Elizabeth,” in 1998.
This year, not one person of color was nominated for one of the major Oscars, and barely any women were nominated outside of the women-only categories. Furthermore, between 2009 and 2013, only 4.7% of films produced by the big studios were directed by women. That’s 22 out of 466 films. These are all pretty abysmal numbers.
Sure, the studios (“Hollywood”) are partly to blame. But there is another, perhaps equally important contributing issue. And that is that the media, particularly those (online) publishers that publish about film and the film industry, seem to largely ignore films created by women and people of color, and rarely employ or give a platform to female or POC writers themselves. Consequently, audiences are largely underinformed about films directed by women and POC.
Female film critics are known to write more about women-driven films and women directed films, and appreciate them more than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, they are vastly outnumbered by male critics; Meryl Streep recently pointed out that a meager 18% of critics registered on Rotten Tomatoes are female. Interestingly, this outcry has gotten far less traction than the hype surrounding inequality in Hollywood — perhaps because in this case, the outlets themselves are criticized? It’s easy to point fingers at others.
If publishers do not run stories on women and POC-directed films, or do not give a platform to more diverse voices, how can audiences learn about these films? Certainly, the large publishers have been clamoring about the issues surrounding diversity in Hollywood, riding the wave that gets them the most traffic, but how are they contributing to actual change themselves?
A pervasive idea is that “films directed by women don’t make money.” This claim has been busted many times over, yet the myth is still perpetuated. Just look at the 2015 Australian box office success of Jocelyn Moorhouse’s “The Dressmaker.” It broke records, and made twice as much as “The Martian” in its opening weekend, yet somehow still hasn’t gotten an American release. Or consider the huge box office success of Catherine Hardwicke’s “Twilight,” the fourth highest grossing film directed by a woman. The vampire romance made over $393 million worldwide, yet she never got any lucrative deals afterwards (like any male director would).
Getting financing and distribution for films directed by women or films that are aimed at a female audience is significantly harder because marketers and financiers consider these projects a tough sell. An equally pervasive and misguided idea is that filmgoing audiences just aren’t that interested in films directed by women, or that tell women-driven stories. Again, this idea is invalidated by those previously mentioned successes, which, despite being directed by women, still went on to make the studios a whole lot of money.
Furthermore, filmgoers often can’t even name women directors, even if they have seen a few of their movies. Name recognition is incredibly important in marketing. The more a name is recognized by the audience, the more prone people are to see a movie.
Films by women don’t get advertised as much as films created by men — fewer billboards, fewer magazine ads, fewer social media adverts. Moreover, frequently a film directed by a woman doesn’t get as wide a release as a film created by a man.
For example, when Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette” opened in the U.S., it opened only on four screens, going as far as 517 over 12 weeks. John Wells’s “Burnt,” in the same period, opened and remained in 3,003 theaters for 13 weeks. When a film directed by a woman does get properly marketed, they do remarkably well. Case in point: “Pitch Perfect 2,” directed by Elizabeth Banks. It opened at at number one in 3,473 theaters and expanded to 3,660 theaters, making $287,506,194 on a $29 million budget.
I’ve been casually testing random people around me on their knowledge of women directors lately, and the most they can usually come up with (that is, if they’re not blanking out) is, “Yeah, that one from ‘The Hurt Locker,'” or, on a rare occasion, “Selma” (by Ava DuVernay).
Admittedly — and abashedly — I didn’t even know many women directors myself before I actually started to take an interest in this issue. The celebrity male directors enjoy is as great as the obscurity of women directors.
Whose fault is this, though? Is it the filmmakers’, because women simply can’t direct? No. Is it the studios’, because they don’t hire women? Yes. Is it the distributors’, who won’t promote a woman’s film as much as they would a man’s? For sure. Is it the media’s, who don’t (or very meagerly) cover women directors and their films? Certainly.
If publishers were to publish more about women’s films, women filmmakers would become more easily recognized and valued among filmgoers. They will get more clout, which will make them more appealing to financiers and studios.
However, the wrong way to go about it would be to publish about women’s films just because they are directed by a woman (“Hey, look at this movie this little lady created!” Nope.) I vehemently believe that to achieve equality in publishing, women’s films should be discussed like any other film — but they must be discussed. They should be covered because they are movies to take note of, good or bad.
As is, women directed films rarely rise out of oblivion purely because they’re not published about at all, or only by people on blogs who take a special interest in films directed by women.
Don’t just “ride the wave” and publish about everything that is wrong with the lack of diversity in Hollywood. When the buzz around this subject hype dies down (and it likely will), if you are in any way honest in your claims about lack of equality being shameful, publish more about women’s films and women-driven stories. Hire more female critics, and people of color, and give more of them a platform to sound their voice. Bring these films to the audiences that are, in theory, interested in them but simply don’t know about them.
If your staff doesn’t want to write about these films, get people who do want to write about them. Because although your male writers may not think a women or POC-driven film or film directed by a woman or POC is worth their time and effort, there is an audience out there that is very interested in those films, and you’re neglecting them. And let’s not forget (and it is often forgotten): experiencing a film is wholly subjective, and a person with different life experiences (or skin color or gender) may experience a film very differently. Film criticism is subjective, and bias is inherent to human nature — which isn’t bad, but you just need to work around it.
Informing people is your job, film magazines. You have considerable power in helping women and POC filmmakers’ careers along and to increase equality in Hollywood. Pander to women and people of color for once — you might actually make a lot of money, and respect, too.
Manon de Reeper is the Editor in Chief and founder of Film Inquiry, a subscription magazine. They also curate the Women Direct – Trailers YouTube channel. She has degrees in clinical psychology and criminology, but her one true passion is film.