Oscar night is coming. The pinnacle of a year in film. What’s deemed to be the best fare from the brightest stars in entertainment. For most, the event brings little excitement beyond the best/worst-dressed lists and results of the office pool. And while the envelopes remain sealed, one thing is certain: it will mostly be men leaving the Kodak Theater with a gold statue in their hands.
The “Bigelow-effect” hopefuls were crushed when the nominees were announced three weeks ago. As in the 80+ years prior to Bigelow’s win for Best Director, women more or less got the shaft. Once again, concerned parties took to the blogosphere. And once again, feminist critiques were dismissed as mere bitching, tired and tired bitching.
I’m not here to bitch. And I won’t cite the deflating statistics from Dr. Lauzen’s annual Celluloid Ceiling report. Let’s move away from the stats and start discussing potential strategies for change. Because obviously, highlighting the inequities is not enough. The boys are quite comfortable in their private club, high above the glass ceiling. And the profit-driven film industry is not interested in social good or equal opportunity. But beyond stating the obvious, what can we do? How do we convince the industry elite to trust the visions of women filmmakers?
One answer is this: show them the money. Demonstrate the buying power of the female market and the competitive advantage (i.e. pocket-fattening effects) of offering relevant, relatable, women-made content.
This idea was dubbed one of the “pressure points for change” in Frame Work II, a recent study by Women in Film & Television – Toronto that looked at the employment of equity groups across screen-based media industries in Canada.
While it’s certainly not a new idea, “demonstrating the market’s buying power” was repeatedly put forth as a strategy for increasing inclusiveness in film and TV.
Hollywood knows what’s up. In both film and television, we’ve seen a surge in content aimed at women or featuring a female protagonist. Unfortunately, these efforts are still largely spearheaded by men, resulting in too many female characters who aren’t convincing or relatable. And the results speak for themselves: shows like Charlie’s Angels and The Playboy Club were cancelled in their first weeks. Even Hollywood’s answer to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hasn’t performed as well as expected. On the other hand, the success of Bridesmaids—both commercially and critically—suggests that women may actually be better at tapping into the psyches of women. A shocking revelation.
Placing a dollar value on the buying power of the female market, while highlighting the commercial gains of women-led successes, leads to a compelling case in support of more women as creators and decision-makers. Go a step further and measure the profit that is potentially lost by shortchanging 50% of the population—how often do women pass on the movie theatre because they don’t care for anything that’s showing?
It should come as no surprise that decision-makers are more likely to promote change when there’s a benefit to their bottom line. So perhaps the next study on this topic should explore a different set of numbers. Because when it comes to what gets made and who gets recognized, show business is business, and profit reigns supreme.
Katy Swailes is the Communications Officer at Women in Film & Television – Toronto (WIFT-T)