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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Why aren’t there more women film directors?

Kathryn Bigelow

Some of us have been bitching about the lack of female involvement in Hollywood — both onscreen and behind the scenes — since forever. And now we learn that things are getting worse. Film critic Carrie Rickey at Truthdig:

Here’s a thought exercise: In a nation where 33 percent of the Supreme Court justices are women, 17 percent of the seats in the Senate and House are held by women and 12 percent of the statehouses have female governors, what accounts for the fact that only 5 percent of movie directors in 2011 are female?

Five percent? According to Martha Lauzen, the San Diego State University professor who has been tracking behind-the-scenes female employment in Hollywood since 1998 and released her annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report on Tuesday, that’s approximately half of what the figure was when she released her first report 13 years ago.

That’s the bad news. The good news—or less bad news, as some observers see it—is that women comprise 18 percent of producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 highest-grossing domestic films, an uptick of 2 percent over last year.

The stats for women are better in television, where they made up 11 percent of directors in the 2010-11 TV season. Still, Lauzen notes, three years after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for best director, there are fewer female helmers at work in Hollywood than there were 20 years ago.

How is this possible?

Rickey goes on to include comments from a couple of anonymous Hollywood insiders, who cite “subsconscious sexism” and the general notion that (correctly or incorrectly) men won’t see movies about women… a notion that in itself involves subsconscious sexism. Movies by women aren’t necessarily movies about women, just as movies by men aren’t necessarily movies about men.

Why aren’t there more women film directors? How do we get more women interested in making movies, and then ensure there aren’t unfair barriers in their way? And why don’t more people seem to understand that this is a problem?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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