In college, I took a course that covered classic films from the beginning of the 20th century to modern time periods. “Classics” meaning notable films that made an impact of film history as a whole. (Think It Happened One Night, Casablanca, Chinatown, 2001 a Space Odyssey, The Godfather etc.) All great films that are classics in their own right; however, every single film shown in that class was directed by a white man. Thus, negatively implying that women have never made an outstanding film worthy of recognition. This really made me think – Are there any “classic” films made by a female? Who deems a movie a classic? Are male-directed films just better quality and that’s why they are more notable? Are there outside factors that prohibit women from getting recognition? Is it harder for female filmmakers in this industry?
It wasn’t until later, when I took a class on the history of women directors where some of my questions were answered. Our first reading was titled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” written by Linda Nochlin. Nochlin comes to the harsh reality that – there have been no great female artists and, in this case, filmmakers. A study, Thumbs Down, was conducted on the demographics of critics on Rotten Tomatoes and it came to the conclusion that women are largely underrepresented as critics. In 2019, the study found that women only represent 33% of reviewers, while men represent 66%. Additionally, it was shown that the majority of male critics favored male films
and females were more likely to positively review female-directed films. Rotten Tomatoes ratings have gotten significant traction in the past few years and, as Vox explains, gives moviegoers a sense of critical consensus. More and more movie-goers are checking a film’s rating before attending the theatre (myself included). The lower the rating, the more likely a person is not going to pay to see that movie. Therefore, since female critics are largely underrepresented, female-led films tend to go unnoticed and consequently aren’t considered as “great” as male-led films.
Additionally, despite popular opinion and the recent success of female-directed films, female filmmakers continue to be severely underrepresented. In 2018, women comprised only 20% of all directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors in the top 250 domestic grossing films. Also, in the last year, only 1% of films employed ten or more women in these roles.
However, it wasn’t always this way. Surprisingly, in the early 1900s, women were heavily involved in the filmmaking field. Filmmaking was considered an artistic catharsis suitable for both genders. Nevertheless, once it was realized that the industry was profitable, women were forced out. There was a notion that women were inadequate to handle the financial side of the movie-making business and the men were left to take over. Only a few were able to continue working in the film industry. Dorthory Arzner was the only female director working in Hollywood from 1927 to 1943. After that, Ida Lupino would take on the title of being the only working female director in the 1950s.
This significant lack of female representation during this crucial time period, has portrayed the false notion that females aren’t able to create a quality film and also made it so that now, a female hire on a major film, is considered a risk. The entertainment industry is run on money and fear. As long as an individual can bring the studios a significant amount of money from the box-office, they will thrive. However, make a couple bad films, go over budget, or be difficult to work with – you’re done for. This is what makes the industry so exclusive and hard to maneuver – everyone’s terrified. However, the experience of a woman working in the industry is significantly more taxing than a man’s, especially in terms of being considered “difficult to work with”.
Unlike men, female filmmakers are required to put on a facade or a persona. Similar to other work environments, working women in film have to find that sweet spot between easy-going and firm. If they are too relaxed, they are push-over and no one will take them seriously. However, if they are too particular about their visions, they are seen as bossy.
Take Catherine Hardwicke into consideration. She’s best known for directing the first film of the Twilight saga. Hardwicke has recently revealed that executives at Summit Entertainment had very low expectations for Twilight and Hardwicke credits that to how she got the gig in the first place. In Daily Beast’s article she stated, “Why do you think I got the job? Why do you think they hired a female director? If they thought it was going to be a big blockbuster, they wouldn’t have ever even hired me, because no woman had ever been hired to do something in the blockbuster category.” Anyone who’s seen a large majority of her films knows she is an auteur in her own right – meaning her films incapsulate similar visuals, moods, and themes. Thus, this means she is very particular about her vision, in terms of shots, color palettes, etc. It only took a few sources to call her “difficult”, “irrational” and unfit before she was taken off the sequel New Moon. Since then, she has only done a few indie flicks and continues to be casually blacklisted from major studio pictures.
Now, take Quentin Tarentino for example. He’s best known for his violent, bloody collection of cult-classic action films. Just like Hardwicke, his films have an auteristic style to them. However, he can be quite pushy when it comes to his directorial style. Last year, Uma Thurman accused Tarentino of being verbally and mentally abusive on set. Thurman was uncomfortable filming a driving scene and asked for a stunt double – which Tarentino passionately denied. He pressured her into doing the scene, assuring her it was safe and the scripted car crash would not injure her. However, when Thurman followed through with the scene, Tarentino turned out to be wrong and Thurman was severely injured. Despite this event and other situations like this – Tarentino continues to work in Hollywood with no problems.
Catherine Hardwicke even addresses this contradiction between male and female directors stating, “At the time I didn’t understand when people were dinging me for being
whatever, emotional or difficult. Yet they’re praising all the male directors I’ve worked for for being passionate and visionary and sticking to their guns, fighting for what they want. But a woman is emotional, difficult, bitchy, whatever. I didn’t know those code words and I didn’t know they were used pervasively, and so I just took them personally.”
It appears that the only time men are truly cast out and blacklisted from Hollywood is when they are publicly called out for abuse or sexual assault such as Harvey Winestein or Woody Allen. However, even Allen has gained the defense and support from fellow filmmakers, actresses and actors and continues to work regularly in the field. If men can get away with severe abuse and continue to thrive in our entertainment industry then why is it possible for women to be blacklisted for simply being particular about artistic visions?
Not only is it harder for women to actually break into the industry, thanks to disproportionate critic demographics, they have to walk on eggshells around male executives in order to continue working. Not to mention, female filmmakers face an extreme gap in pay in comparison to their male counterparts. In the past few years countless actresses and female filmmakers have come forward, saying that they only received a fraction of what their male counterparts made. Most recently, news broke out that Adele Lim, co-screenwriter for the 2018 hit Crazy Rich Asians has left the franchise after a pay dispute. According to Lim, she was only offered 110,000 dollars for the sequel’s script while her co-writer, Peter Chiarelli, was offered 800,000 to 1 million. This also brings up the important discussion on the racial problems in Hollywood, as Lim is an asian woman and Chiarelli is a white man.
The solution is simple. Hire women. Hire women of all ethnicities, treat them equally, and pay them equally. There must be industry wide quotas for female representation behind the scenes of films and if studios fail to meet this quota there should be consequences.
Many people would think this is too extreme and difficult for the industry to do. But just remember in the 1920s and 1930s, the public was growing increasingly anxious about film’s negative influence on society’s morals. There was an industry wide code put into place, best known as the Motion Picture Production Code, where films had to be squeaky clean and represent decent morals (basically no gory violence, no sex, no homosexuals, etc.) in order to be produced. So, if the Motion Picture Production Code could be enforced, representation of females and people of color could certainly be too.