What Bigelow Effect? Women Directors to Achieve Parity in 2060…Maybe

by Melissa Silverstein on October 15, 2010

in Sexism,Statistics,Women Directors

I’m a little late to this party but I wanted to give a big shout out to Elisabeth Rappe at Film.com for her awesome and thorough piece: In What Year Will Female Directors Make Up Half the Workforce?

She makes some really great points and reiterates lots of the points made on this blog, you know, the ones about how inexperienced guys get to direct blockbusters and that women are shut out of directing the big budget action fare.

If 50 percent of directors were female, the alleged shortlist for new Superman directors (a six name list that contains the likes of Darren Aronofsky, Tony Scott, and Zack Snyder) would have two or three women among them. Can you imagine a world where a woman was deemed as capable to direct a DC or Marvel movie as Darren Aronofsky? No woman director has yet been given a $100 million budget event picture, but they trust neophyte men such as Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) every day.

Here’s her take on the numbers.  The point is that the studios don’t hire women and if they don’t start thinking about it there is no way we will achieve parity by 2060 or even ever.

If I pretend 2010 Hollywood is 1960s discriminatory America, make as though Kathryn Bigelow is the Equal Pay Act, and apply that same growing workforce curve to Hollywood … well, it’s bleak. I estimate that you’ll see women directors achieve 50 percent in the year 2060. If it seems laughable that Hollywood would move that slowly, consider the fact that the Los Angeles Times reported that only two major studios (Walt Disney and Universal) hired a female director last year, and even then, it was only one director apiece. Warner Bros and Paramount Pictures hired none. If the current model holds with little to no growth, it could actually be longer than 50 years. It could be never.

And she goes into the Bigelow effect or lack thereof:

So far, her Oscar win hasn’t proved to be the equivalent of the Equal Pay Act. No studio eagerly dredged its ranks to find and fund potential female Oscar winners. Bigelow’s buzz and action cred didn’t earn her a spot on the Superman list, whereas a post-Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle was immediately rumored to be the next James Bond helmer. Oscars can at least put you in the buzz surrounding big franchises, unless you’re female, in which case no one really cares what you do.

And she also reminds us that money doesn’t always matter and that Catherine Hardwick hasn’t had a film released since Twilight.

A depressing, but very important piece. Read the whole thing.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Millnitz October 15, 2010 at 12:03 PM

The sad thing is, what inherant motivation is there for this market (hollywood studios and distributers) to meet the demand for parity if the demand is not an effective one? That is to say if it has little effect on sales (and little effect on reception beyond what’s viewed as women griping about things and being told to go make their own film then).

It’s one thing to tell someone to look at their dvd collection and count how many women directors they find. But how to make it matter is an incredibly difficult process and I find the prospect of affecting change incredibly bleak when the only recourse I can imagine is patronage. Unfortunately, films made by women can’t prove themselves in society and on the market if they are not made. Nor can films which exclude women from signifigant leadership/production roles ever be boycotted if they are all that exists. That is, if you love movies.

Z October 15, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Excellent article.

I have a idea. Remember the model at IFC with InDigent (Gary Winick and Jake Abraham – both good guys by the way). They made $200,000 films on Digital. Well why can’t Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Scarlett Johansson donate 1 million each for 5 female directors to make a film for $200,000. It would be even better if they would agree to star in some of films. Women in this business need to help other women, instead of waiting for the men in charge to see the light.

We should support the troops of women who have studied and trained for years to be directors and not just encourage actresses to make the transition to directing. It’s two different skill sets. And if they fail (as a lot of them do), people say “see, women can’t direct”.

katie October 15, 2010 at 1:27 PM

But you know what this is an inherent problem for and with women, and I say this about myself also. We all tend to be more critical of ourselves and women than men. So we feel threatened by the success of other women or women younger than we are moreso than men are? perhaps.

But what I don’t see and maybe I’m just not aware of it, are women helping other women in the entertainment field. And how about women who have achieved power, status, money, etc. like Anne Sweeney at Disney or Oprah Winfrey who’s starting her own TV network. It actually seems in politics we see this kind of support and nurturing to a greater extent even, and that is a sad commentary about the entertainment business.

But the women stated above, Jolie and Bullock for example, have their own production companies and Bullock for example, her last 4-5 pictures I believe(barring The Blind Side) were all produced by her. Jolie is just moving forward on her first picture, Heigl is already doing this, so why don’t these ladies hire female directors and have more women involved in their projects.

Z October 15, 2010 at 2:26 PM

Exactly, I don’t want to hear successful highly paid actresses complain that there are no good roles for women, if they are doing nothing to help the writers/directors who could create those roles.

But we can each do our own part with our limited power. If my film gets financed, I can give a young actress a chance who has loads of talent, but hasn’t made a name yet. I can hire a female assistant and look at her work/give her advice as part of the job. We can all do something, but there are many women in power who can do a whole lot. They could really change the situation if they chose to.

Sally October 17, 2010 at 11:10 PM

There is sexism, and there is a pull to just be the “cool” nonstrident chick among the guys. That would be my criticism. I think women don’t want to rock the boat, perceiving that entry level effect, where at entry level, the discrimination is not as pronounced. So they think – maybe the discrimination was all about the older whiny or strident women – with me it will be different – I’m likable. Or perhaps you have gotten by on charm until you are older, and you say Roman Polanski got a bad rap so you’ll be more likable and hirable by association with the dude club.

But then – when you get up to the real money and real power and start going beyond entry level, you see it. Men with lesser skill and ability being pushed along up. Many women in male dominated professions are out of the gate fast, then for every year, they have to do 3 or 5 years to get where a “promising young man” is. It gets old, I tell ya.

What you see in director parity is the same thing I see in my line of work in technology. Women have to reprove themselves. Dudes who are lesser get pulled up in the dude buddy club. They inspire some sort of “he’s like me” mutual admiration of being a powerful dude or that fun dude who seems like he’s going somewhere.

Women artists don’t aspire to the lifestyle of a director (fast cars, chicks washing your car as an audition, wacky pole parties, wife you cheat on, being a misunderstood genius), they aspire to make great film.

Asking “where are the women” …there could be more, but there are a lot of women who fund and support women’s business. Oprah does a lot of funding and will create some stars and employment from her OWN network. She’s funding a leadership school for girls in Africa (including arts) and girls programs in this country. I don’t think it is the case that the “really wanting to” is what is holding women’s arts and leadership back. That is akin to the thought that women just don’t really ask for stuff right and aren’t ambitious.

Alex October 20, 2010 at 1:23 AM

I’m late to this post, but the original report is wrong regarding Bigelow. There were several reports earlier this year that she was indeed offered Sony’s Spiderman reboot and turned it down almost immediately.

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