Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
At first glance, 2013 seems to have been a good year for women in movies. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire recently beat out Iron Man 3 as the top grossing movie of the year, raking in $420 million and counting. A host of other hits — Frozen, Gravity, and The Heat — all have female protagonists. But has this year really been a significant improvement on the past? Short answer: no.
In 2013, 12 of the top 100 grossing movies featured women as protagonists. Only one of those protagonists (Paula Patton in Baggage Claim) was a woman of color. In addition to those twelve, thirteen films featured women as co-leads or as part of an ensemble cast. Only two of those thirteen (Pacific Rim and Temptation) featured women of color. In other words, men outnumbered women 3 to 1 in this year’s biggest movies and outnumbered leading women nearly 9 to 1.
This isn’t just a matter of unequal representation on screen: there was also a severe lack of women behind the camera. Only two of the top 100 grossing movies had female directors (Frozen and Carrie) and only five of the top 100 had female screenwriters. To put that into perspective: James Wan and Steven Soderbergh each directed two movies in 2013. Tyler Perry directed three.
There has not been a lack of “Women in Hollywood” stories this year. The coverage follow the same (and tired) beats: Has anybody noticed there aren’t any women? Why aren’t there more women? Maybe there should be some more women. But most of these pieces fail to get at the real problem: Hollywood leaders are not giving female creators a chance.
Let’s get this straight: there is not a lack of talented women. The reason 91% of directors (and 85% of screenwriters) are male is not that men are simply better at making films. Men are more likely to be given bigger budgets, bigger advertising campaigns, and to be welcomed to enter the boys’ club that helps them rise to the top (Did I mention 83% of executive producers are male?). A number of critically acclaimed movies were made by women this year (Enough Said, In A World, Blackfish, Stories We Tell), but it remains to be seen whether any of these women will be given another opportunity down the line.
Anne Fletcher, director of mega-hit The Proposal (which beat out movies like Taken and Fast and Furious at the box office), has only made one other movie in the last 5 years; Jane Campion, director of Bright Star, has yet to make another film. Compare these women to someone like Marc Webb. Webb’s first feature film, (500) Days of Summer, was an indie with modest box office success, but his next project was The Amazing Spider-Man, a studio tentpole with a budget of $230 million.
In 1978, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that women were “significantly underrepresented” in the industry. In 2009, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis wrote about promising female directors who were not being recognized. In 2012, I wrote my admissions essay about feeling alienated by Hollywood, because I never saw stories about girls or women like me. In 2013, NPR’s Linda Holmes wrote that Hollywood has “entirely devoted itself to telling men’s stories.” We’re only one month into 2014, but there has already been a flood of pieces like this one lamenting the lack of women on both sides of the camera. Can Hollywood’s goal for next year be changing the conversation?
Featured image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hollywood_Sign_PB050006.jpg.