AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, May 22, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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What’s an appropriate job for a woman in Hollywood? Not director… not sound designer… certainly not key grip. The old standbys of porn star and prostitute still get attention, however.

I’M SHOCKED, SHOCKED… The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film has released its new study, “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in the Top 250 Films of 2008.” An excerpt:

In 2008, women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 3 percentage points from 2001 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 2007.

Women accounted for 9% of directors in 2008, an increase 3 percentage points from 2007. This figure represents no change from the percentage of women directing in 1998.

Part II, which covers “production design, production management, sound design, key grips, and gaffers,” is equally distressing:

For over a decade, The Celluloid Ceiling study has tracked women’s representation as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films. In an effort to assess the larger picture of women’s employment in film, this study monitored their representation as production designers (20%), production managers/production supervisors (25%/44%), sound designers/supervising sound editors (5%/5%), key grips (1%), and gaffers (1%).

PORN AND PROSTITUTION, THOUGH? THEY’RE STILL GOOD JOBS FOR WOMEN. By some accounts, Steven Soderbergh’s new film, The Girlfriend Experience, is a cold, sober look at one woman’s life and the efficiency with which she approaches her work and keeps her professional life separate from her job. But her work is as a prostitute: she’s a high-class call girl who gives virtuoso performances for clients who want to pretend that she’s a real girlfriend. Soderbergh admits that he cast porn actress Sasha Grey for her PR value — “I was very much counting on the fact that the interest in her would be greater than the interest in the movie,” Soderbergh is quoted at the L.A. Times as saying. “We would be drafting off her notoriety rather than vice versa. I needed her. That’s no different than getting Brad Pitt to be in your movie, albeit in a different context.”

So this is what it takes for a woman actor to be considered as “valuable” as a Brad Pitt? She has to be not only a porn star but someone infamous for, as the Times terms it, “her take-no-prisoners attitude toward the hardest of hard-core sex scenes and consensual degradation”? And the movie she’s starring in has to be about female work that’s as acceding to the fantasies of rich men?

Maybe that’s a good metaphor for women in Hollywood on the whole, actually…

OPENING THIS WEEK. The perfection of Amy Adams is all but wasted as Amelia Earhart in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. (Sure, she’s spunky and cute and huggable and all, but the movie doesn’t care to make her a character or anything.) The goddessness of Bryce Dallas Howard is all but wasted as Kate Connor in Terminator Salvation. (Sure, she’s strong and noble and all, but the movie doesn’t care to make her a character or anything… and let’s not even go near how Moon Bloodgood’s kick-ass fighter pilot turns into a simpering chick ruled by illogic and emotion as soon as the plot demands it.)

Jessica Biel, on the other hand, is pure class and elegance and smarts in Easy Virtue, as an American set among the wolves of the British aristocracy in this semi-updating of a Noel Coward play. Oh, it’s still set in the 1920s, and Coward’s withering wit is maintained, but it’s hard to imagine Coward being quite this feminist. Not only is Biel’s modern gal a complex creature, but so is her “evil” new mother-in-law, played to the hilt by Kristin Scott Thomas, a woman forced by circumstance to be as ruthless as she is calculating.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).