Number of women directors falls – and female characters have less to say in movies

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Director Jodie Foster works with Jack O'Connell in the movie "Money Monster." Sony Pictures photo

Director Jodie Foster works with Jack O’Connell in the movie “Money Monster.” Sony Pictures photo

In the past week, I’ve learned that the number of female feature film directors has fallen, that female characters have far less chance to talk in movies and that the gender pay gap in Hollywood is bad.

None of this information is a particular surprise, but, boy, is it disheartening.

There was reason to be hopeful about women in the movies this year. Disney released three stellar animated movies —  Zootopia, Moana and Pixar’s Finding Dory — and all of them had female lead characters and none of them were your traditional damsel in distress princess type. Women had the lead in two smash sci-fi films with Arrival and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with the latter becoming the second movie in the increasingly sprawling Star Wars saga to have a female lead. And the period piece Hidden Figures, based on the real-life stories of the African-American women who worked behind the scenes as mathematicians to help launch the first U.S. astronauts into space, is a surprise hit at the box office.

Plus, pretty much every media outlet that covers film has written about Hollywood’s diversity problem and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched an ongoing investigation into gender discrimination in the movie business.

Which makes you wonder just what it’s going to take for Hollywood to reach some semblance of equality.

In the spirit of ripping a band-aid off quickly, let’s get on with breaking down all this badness.

Number of female directors declines

Women comprised just 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

That’s a decline of two percentage points from the level achieved in 2015 and in 1998, reports Variety.

“I would say I’m dumbfounded,” says Martha Lauzen, executive director of the center and the study’s author. “It is remarkable that with all of the attention and talk over the last couple of years in the business and the film industry, the numbers actually declined. Clearly the current remedies aren’t working.”

Clearly, since women aren’t getting much representation in other behind-the-camera roles, either: Women accounted for 24 percent of all producers working on the top 250 films of 2016, a 2 percent decline from 2015.

Women made up 17 percent of all editors, a decrease of 5 percentage points. Four percent of sound designers were women, a drop of a point. Women comprised 5 percent of all cinematographers, a decline of one percentage point from the previous year.

Women accounted for 13 percent of writers, an increase of two percentage points from 2015, but even with the figure from 1998.

Thirty-four percent of the films had no female producers, 79 percent lacked a female editor, 97 percent of films had no female sound designers, and 96 percent didn’t have a female cinematographer.

In case you’re wondering why it’s important that women get a chance to call the shots on movies, the study addresses that, too. Films with women directors employ higher percentages of female writers, editors, cinematographers, and composers than films with men behind the camera. Women made up 64 percent of writers on films from female directors, 43 percent of editors, and 16 percent of cinematographers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 9 percent of writers, 17 percent of editors, and 6 percent of cinematographers.

Variety points out there weren’t as many high-profile, big-budget movies boasting women directors in 2016, no Pitch Perfect 2 or Fifty Shades of Grey. Jodie Foster (Money Monster) and Patricia Riggen (Miracles From Heaven) were two of the more commercially successful female directors in 2016, while Andrea Arnold (American Honey) and Ava DuVernay (The 13th) were helming critical favorites.

Even though 2017 has Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and Trish Sie’s Pitch Perfect 3 on the slate, Lauzen says we may be past the point of letting the movie industry self-regulate in this arena.

“The industry has shown little real will to change in a substantive way,” she says. “For real change to occur we may need some intervention by an outside source.”

Ellen DeGeneres voices Dory in "Finding Dory." Disney/Pixar photo

Ellen DeGeneres voices Dory in “Finding Dory.” Disney/Pixar photo

Female characters get much less to say in 2016

After seeing Rogue One and realizing that lead character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is practically the only women with any dialogue, Amber Jones, a “Professional Question Asker” and aspiring data scientist, conducted an in-depth analysis into amount of dialogue female characters actually got in the top 10 movies of 2016. She made her research available at freeCodeCamp, and, yep, it’s depressing to look at, too.

She took the 10 top-grossing movies worldwide for last year – Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, The Secret Life of Pets, Batman V., Superman: Dawn of Justice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Deadpool, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Suicide Squad – and found that even though some had female characters in the lead or strong supporting roles, women only said 27 percent of the words in 2016’s biggest movies.

Although Amber Jones’ interactive graphics are really cool, her conclusions are a real downer: Not one of the top 10 movies of 2016 had a 50 percent speaking female cast.
Finding Dory came the closest with 43 percent female characters; to be equal, the movie would have needed eight more female speaking roles.

Rogue One actually came out the worst. Only 9 percent of its speaking characters were female. Of those 10 characters, one was a computer voice, one appeared on screen for no more than five seconds, and one was a CGI cameo that said one word. That last one would be Princess Leia, who was the only woman in the Star Wars universe when I was a kid, which seems to indicate that the more things change the more they stay the same in the beloved galaxy far, far way.

Only one of 2016’s top 10 movies had 50 percent dialogue by a female character, and that’s Finding Dory, with 53 percent female dialogue. But 76 percent of that dialogue came from Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) alone.

In fact, Finding Dory and Zootopia were the only two movies in 2016’s top 10 in which a female character had the most dialogue.

I’m inclined to agree with the talented Ms. Jones’ conclusion: We can do better.

Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher appear in the 2011 movie "No Strings Attached." Paramount Pictures photo

Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher appear in the 2011 movie “No Strings Attached.” Paramount Pictures photo

Natalie Portman: Women make 30 cents to the dollar in Hollywood

Jackie star Natalie Portman has joined the ranks of actresses speaking publicly about the discrepancies between their paychecks and those of their male co-stars. The Harvard-educated Oscar winner — who is pretty much a lock for another Oscar nomination this year — reveals in Marie Claire’s February cover story interview that Ashton Kutcher was paid three times as much as her for the 2011 romantic comedy No Strings Attached.

“I knew and I went along with it because there’s this thing with ‘quotes’ in Hollywood… His

was three times higher than mine so they said he should get three times more. I wasn’t as pissed as I should have been. I mean, we get paid a lot, so it’s hard to complain, but the disparity is crazy,” she told the magazine.

“Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar,” she continued. “In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

“I don’t think women and men are more or less capable. We just have a clear issue with women not having opportunities. We need to be part of the solution, not perpetuating the problem.”

And we need to keep speaking out.



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