Mar 23, 2017
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Gender Bias Despite Women Director Success
by Joanne Butcher
Nora Ephron, considered one of the top female writer-directors in history for 'Sleepless in Seattle' (1993) and 'You’ve Got Mail' (1998), on one of her famously, joke-filled sets. photo: courtesy N. Ephron
SLATED, THE FILM PRODUCTION SITE,
not to be confused with Slate, the magazine, recently published a study based on their analysis of 1,591 films from the last five years, 2010-2015, released on at least one screen.
concludes that the data show a “systemic lack of trust” in women directors. Indeed, even though films by women generate higher income than those by men, they are hired less frequently in every area of the filmmaking process.
In looking at the data, Slated examined all the variables—genre choices, script quality—“to establish where the gender fault-lines might be,” and why there might be reasons other than a basic “lack of trust” of women, especially since, “(n)either of those [variables: genre, script] showed any material difference between men and women.”
“But where there is an alarming schism,” Slated continues, “is in the number of movie screens that showcase films made by women, particularly for lower budget movies. When one looks at the ROIs [Return on Investment], it’s clear that women are outperforming men all over the place — so what can we do as an industry to make sure that the production volumes are more comparable?” (Slated, June 30, 2016)
What is the reason for giving women smaller budgets, fewer jobs, and fewer screens when women “generate higher returns despite deploying smaller production resources”?
Slated describes the phenomenon as a lack of trust. And that’s what bias and prejudice is: a lack of trust. Fear that if I hire a woman, she won’t be able to complete the job as well as a man.
It’s of great significance to have this type of data so that women seeking investment in their films, or work in the field, can show that financial support will result in a greater ROI than with a man in the same role.
“Women writers seem particularly shortchanged," the Slated report continues. "Their scripts achieve the highest ROI of any category and yet their work commands two-thirds of the average budgets given to male writers. This imbalance becomes particularly egregious for films budgeted at more than $25 million, a category in which women writers achieve an industry-high ROI of 3.72 and yet account for just 8.7% of theatrically released screenplays.”
So what’s the solution? The first action for anyone in a position to hire is to put a qualified women on a project. It’s too easy to allow our unconscious bias to control hiring decisions.
Poster from Latinas in Cinema Festival, on July 23rd at Delancey Street Theater, featuring Diana Rodriguez’s sci-fi thriller 'Parable', the comedy 'Stranger Danger' by Annique Arredondo, and the Amie Williams’ doc 'Mercedes: Portrait of Street Sweeper', among others. photo: courtesy Pictoclik
“People often assume that if you are young, minority, and female, that somehow you aren't as qualified to do cinematography," notes Director of Photography Vatsala Goel, who has already been working in the field for several years (documentary, "Train Chaar Baje Ki Hai", 2015). "They’ll ask: ‘So you are training to be DP, right?’ And so you have to keep proving yourself, perhaps more than anyone else.”
Clearly, women filmmakers are proving their value in the marketplace, and yet, those with hiring power keep questioning their ability.
What I have learned is that in order to increase diversity, people in the hiring role need to make the decision, or make the commitment, to reach out beyond their normal networks and means of communication. For example, if a white man is hiring for a film, it’s most likely that the majority of numbers in his phone will be those of other white men.
The fact is that women are—as Slated’s research shows—“outperforming men.” Hence it benefits men to expand the list of names in their pool and take action to outreach to women.
A second action to take to respond to the challenge is to increase the number of screens where women’s work can be seen. When I was programming a cinema, our selections were incredibly diverse as regards race, geography and sexual orientation, but I could have also shifted my attention to the issue of women filmmakers and programmed around that.
Here in the Bay Area, Rebekah Renne and her team at Pictoclik are doing just that. In 2015, in addition to their regular Festival of short films, they programmed an evening of women’s films called Women in Cinema.
“We launched Women in Cinema May of last year,” Renne told me. “The submission response was amazing and slightly overwhelming. We could have easily programmed an entire week of great shorts. Unfortunately, we only had a day and showcased some amazing talent from around the US. This year we decided to take it one step further and showcase leading Latinas on and off the screen from around the world.”
Latinas in Cinema
takes place on July 23rd at
Delancey Street Theater
. Showcase includes short films from around the world featuring a strong Latina on screen or behind the scenes in a key position. A portion of ticket sales go towards a local feature project in development, and to foster growth in the film community. Featured filmmaker Sandra Lopez, will be using the funds raised for her feature “Super Gabby” (2016).
Joanne Butcher is a coach/consultant working with independent filmmakers to create critically successful films that make money! She can be reached at her
Posted on Jul 17, 2016 - 09:01 PM