Women accounted for only 6 percent of directors working on top films — this after Kathryn Bigelow won the best director Oscar for 2008's 'The Hurt Locker' and was nominated again last year for 'Zero Dark Thirty.' (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
On the surface, 2013 appears to have been a very successful year for women in film.
The biggest hit in North America was “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, which has made some $415 million so far. It was the first time in decades a film built around a woman topped the annual box office, and it was likely the first time a female action hero topped the box office.
Amazingly, Lawrence wasn’t even the only female action hero to score major success this year. “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock, was the year’s seventh biggest film, pulling in $256 million. Throw in Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, who voiced the lead ladies of Disney’s animated hit “Frozen” ($318 million and counting), and you’ve got a whole lot of girl power at the box office.
But that’s only what’s going on in front of the camera. Behind the camera it’s a whole other world, a world where women continue to be kept out of the most important and creative jobs, according to the 16th annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report from the San Diego State Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film.
As reported in Deadline.com, women made up only 16 percent of the directors, writers, editors, producers and cinematographers who worked on the top 250 films of 2013. Somewhat shockingly, that’s actually down from 17 percent when the study started in 1998.
Women accounted for only 6 percent of directors working on top films — this after Kathryn Bigelow won the best director Oscar for 2008’s “The Hurt Locker” and was nominated again last year for “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Things are a bit better in the world of broadcast television, where women make up 28 percent of the creators, producers, directors, editors and directors of photography. But this is in a country where women make up more than 50 percent of the population and where more women have college educations than men.
To be honest, I appear to be part of the problem as well, or at least part of the trend. In the spring of 2013, the Center did a count on the so-called Top Critics (I’m one) aggregated on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, and 78 percent of those critics were male. (In fairness to The Detroit News, my predecessor here was the fine film critic Susan Stark).
I’m not really sure what’s going on with all this. Maybe women just don’t want jobs in show business. It is a somewhat silly pursuit, after all. The world has far more need for teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers (OK, not lawyers), nurses, environmentalists — really just about anything other than Hollywood types and movie critics.
Far more likely, though, is an institutionalized attitude that works against women directors, writers, producers and limits their numbers. That’s certainly the drift you get from the Center’s studies and given society’s long history of sexism, it seems fairly obvious.
Anytime we limit the participation of women, we limit ourselves as a society. Hopefully the expansion of what women can accomplish in front of the camera will lead to an expansion of what they can do behind it, as well.