Can’t do it, can you? That’s because there are only 4. Okay, okay… there might be a few more than 4, but not that you can name.
“The U.S. Senate is more progressive than Hollywood. Female Senators: 9%, Female directors: 4%.” That’s according to a study undertaken at San Diego State University, and it suggests the extent to which the dreams that radiate off theater screens and into our culture are still almost exclusively the dreams of men.
Surely it’s different in the indies, right? I mean, indies are the antidote to Hollywood’s to repetitive stories, obsessions with stars and stereotypes, right? That’s on screen, baby. Behind the scenes is another story. Or should I say, same old story:
Contrary to expectations, things aren’t much better in the indie world than in Hollywood. Using a sample of 250 films, Lauzen compared the top-grossing 50 films with the bottom-grossing 50, which tend to be indie films. “We’ve never found a significant difference in terms of women behind the scenes” in the bottom category, she says.
I really encourage you to read the whole article, because I’m skipping over the bit where they explain that it’s actually gotten worse in the past 10 years. The reasons they suggest for this mind-boggling gender gap in an industry that’s considered by some outsiders to have a “liberal agenda” are:
- Discouragement from film school. This one’s striking a huge chord in me, because I can testify to it. I had a screenwriting professor (and successful screenwriter in his own right) tell me I was definitely in the right profession as a writer. When I mentioned my ambitions to direct, I was advised by other professors, “Oh, you don’t want to do that. You just want to write and get into production – that’s where the real power is.” And it’s true – producers will change the film industry long before directors can, and I did want to change things. But I also loved the art of directing, and I was discouraged from it for whatever reason, right in front of guys expressing the same ambitions without being advised to do something else instead.
- Failure of industry males to relate to the work of females. The article tells a story in which a female director in film school made a short about a man sexually harassing a woman, and showed him playing with himself. The professor condemned it as pornography. Would the professor have yelled pornography if she’d made a film about a woman boss harassing a male underling, and she took off her bra and started fondling herself?
- Last but not least, women don’t have the secret handshake to the Little Boy’s Director Club. Tons of films are financed and made possible because people chat each other up over drinks at parties, pitching ideas. According to Tara Veneruso, a guy chatting up an older man over drinks is perceived as networking, but if a woman does it, it’s flirting. Worse, these older men have wives and girlfriends who may feel threatened by a woman approaching her man. A young man can take an older guy out to dinner to discuss his idea for a project, but a woman offering to do the same might be perceived as making sexual advances instead of networking. It’s important to note that women – the wives and girlfriends – play as much a role in creating this false distinction as anyone else.
As intriguing as these answers are, I’m not satisfied with them. Aren’t women discouraged from running for Congress? Don’t the men in Congress fail to relate to their work? Can a female statesperson take a male statesperson out to dinner or drinks to discuss a bill without his wife pissing circles around him and everyone in the restaurant assuming they’re doing it? These obstacles are present in every industry women have been struggling to break into over the past few decades. Why in the world have they made further strides in politics than in an artistic discipline?
You have to start by asking: what’s unique about directing? As opposed to producing or writing or acting, all of which are much more open to women? What’s different about directing? I can only think of one thing: it’s where the real creative vision comes in. A director can twist a script into something else entirely from what the writer intended. He can force a performance that’s entirely other than what the star intended (and if the star refuses to play along, you would not effin’ believe what they can do in the editing room to completely alter the nuance of a performance, and no star in Hollywood can prevent it). Even with producers breathing their own agendas down his neck, a director can often work in powerful subtext relaying anything from a mind-opening relationship between two characters to a damning stereotype.
I’m not entirely convinced that’s the reason either.