[Note: This is a heads up that I plan to post this entire five part series to the list as it becomes available. DLH]
The Other 43 Percent
By Carrie Rickey
Feb 24 2017
Editor’s note: In October 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began investigating Hollywood’s gender gap. Before it delivers its recommendations to the Trump administration, Truthdig contributor Carrie Rickey considers the historic accomplishments of women behind the camera, how they got marginalized, and how they are fighting for equal employment.
This five-part Truthdig series is published in partnership with Women and Hollywood Upcoming installments will run every Friday through March 24.
It’s a paradox, akin to why women receive 47 percent of law degrees but represent only 35 percent of those working in legal professions. And why, though 42 percent of architecture-school graduates are women, they are just 25 percent of practicing architects. Why do females make up between 33 and 50 percent of film-school graduates but account for only 7 percent of working directors, as Martha Lauzen, professor at San Diego State University, reports in her annual “Celluloid Ceiling” analysis of women on the screen? What happened to the other 43 percent?
In American film (a kind of parallel universe to American life), this asymmetry results in an asymmetry on screen, in which men outnumber women two to one. According to Walt Hickey at fivethirtyeight.com, in movies the workplace is more male—and more sexist—than in reality. “This is an industrywide problem that requires an industrywide solution,” says Lauzen, who has been tracking the numbers for 20 years. “The heads of the studios dutifully mouth that they want change but have yet to introduce any programs or make hiring decisions demonstrating true leadership or vision.”
In October 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prompted by American Civil Liberties Union findings that “female filmmakers are effectively excluded from directing big-budget films and seriously underrepresented in television,” began investigating Hollywood’s gender gap.
Maria Giese, the filmmaker who brought the issue to the attention of the ACLU, said she doesn’t know what might happen under a Trump administration, but “I hope the ACLU will prioritize the investigation, and not see it as trivial compared to all the other immense challenges they face. I hope they will see it as being foundational to advancing all other civil rights.”
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When the movies were born in 1896, female filmmakers were central to the new art form, entering the industry in great numbers, both in front of the camera and behind it. They pioneered new forms and techniques—and a different kind of content from that produced by their male counterparts.
Alice Guy, along with the Lumière brothers and George Méliès, was one of the founders of French cinema. From the first, she broadened the scope of the infant medium. Believing that movies could do more than document real life, Guy proposed to her employer, Léon Gaumont, that she make a “story-film.” The result was “The Cabbage Fairy” (1896), a whimsical rendition of how babies are born, made when she was 23. It may well be the first narrative movie. Guy did not take credit for that, but did credit herself as the first female filmmaker and the first to own her own studio. She would write, produce and/or direct more than 1,000 films. While a motif of her mature films is the inner lives of her characters, she was as much about form as she was about plot.