The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow wrapped her fingers around that little golden man called Oscar on Sunday and cracked one of Hollywood’s glass ceilings, but truly shattering it may take more time.
Studies show that the number of jobs for women behind the camera have declined in recent years and fewer roles for women are turning up in major studio movies. One might call it The Hangover realisation of Sunday’s big party.
Two days after Bigelow, 58, became the first woman to win the world’s top film directing honour, Hollywood watchers say translating her victory into more female jobs may take years and depends as much on the business of moviemaking as awards.
There is no disagreement that Bigelow’s win will be a strong symbol for current and upcoming female filmmakers, but whether they can achieve similar success depends on the stories they want to tell, who is buying them and box office returns.
“We are in the movie business. The business is a very important part,” said Jane Fleming, president of Women in Film, a non-profit group that promotes and aids female filmmakers.
“Kathryn’s win is exciting because it shows the next generation what is possible. But I don’t think inherently it changes overnight the reality of moviemaking and the reality that female moviemakers lag behind their male counterparts.”
One recent study, The Celluloid Ceiling shows that of 2009’s top 250 films at box offices, women comprised only 16 per cent of directors, producers, writers and other top jobs – even with 2008 but 3 percentage points below 2001.
Women accounted for only 7 per cent of directors, a drop of 2 points from 2008, according Martha Lauzen, who tracks women in television and film at San Diego State University and looked at more than 2800 jobs.
Research from University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication found that of nearly 4400 speaking roles in 2009’s top 100 films, only about 30 per cent were for women. When at least one female director worked on a film, the number rose to 44 per cent compared to films from men.
More female-oriented movies requires a full embrace of their box office potential, which is sorely lacking among studio executives, the experts say.
CHANGING HOLLYWOOD’S GAME
While Sherry Lansing (Paramount Pictures), Stacey Snider (Universal Pictures and DreamWorks) and Amy Pascal (Sony Pictures) have run or are running major studios, being successful has meant playing Hollywood games that have existed for more than 100 years and were dreamed up mostly by men.
And changing that game will take years when buddy movies like The Hangover ($467 million) and action adventures such as Avatar ($2.5 billion) dominate box offices.
In fact, The Hurt Locker was not what Hollywood has traditionally considered a “women’s movie”: a romance or relationship comedy. It was about war and bombs and guys in battle – macho stuff.
Yet, for every The Hurt Locker, The Hangover or Avatar, waiting in Hollywood’s wings is a Twilight, the franchise for young women that in two films has raked in $1.1 billion in global ticket sales – one directed by a woman, one by a man.
“Women’s films do not make less money. When women get the same money, (to make and promote movies) they can make just as much money,” said Debra Zimmerman, executive director of Women Make Movies, which also promotes and aids female filmmakers.
Perhaps as noteworthy as Bigelow’s win were Mo’Nique’s for acting and Geoffrey Fletcher’s for writing. He made history, too, as the first African American to claim a screenwriting Oscar with Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.
Yet there were few, if any, headlines about Hollywood’s racial glass ceilings in large part because they cracked first with Hattie McDaniel for 1939’s Gone With the Wind and again with Sidney Poitier for 1963’s Lilies of the Field.
When Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won best actor and actress at 2002’s Oscars, the race glass shattered and director Tyler Perry’s subsequent box office hits, starting with 2006’s Madea’s Family Reunion, crushed any remaining shards.
“If you look at anecdotal change (Bigelow’s victory), you get excited and if you look at the statistics, it’s different story,” said Women in Film’s Fleming. “But I prefer to think the anecdotal change will soon lead to a change in the stats.”