By Josiah Wampfler
In 1896, Alice Guy-Blache became the first female film director with the release of La Fee aux Choux. A pioneer of French cinema, she directed all the films released by the Gaumont Film Company until 1905 and is credited as one of the first filmmakers to produce narrative films. Her filmography includes over 1,000 films and she was the first woman to manage and own her own film studio.
One would think that if the industry had been inclusive as early as 1896, that today we would have a bevy of films directed, produced and written by women. One would expect that the number of women in behind-the-scenes roles in the industry would be at least about level with the number of men. Unfortunately, one would be very, very wrong.
Despite Blache’s accomplishments, she is rarely mentioned among the pioneers of cinema and I had personally never heard of her before writing this article. Like so many women from the early days of cinema, she has been lost to time while her male counterparts are celebrated.
Today, the representation of women in Hollywood is in some ways worse than at the beginning. The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film recently released its 2015 Celluloid Ceiling Report that details the amount of women working in major behind-the-scenes roles in the industry. The report found that only 12 percent of the top 500 films in 2015 were directed by a woman. Of the top 250 films, only 9 percent had a female director and of the top 100 films, only 7 percent had a female director.
Last year was marginally better than 2014 when 7 percent of the top 250 films were directed by women, but that is clearly not enough. In fact, the 9 percent we saw in 2015 was the same number of female directors the industry had in 1998. In 18 years, the industry has not improved at all.
And it is not just female directors that are lacking. The report also found that of the top 250 films of 2015, only 15 percent of writers, 26 percent of producers, 21 percent of editors and 10 percent of cinematographers were female. All together, 81 percent of the behind-the-scenes roles on the top 250 films of 2015 were filled by men. Another number that is the same as it was in 1998.
It is painfully obvious that the industry has a problem. In the United States, 51 percent of the population is female, so why is one of our most influential industries dominated by male voices? Some may think that there just aren’t enough women pursuing a career in filmmaking, but that is simply not true.
Last year, MTV News reported that nearly half the student populations at USC and NYU – two major film schools – were women. The problem isn’t that women aren’t pursuing careers in film, it is that they aren’t getting jobs once they get out of school; a stark contrast from their male counterparts. After all, we live in a time where filmmakers like Colin Trevorrow make one independent film and are then handed the keys to the Jurassic Park franchise.
Huge changes need to be made in the film industry. It should not be more difficult to become a filmmaker just because you are a woman. That is completely ludicrous. But, unfortunately I cannot make these changes and they won’t come overnight. Pressure needs to be continually put on Hollywood to change its act. They need to see that people are fed up with sexism in the industry and they want change.
That is one of the reasons I am starting a series on our site called the “Female Directors Spotlight.” Every month, I will highlight one or two films directed by women that I think you should check out. The films will range from small independent films to large studio films. You may not even have known that some of these films were directed by women. I will be highlighting as many great films as possible and my hope is that more people will start to recognize the talent of these directors. This series will not end the horrible sexism in the film industry, but I hope that this article and the series will help to continue the much-needed discussion about the lack of gender diversity in the industry.