Two years have passed. And with another Oscar night ahead — one where all the best-director contenders are men, just as they were last year — it’s natural to wonder whether that memorable “I Am Woman” win actually created a Bigelow Effect, flinging open new doors for aspiring female filmmakers. Or are things pretty much status quo in the land of blockbusters and action franchises?
An annual report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film suggests status quo. In fact, according to the latest Celluloid Ceiling study, released last month, only 5 percent of the directors who worked on the 250 top-grossing movies of last year were women. That’s a two-percentage-point drop from 2010. On the plus side, the number of women working behind the scenes — as writers, producers, editors and crew members — rose from 17 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2011.
“When Bigelow won, a lot of people assumed things must be okay, but the numbers tell a different story,” Martha Lauzen, the center’s director said.
That story is complicated, and not without some glimmers of progress. But it’s also one that begins with a simple fact: Most of Hollywood’s key players are white men.
“When you’re talking about 95 percent of the films being directed by largely white males, that’s a stunning number to me,” Lauzen said. “There are many things happening simultaneously to produce that number. More than ever before, film studios are businesses. And one of the things businesses like to do is avoid perceived risk. Women are still perceived as riskier hires than men.”
Part of this, Lauzen said, is human nature. A man is more likely to greenlight a story that appeals to men, then enlist another man to tell that story.
There may also be a Mars/Venus aspect. During separate conversations with two notable female filmmakers — Phyllida Lloyd, who steered Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady,” and Debra Granik, the former D.C. resident who directed “Winter’s Bone,” an Oscar nominee last year for best picture — both women noted that their sensibilities frequently differ from some of their industry counterparts.
“I feel often that I’m seeing things upside down and back-to-front [versus] how the boys are seeing them,” said Lloyd, who made her directorial debut with the big-budget musical “Mamma Mia.” “Perhaps just by dint of what we’re passionate about, it’s harder to franchise our thoughts.”
Granik, an independent filmmaker prone to tackling gritty stories about life on the margins of society, also said the subjects that inspire her have been deemed “unmarketable” by some. But gender may have nothing to do with that.