Women Directors Nearly Absent in 2013 Awards Season

Women Directors Nearly Absent 2013 Awards
Jason Schneider

As 2013 looks to be another rich year for talked-about movies, it readily becomes apparent that the number of them directed by women in Hollywood is woefully small.

Of viable awards contenders this season, there’s Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” Lake Bell’s “In a World,” and … a lot of movies by guys. Contrast that with the foreign-language category where a record 16 entries are helmed by femmes.

“The movie industry is failing women,” says New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis. “And until the industry starts making serious changes, nothing is going to change.”

For 15 years, the percentage of women represented in the top 250 domestic grossers has fluctuated between 5% and 9%, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State U. (In 2012, it was 9%.) The center’s executive director, Martha Lauzen, cites a variety of factors as to why the imbalance continues, but stresses perception is a key one.

“If you don’t perceive it as a problem, then you’re not going to do anything to fix it,” Lauzen says. Then there’s the comfort level, which gets explained with specious arguments. “People don’t say ‘I’m not comfortable with women having all that power’ or handling a budget of $100 million or more. They’ll say, ‘Well, filmmaking is a business, and we try to avoid risk.’ And because there are fewer women out there, they’re perceived as being more of a risk. But the fact is, Hollywood makes risky decisions every day.”

It’s in this climate that a new movie fund named Gamechanger Films was announced in September. The goal is to fully or partly bankroll lower-budgeted narrative features directed by women. Recent studies such as the 2012 examination of gender disparity in independent film conducted by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles reveal the importance of mentoring in getting women actively working.

Gamechanger president Mynette Louie sees the fund’s example as indicative of a newfound solidarity as more and more women get into directing, and the impetus to address the imbalance takes hold.

“Probably a generation or two before, women were just worried about keeping their own jobs, being one of the boys rather than really mentoring younger women coming up,” Louie says. “There’s less tokenism going on, I think. I hope.”

The indie world has generally been viewed as a more solicitous arena for female directors, even if the representation isn’t great there, either. (Sundance achieved gender parity in its dramatic competition slate only in 2013.) But where is the female version of the Marc Webb story? Webb had made only one movie — the Sundance-debuted “(500) Days of Summer” — before getting a crack at a major studio franchise behemoth with “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Says Dargis: “The great irony is that women are accused of making romantic comedies, as if it’s a bad thing, but Marc Webb makes a romantic comedy and he gets ‘Spider-Man.’ Are you kidding me? You cannot win.”

Writer-director-star Bell made a splash at Sundance this year with a romantic comedy, the feminist-themed showbiz saga “In a World,” for which she won the festival’s screenwriting prize. And she admits that “really fancy offers” have come her way. But she also thinks diving into a $150 million movie as her second directed feature would be “really stupid.”

“It’s not necessarily what I want to do next,” Bell says. “Maybe a woman is less inclined to want to take someone else’s huge mess that a studio’s been trying to make from a concept that’s already had 15 cooks in the kitchen. I’m not acting by monetary gain.”

It’s a conundrum for many women who consider themselves directors first. Qualify Holofcener as a “woman director” and you’re highlighting difference over skill, implying that it’s a separate category. Lynn Shelton (“Your Sister’s Sister”) notes the absurdity of being asked on panels or in interviews what it’s like to be a “female director.” “I would just say, ‘I’m having a great time, but I don’t know what it’s like to be a man director, so I don’t even know how to answer that.’”

And when Kathryn Bigelow breaks a ceiling and wins an Oscar, Lauzen says, “The assumption is that the problem must be solved, that well-deserved success radiates or creates this halo effect. I just don’t think it works that way. It’s not immediate. We’re talking about social change here, and attitudes about gender, race and age are all very deeply held.”

Women who come up through the independent ranks may decide going their own way is preferable to waiting for studios to hire them. But until women are routinely in the mix for tentpole juggernauts and 4,000-screen behemoths, Dargis says, “the system is broken. And we are a long way from that.”
Does the industry simply need a new generation of gender progressives, then, to come into power and displace the old guard? Ava DuVernay, who won Sundance’s directing award for “Middle of Nowhere” and is prepping her next film, “Selma,” says even though the problem is systemic, change is happening.

“I know that the things I’m able to do now, I wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago, just because the paradigms weren’t shifting as they are now with access and technology,” DuVernay says. “There were closed doors and gates all around. Now those gatekeepers are being forced to change.”

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  1. Sunne says:

    Not that I want to disagree with the article but how serious can I take it, how good was the research done when they even get the picture to the article wrong? This is one male symbol between a lot of female symbols….sorry….this is so sloppy.
    And personally I think they best deserves to win. I wouldn’t want any price given to me for less than good work just because I’m a woman. Just saying equal rights need to go two ways.

  2. I would like to see Barbara Stressand, among my favorite of women directors give of herself to mentor younger women. Women coming in now though must have a fully different set of skills in which technology, animation, and the camera quality is all new again to those who were master women before. How generous it would be of the men whose name shout’s, “Quality Film,” to just decide to bring some hard working and talented woman on as a Co Director, for well chosen, these people could become the next women to break the barrier from, “The Father Figure,” to, “The New Mothers of film crews. I think women are going to have to be able to speak and use words which mean, “I am in this for breaking another career barrier,” And how few of us will ever get to dream of reaching for such a unicorn and feel ready to fly. All things begin with an, “I will,” for the sake of talented women in film for years to come. Blessings, Barbara Everett Heintz, Author of “Pinkhoneysuckle,” Now on Option for film with producer, Chase Chenowith, and Co Producer, Kathryn Raaker–Hope to see you all in Washington, D.C. a heartbeat and most important journey which will accompany the life of my film. Thank you so much. Barbara Everett Heintz

  3. Dan says:

    Don’t forget FROZEN, written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee.

  4. AGallard says:

    We need more people like you Katerina. Your film looks awesome.

  5. I’m a female writer-director living in England, close to London. Not part of any filmmaking or acting dynasty clique, I mean, I’m Greek and have an accent, English is my second language, generally the odds are pretty grim for me to get funded. I’m married and have two young kids and a part time job but it didn’t stop me from picking up a camera and finding a team and making a feature film that at the moment has gone viral on Facebook (10, 500 likes as we speak). The problem I think is not only the system. I think we should be more proactive. Surround yourself with a great team, inspire them, lead them into your vision. Be nice to people. Do favours. Be honest. Work hard. Harder than you ever though you could. Balance family life with work and enjoy the journey. Its been 3 years and we are still trying to raise money to finish the visual effects, but we are doing it, slowly and steadily, scraping from everywhere, because this film needs to be seen. Male or female, remember what Mandela said: ‘A winner is a dreamer who never gives up’. Let’s be out there, if the fire is strong enough, it will burn the systemic wall of male-dominated narrow-mindness down. But the journey is not for the faint hearted and if you have to spent your nights between baby feeds and learning premiere or compiling shot list , you gotta smile at that and be proud of yourself. If you would like to see my film go to Facebook -Marriage-the film. or visit my website: http://www.marriagefilm.com. You will see a film done with passion, I would like to say as polished as a Hollywood one, but with zero budget. It’s up to us to make miracles.

    • steve says:

      cool movie, when is it out? Where can I get it? i’ve tried looking forit but couldn’t find it, did you do the festival rounds? you should seriously do some good publicity on it and become some sort of poster woman for indie girls with balls!

    • AGallard says:

      Fantastic post and great movie, how on earth did you manage all that? Variety should do an article on you.

  6. Jenny says:

    True, as a female indie director I have trouble even talking to Indiewire or all those female networking sites that say promote women. When they don’t acknowledge your message or trailers, what hope is there? All why talk about is female movie stars as if they need more exposure. As a woman with 2 feature films on my back but not living in LA, London or New York and mingling, things are very tough. There is absolutely no real help, 80% is all PR to draw people to subscribe to our forum.

  7. Todd Koerner says:

    This is a bad and endless version of Groundhog Day. I have been seeing this issue debated and ignored for the past 20 years. It will take a concerted effort by the decision makers – execs, stars, financiers – to make a real difference. The sad fact is that women execs are some of the worst offenders.

  8. i think we need more women participation in the big screen. Im in favor , we want more girls around the world producing (big budgets and small budgets) . We are in our era , so we need change. We want to see it now. Not in 5 years. Life has to be even (girls and boys are equal) .

  9. LS says:

    It doesn’t help the women’s cause when an Oscar is given to a female director when another male director deserved the Oscar win that year. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”, while a good movie, didn’t even contend with the directing done by her ex-husband, James Cameron, for “Avatar”. I believe she was given the Oscar because she was a woman not because she was the best director that year. Her movie was still a monumental success whether she received the Oscar or not.
    Is she talented? Yes of course. Should she be given the same chance as other male directors? Absolutely. But to be given an Oscar to appease Hollywood detractors only hurts the cause. I want to see a good movie no matter who directs it…but I want the best director to win the Oscar whether that director be a man, woman, 25 or 85, white or black.

    • Lesley says:

      I personally think The Hurt Locker is ten times the movie that Avatar is, so while you’re welcome to your opinion about who deserved the Oscar that year, you really can’t say that Academy members only voted for her because she was a woman. Based on the information in the rest of the article, it’s pretty clear that Hollywood doesn’t really favor women, so I highly doubt that was the case.

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