×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Femme frontal

Letter to the editor

To the Editor:

In its June 9-15 issue, Variety ran two articles pondering why women’s employment in key behind-the-scenes positions hasn’t resulted in the more prominent display of “female sensibilities” in film and television.

Peter Bart’s column (“Buzzwords Cast a Blur”) asked, “Were we all wrong in thinking that once the women took over, diverse sensibilities would be in greater evidence?” On the next page, Elizabeth Guider (“Where is the Woman’s Touch?”) was “struck by the disconnect” between women’s achievements and the preponderance of male-oriented media fare.

Having studied women’s representation onscreen and behind the scenes in film and television for about a decade, I first have to address Mr. Bart’s assertion that women have taken over Hollywood. While women now hold a number of powerful and highly visible positions in both film and television, any “takeover” is far from imminent.

In fact, women accounted for only 17% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2002. Similarly, women comprised 23% of those holding similar positions on primetime situation comedies and dramas in the 2001-2002 season.

The prominence of women executives as the heads of major motion picture studios and as presidents of entertainment at the networks is undeniable. However, the prevalence of women in executive suites remains unclear. While conventional wisdom suggests women executives have achieved some measure of parity with their male counterparts, no study that I know of has addressed this specific question. One U. of Pennsylvania study found that women accounted for a paltry 10% of all executives in TV, telecom and Internet firms.

Furthermore, when behind-the-scenes women create what is perceived to be more female fare, it is assumed the product appeals only to other females and/or represents the limits of women’s talents. In other words, women supposedly are capable only of producing “chick flicks” or “soft programming.” No such assumption is made when men create stories about males (or females).

While women executives may not have substantially influenced the zeitgeist of film and TV content, academic research reveals that women close to the creative product — writers, directors, executive producers — do make a difference.

Over the years, our studies of primetime TV have revealed that the employment of just one woman in a position of power produces a statistically significant increase in the number of female characters onscreen.

In his column, Mr. Bart asked, “Shouldn’t the real issue focus more on sensibilities, whether they are female, nonwhite or those of someone over 40?”

Men wrote and created eight out of 10 situation comedies and dramas on primetime television last year; they wrote and directed 90% of films. Significantly changing this behind-the-scenes gender dynamic would most certainly change onscreen sensibilities.

(Martha M. Lauzen is a professor in the School of Communications at San Diego State University.)

More Voices

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

  • Black Women in Medicine BTS

    Hollywood Needs to Include People With Disabilities on Both Sides of the Camera (Guest Column)

    In five years, nothing has changed. Despite open calls for greater diversity and inclusion, recent research shows that there was little change in the number of characters with disabilities in popular films in 2017. A study conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that [...]

  • Seven Seconds

    Fighting the Racial Bias at the Core of Hollywood’s Cop Shows (Guest Column)

    If fiction is the lie that tells a deeper truth, the TV crime genre has been, for the most part, the lie that simply tells a lie. As a storyteller (Veena) and an advocate for racial justice (Rashad), we collaborated for the past two-and-a-half years in an attempt to reimagine the roles of cops, victims, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content