In August, I wrote a post, asking you to see Austenland in the theater, if possible, in order to show Hollywood that women-made-and-led movies can be profitable. At the time, squeetuser Melanie Nichols made a comment I thought was worth discussing, though I thought I'd wait a bit first so the focus could be less on any particular movie and more general. From Melanie:
"I have to say that I love Austenland and I'm dying to see it (I'm hoping it'll make it's way up to Alaska!), but without wanting to sound rude, I don't agree with this post. I don't mean this as a criticism. I read this post and really wanted to take a moment to look at it from a different angle.
"In essence, you're saying that Hollywood ignores or downgrades movies that are female centric, yet you're pleading with us to see it because of that reason. It seems a bit hypocritical. If the issue is sexism, the answer isn't to do the same in reverse.
"You ask us to go see your movie and City of Bones, not because they have compelling plots, they're entertaining, or well made. You ask us to go because they're about women and written by women...
"I don't want this to sound overly critical, but as a woman I dislike the "girl power!" attitude. It shouldn't matter the gender of the actors, characters, writers, directors, etc. I am a woman. It's a huge part of who I am and I love being one, but it rankles to be compartmentalized by my gender for good or bad. I'm publishing my first novel in the next few months and I don't want people buying it because they want to read something from a female author. I want readers who enjoy the product."
Thanks for this, Melanie, and for your kind words too! *smooch* I think you bring up very valid points. (The term "girl power" also makes me shudder--no offense to those who love it. Power on!) I totally get what you’re saying about the hypocrisy. And in a fair world, I’d agree 100%. But we don’t live in a fair world. I believe that we need to talk about this and create awareness of the deep gap between women and men in the film industry. And since Hollywood runs on money, I believe we actually need to make an effort to monetarily support films made by women so that more can get made until eventually we don’t have to talk about it anymore.
I think there’s a lot of room for debate on this. For example, I’ve heard people make the case that affirmative action is unnecessary or even counter-productive. I’ve also heard others make the case in favor of all the good affirmative action has done. These are good discussions. And I think this is a good discussion too.
The loudest question I heard from your comment was, is my request that you go see Austenland because it’s made by women inherently sexist?
I don’t think that’s the only reason to go see it--I also think it has a compelling plot, is entertaining and well made, but I took for granted that was understood. So if I haven't gushed enough about the film's merits on its own, I'm always happy to do so more: It's hysterical! It's sweet and charming and swoony! The performances are awe-inspiring, the cinematography and art production took my breath! And I mean that sincerely.
I don’t think that because the movie was made largely by women that means all women will automatically like it, just as all men don’t automatically like every one of the 90% of films that were largely made by men. But with that post I did hope to educate some who don’t know how Hollywood often works so that they might understand just how much voting-by-money matters in movies. We often talk about how sad it is that there aren’t more women’s voices heard in media, but many don’t realize just how important buying tickets to the female-created and/or female-led movies matters. Even if viewers don’t notice the gender of the filmmakers or stars, Hollywood does, and they do make decisions based on how much money female-created and female-led films make. If Austenland succeeds, another female filmmaker that no investor wanted to take a chance on before will have a better shot. I wish that wasn't how it works, but I'm afraid it does.
Celluloid Ceiling released a recent study of filmmaking in the US:
“In 2012, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents
no change from 2011 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998.”
And it’s not getting better. “A historical comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2012 and 1998 reveals that the percentages of women directors and editors have not changed. The percentages of women writers and producers have increased slightly. The percentages of women executive producers and cinematographers have declined.” And while those numbers haven’t improved in the past 15 years, the percentage of female characters in films has even declined.
Those are the numbers representing scattered female involvement, but what percentage of films were written, directed, produced by and starred women? Hollywood has noticed Austenland’s female-heavy creation, and it will note how it performs. (For one example of Hollywood noticing a film's performance when women are involved, read this Deadline Hollywood article. It would be interesting to look at the films produced by that studio in the past five years since the article and see how many, if any, had female leads.)
I want to emphasize: I do not think that everyone in Hollywood is inherently sexist. I do think they make decisions based on the data at hand. And with so few female-made movies to look at, one underperforming movie has a huge ripple effect. Here's another article, this one about why a Wonder Woman animated feature can't use her name in the title. Interesting to note that the DVD they mention sold relatively well--but not well enough. Female-led titles have to be outstandingly successful in order to prove the old order wrong. It's not fair. It's hypocritical. It's how it works. (and note that although the DVD All-Star Superman underperformed, no one said, "That's it, no more Superman movies," or even more ludicrous, "That's it, no more male-led movies." When a movie with a female lead underperforms, the gender of the lead is blamed, while the reverse is not true for male-led movies.)
I personally wish change came organically because we’re all just looking for a great story and it doesn’t matter who made it. When buying books, I don’t care if the writer is a man or a woman, because of books published, the spread between men and women writers is pretty even (although review coverage and awards greatly favor male writers, especially with grown up titles). But when deciding which movies to support with my money, I do make a conscious effort to look for films with some female actors and a female writer or director, because I want to support them. And filmmakers of color too. There are voices not being heard, not because they don’t have great stories to tell, but because money talks, and so far in the movie industry, money favors one kind of person over another. Because so far, by the numbers, that’s the least risky investment.
Again, I am not suggesting that just because women made a movie that means all women must love it (or by extension all men must hate it). But yes, I am suggesting, the next time you're trying to decide between two movies to see in the theater, and one has a female director or writer or lead, and the other doesn't, choosing the former does matter, not just to that film but to future films. Box office sales numbers matter so much in Hollywood. Your ticket matters. I hope you'll ponder this for the future. If you're ever vacillating between going to see a female-made movie in the theater or waiting, your trip to the theater means something. Or buying a DVD too, for that matter. Your purchase means more than simply watching a really great movie. With a compelling plot. And memorable characters. And honest laughter. And really great writing. The number crunchers in Hollywood will read the money you spent as a vote. And I'm boldly asking you to vote for variety.
So, what do you think?