February 25th, 2010
04:00 PM ET

Where are the women?

Kathryn Bigelow could very well make history next month, becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director.  But while that would certainly be a triumph for the talented director of "The Hurt Locker," it wouldn't necessarily signal a sea change in Hollywood gender equality.

Women may be half of the population – slightly more, actually – but according to a new study, actresses had just under 30% of the speaking roles in the 100 top-grossing movies of 2007.  Stacy Smith of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who conducted the study, found things even more unbalanced behind the camera: 83% of the directors, producers, and writers on those films were men.  Rebekah Spicuglia of the Women's Media Center says that last year, just 7% of the top 250 movies had female directors, and only 8% of feature film writing slots went to women.

Naturally, subject matter dictates the casting of some films, whether a war pic like "Hurt Locker", which had almost exclusively men on screen, or a movie like 2008's "The Women," which had an entirely female cast.  But such oddities aside, what's going on here?  If most movies aim to capture a slice of life, why is that life so overwhelmingly male?  Most people expect Hollywood's version to be more glamorous and violent and funny and heartbreaking than everyday life, but skewing it by sex doesn't seem to make sense.

As for behind the camera, WMC President Jehmu Greene blames the old boys network:  "Hollywood is an industry set in its ways – a boys club with a focus on producing movies for a 14-to-25-year-old male audience.  Women now make up more than half the workforce in the U.S. and yet are still left out of writing, directing and producing top films.  Women filmmakers should have equal access to opportunities, funds, mentorship, and recognition for their work."

Another self-perpetuating theory is lack of role models: the number of high-profile female filmmakers hasn't reached the tipping point where enough young women are inspired to begin tipping that balance.  (In that case, perhaps a Bigelow win on March 7 could be a significant step toward balance.)

What do you think?  Are you bothered by the imbalance, on either side of the camera?  Any theories of your own as to the causes, or ideas on how to level the playing field?  And whether you're rooting for or against Bigelow at the Oscars, does it have anything to do with her gender?


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Str8 Outta Tx

    give them the same opportunities as us.

    March 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dazed& female

    In response to Emily February 26th, 2010 12:56 pm ET

    Is it worth it to consider what women really want these jobs? I don't know any women in my own life that want to direct movies.

    Emily... what industry do you and your friends work in that you find it relevent that YOU don't know any women who want to direct?

    I have friends in the industry, and yes... women want to direct.

    March 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. byronsliq

    The Hurt Locker's a real gritty movie with male specific roles and points of view. I think for the movie to have a woman director makes it even more compelling. However, the work here stands on its own two feet and if she wins an oscar as a result, great. That in itself is good enough for me without bringing in her gender. Women's lib hasn't achieved anything if we keep focusing attention on gender everytime women accomplish the things that men regularly achieve.

    February 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AMT

    Charlize Theron is a beautiful actress who won an Oscar by portraying an unattractive muderer in the movie Monster. This is one example where "sex sells" does not apply. She won that Oscar because of her talent and not because of her looks.

    Good luck to Kathryn Bigelow in winning a Best Director Oscar. The Hurt Locker is a fantastic movie!!

    February 26, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Charles

    " Women filmmakers should have equal access to opportunities, funds, mentorship, and recognition for their work." Fine, but the day a corporation run by women owns their own studio and can provide the funding, mentorships & opportunities to make films on a consistent basis, then they will get the "equal opportunity" Jemhu Greene wants. It all comes down to money. The good old boys own the majority of the movie businesses, so start your own company if you want a different paradigm. Stop whining and make movies that you think will actually be profitable enough to sustain over time the functions of a production studio. "Hurt Locker" is a great film by a great director, not a woman director.

    February 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Shay

    I think it's sad that Halle didn't win anything until she played a sexual role...and Sandra Bullock is very average. She landed a good, serious role in "Blind Side", and will now probably get a win because it's not "Miss Congeniality Part 3."

    February 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Damon

    I agree with the person who said women uses sex to sell..that is very true..but I admire women who take on meatier roles to display those acting chops..not the ones that overtly use sex to sell a movie..

    February 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Marcus

    Emily has got it right!!
    Smae goes for any other profession in which there are more of one sex than the other.

    February 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Str8 Outta Tx

    007 has went downhill anyway.
    maybe they should make a perfect dark movie.
    but i reiterate:women are just as important, if not more so, than we are. i dont know where i'd be without them.

    February 26, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mazie916

    Halle was a Bond girl, so doesn't count. Even if the Bond girls of today has changed to more substance from the early Bond girls, they are still basically in the movie as eye candy for men and a conquest for Bond.

    February 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Emily

    Is it worth it to consider what women really want these jobs? I don't know any women in my own life that want to direct movies. Not to say that women CAN'T do jobs traditionally thought of as "men's work" (construction, mechanics, CEO's, etc.), I just think most of them don't want to.

    February 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. hans

    Its pretty simple....women don 't like movies meanwhile men absolutely love movies

    February 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Str8 Outta Tx

    women are just as important, if not more so, than we are. i dont know where i'd be without them.

    February 26, 2010 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. Blue Eyed Knight

    What happened to all the 007 movies wasn't there always at least one famous woman in them Halle for an example was in one so there not all gone!1!

    February 26, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kristen

    Coppola did not win but it is an honor to be nominated. I think the significance of Bigelow being a woman is more her subject matter this time rather than her gender. As the Navy allows women in subs for the first time and during a wartime when women are injured, captured and killed in "non-combat" roles, it is time to realize that war is no longer a man's game. The fact that the film has garnered great reviews during a time when the war it depicts does not is a sign that Bigelow is an amazing director.

    February 26, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  16. Lauren

    Sophia won for screenplay not directing.

    February 26, 2010 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  17. Get serious

    The actors have a choice what movie roles they take... women are equal to men and their choices decide their path... if you go the route of selling sex in a movie then what do you expect? That's exactly how Halle Berry got her Oscar....However Sandra Bullock is a good actor and a producer...women tend to more towards becoming producers than directors...

    Of the above actors mentioned by head Diva the only one who has any talent outside their looks is DiCaprio....but let's not kid ourselves...the men are also judged by the way they look and the roles they choose....this is why everyone thinks of Clooney or Pitt who are just pretty faces....

    February 26, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  18. ppj

    Didn't Sophia Copella win for Lost in Translation a few years back - i think she did...

    February 25, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Head Diva In Charge

    I think women in Hollywood get the shaft because we use sex to sell them. As they get older, they are not as sought after and then not needed. Sure there are some good looking men with acting chops – Clooney, Pitt, and DiCaprio are just a few, but we are forgiving when they get old and fat. Not so forgiving if Reese Witherspoon weighed 250 lbs.....

    February 25, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |

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