Spotlight on the Celluloid Ceiling: What You Can Do
by Jan Lisa Huttner, Creative Director of FILMS FOR TWO: The Online Guide for Busy Couples
It's 2003. We have women governors and mayors, women senators and Supreme Court justices. We have women soldiers in Iraq being covered by women war correspondents. We've sent women into space, and lost women brave enough to try. But most women filmmakers still can't get their movies made.
Communications specialist Martha Lauzen coined the term "Celluloid Ceiling" to describe the ongoing paucity of opportunities for women filmmakers. For the past ten years, Lauzen has analyzed the 250 top grossing films of each year, and quantified women's participation behind the scenes as producers, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, and editors.
Although opportunities for women are increasing in almost every profession, the statistics compiled by Lauzen clearly show that the number of women filmmakers is actually going down over time, not up.
Here are some facts from the executive summary for 2002:
When I interviewed Lauzen by telephone in July just after the release of her 2002 results, she summarized the significance of her research:
"My research clearly shows that if you have women working behind-the-scenes on a film (as producers, directors, screenwriters, etc.), you get more female characters on screen. It is a statistically significant and consistent finding over the years. . .I think that what people don't understand is this: if you change media messages, you change the world."
As women professionals working in all areas of communications, I take is as a given that members of the Illinois Woman's Press Association believe in the importance of women's voices. So here are three imperatives for change.
The first thing that you have to do to smash the celluloid ceiling is seek out films by women filmmakers. And I do mean "seek out," because most films by women are smaller and more intimate than the big blockbusters that get all the hype. When we buy tickets to films directed and/or written by women, we make our most convincing statement to the powers-that-be in the film industry.
Next, generate buzz. There were very few positive reviews of My Big Fat Greek Wedding by members of the old boys' club (mostly male) film critics last year. But women saw it, loved it, and told their friends. If we support the films we like, if we turn out in big numbers, we can reverse the critical "kiss of death." Even though it had no car chases, explosions, or scenes of violent mayhem, My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a huge box office hit. That is our victory.
Finally, say no to Play-Doh. A Play-Doh part is a woman's role written only to serve the needs of the male protagonist. We're told almost nothing about her. She has no backstory. If she has a future, it's only within the context of the hero's future. Sometimes her only name is "the girl."
When a film just has Play-Doh parts and no roles for real women, warn your friends to stay away. Good screenwriters can create textured characters in supporting roles. We have to demand that they do. Some great movies (Blackhawk Down, Lawrence of Arabia) have had no women characters at all. Better that then Play-Doh.
A word about self-interest: speaking as a film critic and a member of IWPA, I can honestly say that is' much more interesting to write about Frida than The Hulk. I'll bet you'd much rather read about Frida than The Hulk too. As professional communicators, we want to take on worthy topics whenever we can. As viewers, we want film characters (men and women) of depth and complexity to entertain us in the here and now, and to inspire new generations with movie magic.
It's time to take aggressive action. We must put our money where our mouths are. In this--as in most things--we usually get what we pay for. Remember, the career opportunities of women filmmakers depend on us.
Jan Lisa Huttner is the Creative Director of FILMS FOR TWO: The Online Guide for Busy Couples. For her complete interview with Martha Lauzen as well as a list of 65 recommended films by women directors, visit www.films42.com.
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