Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where Are The Women?

I noticed an image of four film directors who have been the premiere filmmakers of the last few decades, Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas – which I liked for simply the way it looked and for the influence these fellows have had over movies. But the image prompted a friend to say that despite the radical changes these men made, they didn’t really provide much change for opportunities for women as filmmakers.

It’s a good point, to which she added that perhaps in decades to come we’ll see a collection of grey-haired ladies who have made movie history. I think it’s worth noting that an elite group of women have been crucial to the success of these fellows, though.

Scorsese has had one person, film editor ThelmaSchoonmaker, craft all his films into shape, from “Woodstock” to his current projects. His films have a total reliance on editing, providing the rhythms and structure that are seen as hallmarks to his work. Likewise, Spielberg’s first two film s, “Sugarland Express” and “Jaws” were edited by Verna Fields – let’s be honest, it’s the editing that makes “Jaws”.

But most consistently, he has relied on producer Kathleen Kennedy – from “E.T.” onwards, and she recently took the helm as the boss at Lucasfilm, and has control over all the upcoming “Star Wars” films as well. Kennedy’s work has garnered 120 Oscar nominations so far. Her credits are most impressive.

Yet, she is quoted on IMDB as saying:

“I don't think there's a great deal of discrimination -- although I'm completely perplexed and confused as to why there aren't more women. For instance, if we're looking for new, young directors, which is something we do all the time, we certainly never go look at films because they're directed by a man or a woman. We look at films because they are winning awards, they're good, and it has nothing to do with gender. And women certainly have equal opportunity to get into a university like UCLA or USC, to get into the film department, to take the same courses to allow them to make films, to deal with a whole gamut of subject matter, and yet I don't know what happens. There's something that happens in the process of getting there that seems to turn many women away.”

As for George Lucas – an interesting fact – his wife Marcia was integral to his earliest works, again as a film editor, for the “Star Wars” films, and on “Taxi Driver” with Scorsese. But, once the couple divorced in 1983, she left Hollywood and filmmaking. Scorsese’s wife Barbra Da Fina was also his producer from “Color of Money” to projects now underway – but they too divorced.

Coppola – well, that has brought us his daughter Sofia, a rising star director.

In truth, these four men did much (successfully or not) to mark the end of studio control and the rise of independent filmmakers, but they are certainly the Old Boys network leaders today. Fighting those powers, asserting control, all was a rather constant and often brutal struggle.

And let’s be honest too – when it comes to the forms of Western drama, women were just barely allowed onstage as late as the mid-late-1800s. That’s a huge hurdle to overcome. Oddly, back in the old Hollywood studio days, women were pretty much in charge of all film editing, as wage-workers mostly, since studio heads saw the job as rudimentary and lacking artistic merit.

“Gender discrimination in Hollywood goes far beyond women simply not getting the gig. It is reflected in movie budgets, P&A budgets, the size of distribution deals (if a female director's movie is lucky enough to score one), official and unofficial internship or mentorship opportunities, union eligibility, etc.

“Women in Hollywood have no male allies. There are some who pretend to be on our side, but yeah, not really. They may say the right thing because, after all, they're liberals and that's a public image they'd like to keep up. Others may actually believe in gender equality, but are not willing to put up a fight for it that could sacrifice their own status or relationships.”

Here’s what I know for certain, no matter that much of the world can’t seem to grasp this idea: It’s a grave error to marginalize women, no matter what the field of endeavor. And changing this view is indeed a large obstacle.