If you think of some of the highest regarded directors of all time, you’re likely to think of names like Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, or Coppola. These directors are some of the most influential and innovative of our time, but they’re also all men. It’s much more difficult for the average movie-goer to think of their favorite female director or any female director for that matter. While the glass ceiling of the movie industry has been shattered by incredible women like Ava Du Vernay, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow, there still seems to be a barrier between women and the director’s chair.
The “Celluloid” Ceiling
Rather than calling it a “glass” ceiling, the term used in Hollywood that represents the barrier for women in the film industry is called the celluloid ceiling. Every year since 1998, the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television at the San Diego State University conducts a Celluloid Ceiling Report to see how many creative positions in the industry are held by women. Last years’ numbers came out and showed that a mere 17% of all film and television roles held backstage, like directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers. This abysmal number shows that men hold many of the highest-ranking positions, and by a wide margin at that.
While the film and television industry saw a slight increase in women holding behind the scenes roles in this past year, the general public would prefer to see women holding more traditionally male career choices. It’s difficult to say whether the recent slump in box office sales this summer has anything to do with this inequality of the sexes, but it’s clear that moviegoers want to see some fresh ideas. A perfect example is the success of the movie Wonder Woman, the first superhero film to be directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, which is nearing the billion-dollar box office revenue mark.
Strong Female Leads
Women’s roles in the film industry are, for the most part, in front of the camera rather than behind the lens, but there has been a multitude of positive, female roles in recent years. For years, females on the screen were seen more like background characters needing to be rescued, but new roles showcased a female as strong and self-assured. There has also been the issue of ageism in Hollywood against women. In most films, it is alright to have an older man with a female lead twenty or more years his junior, as a romantic interest, instead of a woman who is age appropriate. Again it is safe to presume this decision is being made to bring in more of a male audience into the theaters. Yet, a film like Something’s Gotta Give showed a brilliant example of right casting- putting Diane Keaton to play opposite Jack Nicholson in a love story that celebrated actresses for their talent and strength.
At the Cannes Film Festival this year, actress and jury member of the festival Jessica Chastain was vocal about her disappointment and disgust regarding the misrepresentation of women while watching a series of 20 films across the ten days of the festival. According to Chastain, serving as a jury member was an eye-opening experience, “what I really took away from this experience is how the world views women. It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest.” Chastain and other jury members agreed that there should not only be more strong female characters represented on the screen, there should also be more female filmmakers behind the screen.
The film industry might be imbalanced right now, but many females are making waves in this arena, and more are sure to follow. The Women in Film non-profit organization, backed by some of the most influential names in Hollywood, strives to chip away at the disparity between male and female professions working in the screen industries to better society as a whole. Women offer a unique perspective to the mix that their male counterparts are just not able to provide. In the coming years, women should be encouraged to embark on a career behind the screen and continue to chip away at the “celluloid” ceiling.