Sure, everyone’s psyched for the all-female Ghostbusters, but last Sunday, as part of the Bushwick Film Festival, a panel of women in the industry came together and agreed on something scary: there are not enough women being represented in films, TV, and behind the camera.
In a male dominated field, Hollywood blockbusters and independent films don’t often have major female leads or directors. In fact, some can’t even pass the Bechdel test, which calls on a given work to have two or more women that have names, talk to each other, and talk about something besides men.
The ladies on Sunday’s panel understood just how horrible it is that women are still not fairly represented at the box office. Leah Meyerhoff, founder of Film Fatales, created the filmmakers collective because she saw a need to support women in the industry. She said they only make up “5 percent of directors of the top 500 films at the box office, and in the independent world, it’s about 10 percent. Those numbers have been the same since the ’70s. I don’t think they’re changing anytime soon.”
Indeed, alarming statistics cited by Women Make Movies indicate the female filmmaking community may actually be shrinking. An annual report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film indicated that in 2013, “women accounted for 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors. This represents a decrease of two percentage points since 2012 and a decrease of one percentage point from 1998.”
Maya Jakubowicz, Director of Finance and Administration for Women Make Movies, wished that women didn’t need an organization like hers in order to make films. “That’s the goal—to not have to have an organization that just distributes films for women, about women,” she said.According to Meyerhoff, in other countries like Germany and Australia women get funding from the government because they have to fill quotas. “Studios here could make more of an effort, but I think we are a long way away from that in America.”
Even women that are already filmmakers find it difficult to have others take them seriously. Jessica Vale, who directed the documentary Small Small Thing, described a time when she felt judged for being a woman in the industry. She said, “I’ve noticed that when I take my husband with me, and he likes exotic film festivals, everyone always assumes that he is the filmmaker.” When she tells them no, they ask her husband what he does for a living. “They say ‘must be nice to have someone fund your films for you.’ I’m like no, no, no. He doesn’t fund my films. He’s completely out of it. There’s this assumption that a female director, especially in other countries where women are much less empowered, they don’t even understand how I could possibly be doing this.”
The Bushwick Film Festival always does a fine job of showcasing films from minorities not often heard above the Hollywood buzz, and this panel was a prime example. Here’s part of the discussion, which also included Sara Hack, Director of Business & Legal Affairs at Magnolia Pictures: