Well, what do you know: Women do support women. Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, the executive director at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and San Diego State University, best known for her annual Celluloid Ceiling report that tracks the dismal state of affairs for female directors, has expanded her research to track the top 700 domestic grossing films of 2014 to investigate gender bias. What she has found is that when women are in director, producer or executive producer roles, they are more likely to hire women in other roles.
For example: On films with female directors, women comprised 52 percent of writers. In contrast, on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 8 percent of writers. On films with female directors, women comprised 35 percent of editors. On films with male directors, 15 pecent of editors were female.
“The findings dispute the notion that women don’t hire other women. That is a myth,” says Lauzen, who expanded her study from the top 250 films to 700 (basically all films released in a calendar year) to see how the statistics change. “Women do appear to prefer to hire other women in greater practice than do men.”
Some examples from 2014 include Beyond the Lights (above, which has a female writer-director, cinematographer, and editor), Citizenfour, Fed Up, Last Days in Vietnam, and She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.
The findings come at a time when the issue of equality for women in Hollywood has come under a microscope with actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep speaking out against gender bias when it comes to pay and hiring practices both in front and behind the camera. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken up the issue of gender discrimination in the hiring of film directors, launching an investigation of their own at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lauzen is hopeful that the EEOC investigation could result in real change.
“If the investigation results in a substantial increase in the numbers of directors who are women, the findings suggest that the number of writers, editors and cinematographers will also increase,” she says. “It is quite possible that directors, producers and executive producers are serving as the gateway function for other women in other roles.”
Yet, the expansion of Lauzen’s research only confirms the still wretched state of gender inequality in filmmaking. According to her study, 85 percent of all 2014 films had no female directors, 80 percent had no female writers, and 92 percent had no female cinematographers. Female producers have made the biggest shift toward gender parity, with only 33 percent of 2014 films owning the statistic of no female producers.
Other countries are taking up this issue with their public funding of films. Australia is now considering an equality quota, whereby 50 percent of the funding from its public film fund Screen Australia would go to projects with female directors. It would be an initiative similar to one created in Sweden two years ago that has dramatically altered its state of gender equality in the director’s chair. That option is not a possibility in the U.S. where there is no public film fund.
But Lauzen, as an academic who has studied this issue for decades, remains shocked that even with the level of discourse n the media today, Hollywood’s studios have remained silent on the issue.
“I do feel there has been a stunning lack of leadership on this issue from those who could really do something about it,” says Lauzen. “Where is the M.P.A.A. Why aren’t we hearing from the major film studios? They are the ones who could change the gender dynamic. And they are silent. There has to be a will to change.”