The Eighteen Percent: An Introduction

By Marissa Elliot Little

In this column, writer Marissa Elliot Little will examine women’s roles behind-the-scenes in film, and how that affects the industry. 


via guardian.co.uk

In eighth grade, I used the About Me section of Myspace to proudly proclaim myself as a “feminist, environmentalist, and Red Sox fan.”

As a college freshman, my days of digging up worms in the backyard for my compost pile and using old T-shirts to advertise the importance of recycling are over, as are my aspirations of becoming a baseball historian and occasional radio broadcaster.

So what about a feminist?

Somewhere in high school, I concocted an image of angry women shouting into megaphones about the atrocities of men on a college campus while burning bras. If this was feminism, I would keep my frumpy, grandmotherly bras and fantasies of rugged lumberjacks to myself, thank you very much.

Besides, weren’t women equal to men anyway?

My answer did not come from taking an interest in politics or world affairs, but from my favorite non-edible thing in the world: movies.

In 2010, Barbara Streisand presented the Oscar for Best Director. She opened the envelope and said, “It’s about time.” Moments later, Kathryn Bigelow was on stage as the first woman to win the award.

Yes, it took until the 82nd year of the Academy Awards and the fourth female director ever nominated for a woman to win.

One could easily argue that maybe women haven’t directed anything worth nominating, which is fair. Nominating someone on the basis of their sex is just as bad as not nominating them for the same reason. This leaves the question, have women directed anything worthy of an Academy Award nomination or does the Academy hate women (as some have suggested in response to Bigelow’s snub this year)?

It’s hard to nominate women when they make up so little of the industry. San Diego State University released a study of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012. It revealed that of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on these films, only 18 percent were women – just a 1 percent increase from 1998.

The study had better news on the presence of women in the independent film industry. There, women made up 39 percent of the directors of documentaries and 18 percent of the directors of narrative features.

The best news of the study?

“Examining the top 100 worldwide grossing films of 2007, the study found that when women and men filmmakers have similar budgets for their films, the resulting box office grosses are also similar. In other words, the sex of filmmakers does not determine box office grosses.”

My interpretation: a woman in a prominent position on a film won’t kill it’s success.

So why aren’t there more prominent female filmmakers?

This column was pitched in six words. “Beyond Bigelow: highlights women in film.” Not a lot of thought, not a lot of passion. Weeks later, I was scouring the Internet for inspiration to write it. I didn’t find inspiration, just the disheartening statistics above.

Yes, there are women making movies. Maybe there are less than men – okay, there are definitely less. And while this column will not praise a female filmmaker solely because she is a woman in a male-dominated industry, it does aim to explore the disparities between women and men in the film industry and other issues pertaining to the role of women in the film industry. No bra burnings or megaphones needed.

Marissa Elliot Little is a staff writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com 

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