Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

After a Year of Blogging . . .

2016 and a New Post: Women and Film

My 2015 "daybook" project is now complete. I was able to post an entry on women's history every day during the year. Those 366 entries (I wrote an extra one on 22 May) remain in the blog archive, if you're interested, and, of course, the blog itself remains searchable via online search engines. 

But now what? I am not going to abandon this blog, though I have no plans to write every day. Rather, I'll go back to the 2014 schedule of posting here whenever something interests me--or, more frequently, when something angers me!

Lately the New York Times has been filled with articles about the upcoming season of awards for film and television. I read the online edition, and today's film section offered multiple articles on this year's Oscar nominations (soon to be announced), on today's Producers Guild of America nominations, and on Sunday's Golden Globe Award broadcast, just for starters. Online, Google has posted tons of links to stories about the Golden Globes broadcast (Mel Gibson will present an award! E! will be broadcasting "Live from the Red Carpet"!), as has my Comcast homepage. 

And so I thought I'd mention just a few of the things none of these breathless "news" announcements has taken the time to clarify: 

While significant numbers of women have made undeniable progress in their effort to achieve equality, we still have a long way to go. Despite the enormous progress that has been made, women’s participation in many areas of contemporary society remains limited—women are under-represented in government, in business, and in the professions, and they still suffer economic disparity simply because they are female. Nowhere do we see this gender gap any more clearly than in the field of entertainment. Whether their professional careers are in theater, film, or television, women are still not equal participants.

In commenting on the opportunities for women in theatrical productions, and in particular on the number of plays written by women that manage to make it to the stage, playwright Marsha Norman recently noted, “Women have lived half of the experience of the world, but only 20 percent of it is recorded in our theatres.”[1] In other words, “if life worked like the theatre, four out of five things you had ever heard would have been said by men.”[2] 

What's true on stage is also true on screens both large and small. Recent studies of the top 100 films released in 2014 demonstrate that only 11.2 percent of the writers were women; women accounted for only 1.9 percent of the directors and 18.9 percent of the producers. (If you expand the list to the top 250 films, women still accounted for only 11% of the writers, but the numbers for women directors rose to 7% and the numbers for producers rose to 23%.)

Behind the scenes, they were only 18 percent of the editors, 5 percent of the cinematographers, and 5 percent of the sound designers. 

From Directors Guild of America's Feature Film Diversity Report:
Women Account for only 6.4% of Film Directors
(but just 3% for major box-office titles)

On screen, a woman played a leading role in only 21 percent of the top 100 films—but not a single woman over the age of forty-five “performed a lead or co lead role.”[3] And none of these numbers address issues of pay equity.[4] 

While in 2014 women were more fully represented on television screens than they were in film—40 percent of the “major characters” on broadcast, cable, and Netflix programs were female—they still comprised only 26 percent of the writers, 14 percent of the directors, 26 percent of the producers, 21 percent of editors, and 2 percent of cinematographers, for example, among other roles.[5] 

As Stacy Smith concludes in her comprehensive study of inequality in the portrayals of women in film, “The landscape of popular cinema . . . remains skewed and stereotypical.” Films “continue to distort the demographic reality of their audiences,” and even after years of “activism, attention, and statements about addressing the issue, Hollywood’s default setting for characters and content creators remains fixed on ‘status quo.’”[6] 

Or, as Martha Lauzen, director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, says, more succinctly, when it comes to the big screen, women still encounter a “celluloid ceiling.” And on the small screen, it’s much the same: women are, even now, “boxed in.” 

So, over the "awards season," while you're watching the parade of female stars in hugely expensive designer dresses and jewels sashaying and posing on the red carpet (hey, I'll be enjoying it too), remember the numbers!


[1] Quoted in Suzy Evans, “The Gender Parity Count Ticks Up—Slightly,” American Theater, 20 July 2015,

[2] Marsha Norman, “Why ‘The Count’ Matters,” The Dramatist, November/December 201), 18. 

[3] Stacy L. Smith et al., “Key Findings,” Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, & LGBT Status from 2007 to 2014 (Los Angeles: USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, 2015). In addition to this longitudinal study, see Martha M. Lauzen, Women and the Big Picture: Behind-the-Scenes Employment on the Top 700 Films of 2014 (San Diego: Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 2015); Martha M. Lauzen, The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2014 (San Diego: Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 2015); and Martha M. Laurzen, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2014 (San Diego: Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 2015). 

For a study focused on women directors in film, see Directors Guild of America, “Feature Film Diversity Report,” Directors Guild of America (December 2015).

On the number of women in leading or “co lead” roles, Lauzen offers a critically important analysis of the percentages cited by Smith et al.: “Only 12% of all clearly identifiable protagonists were female. . . . In 2014, 75% of protagonists were male, and 13% were male/female ensembles. For the purposes of this study, protagonists are the characters from whose perspective the story is told.” Laurzen, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, 1. 

[4] The 10 November 2015 issue of Variety was dedicated to the issue of gender equity, including stories on professionals at all levels. On pay equity for film actors, see Ramin Setoodeh, “Equal Pay Revolution: How Top Actresses Are Finally Fighting Back,” Variety, 10 November 2015,

[6] Martha M. Lauzen, Boxed In: Portrayals of Female Characters and Employment of Behind-the-Scenes Women in 2014-15 Prime-Time Television (San Diego: Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 2015), 1, 3. On such equity issues in television, see also Maureen Ryan, “ACLU’s Melissa Goodman on Gender Discrimination: It’s a Legal and Civil Rights Problem,” Variety, 10 November 2015,

[6] Smith, Inequality in 700 Popular Films, 21.