The Best Man for the Job May Be a Woman

Content Insider #800 – Guide

By Andy Marken –

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly ethical person, but I am fair.” Patrizia Reggiani, “The House of Gucci,” MGM, 2021

Here’s a question for you.

Which was more exciting/memorable this year, the Super Bowl or Oscars?

Yeah, the Super Bowl because the Navy had the foresight to kick off the event with an all-female aerial team followed by a great Rihanna halftime show.

The rest of the event was a like the Oscars – someone won, someone lost, some folks were happy, some weren’t; and in the final analysis, nothing changed.

But the aerial team and Rihanna showed that being female or however you identify yourself, doesn’t have to be a handicap.

According to the MPA (Motion Picture Association), there are 2.4M people in the film/TV industry around  the globe (442.4 thousand in the US).  

Raw Numbers – If you look at the content production industry from a distance, it looks very healthy.  Projects are being produced for every screen around the globe.  People seemingly can’t get enough.  However, look more closely and you see it still falls short when it comes to equity and equality.  

Referring to one of the MPA’s objectives, it’s to express the viewpoints and experiences of creators and the audience.   

And they try – hard – but somehow bringing action down to the studio/project team level isn’t really working.

Maybe it never will, but we’ve gotta give it a shot.

We owe it to the M&E industry’s pioneers like Alice Ida Antoinette Gay-Blache who was made the industry’s first narrative fiction film and for more than 10 years (1896-1906) was probably the only female filmmaker in the world.

Calling the Shots – Since the earliest days of filmmaking, women have played a prominent role in furthering the technology, techniques and material people view.  Alice Ida Antoinette Gay-Blache made her mark in Europe and the US in production.  

Way ahead of her time, she helped refine Gaumont’s sync-sound, color-tinting and special effects. She leaned into interracial casting and produced what is probably the first all African American film, A Fool and His Money, which is now safely tucked away in the AFI (American Film Institute).

But it’s only been in the last decade or so that folks have been looking at and talking about and encouraging/pressing for equitable representation of all people in the industry and in the stories it tells.

There are really two parts of the problem – equity and equality.

It’s true, there are other equally important issues that need to be addressed like race and gender identity, but women account for 51 percent of the global population and if the industry can’t achieve balance here, the other shortcomings don’t stand a chance.

In studying the issue, filmmaker/educator/researcher Stephen Follows noted he didn’t find any instances where fewer women wanted to be directors so, even though they applied for the jobs, it was the gate-keepers that made “other choices.”

It’s not surprising that UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report and The Celluloid Report came to the same conclusion.  

Relatively Constant – The number of cast and behind-the-camera positions have remained relatively constant over the years for women and minorities, even as their percentages of the total population rise. This has to change for the industry to tell better, richer stories.  

Providing a foundation for the issue, Follows examined casting and directorial credits of 8415 films from 2000 – 2021 and found that 26.8 percent of the roles were performed by women, and that has remained relatively constant throughout the period.

Across all genre, having a woman at the helm meant more females were cast and perhaps rather predictably, fewer directed war, sci-fi, action and history while drama, comedy, romance and mystery had more female directors (20-25 percent vs 32-36 percent).

A little over 25 percent of the top Hollywood films last year had women credited as executive producers, which was up from about 15 percent 10 years prior.  

Females showed a steady increase in directorial positions up until 2021 (last year’s figures are not available yet) when there was a regression back to the 2019 level.

However, that was probably an anomaly because of the interruption of the entire industry caused by the pandemic. Progress will soon return because the demand for good content is increasing everywhere – theatrical, pay TV, streaming.

Demand opens a lot of doors.

Focused Attention – While the number of films headed by women dipped in 2021, most feel that is an anomaly and balance will return.  

What is perhaps more interesting is that fewer women than men ever get a shot at guiding a second project (28 vs 39 percent). 

Fellows notes that on average, female directors will direct fewer films in their career and are less likely to receive a second, third or fourth directing gig. 

In addition, as the budgets rise, fewer female directors head the project and even then they are limited to certain genres.

If you scan the IMDb database, you tend to see the same names again and again, which should lead us to question where the system is really broken and … how bad.  

Events like film festivals and award races increasingly talk about the underrepresentation, but pinpointing the specific solution point remains elusive.

What we do know is that by everyone shining a light on the situation, women are making progress.

While women have slow progress at the top, it was interesting that the Celluloid report found that 94 percent of the top films had no woman cinematographer, 92 percent had no woman composer, 82 percent no director, 73 percent no female editor and 72 percent no female writer.

Although women did well in front of the camera, their roles behind-the-scenes increased only 8 percent (17 percent in 1998 to 25 percent in 2021).

Behind-the-scenes more work needs to be done.

Perhaps the biggest incentive for studios and content developers to weigh their female/male hiring decision should be based on what is near and dear to their hearts … profits.

Across the Board – It requires a lot of time to turn a ship and the same is true of enhancing the balance of sexes and race in the M&E industry.  But progress is being made and it will enrich the entire industry.  

We’re not saying that having more females on the behind-the-scenes will necessarily improve the ROI for the investors, but it might bring a little more empathy and perspective to the project and enable the audience to connect and identify with the storyline.

While industry executives and most award judges like to think in terms of big projects that appear first on the big screen and think less of streaming content except if you’re Netflix, Amazon Prime or Apple TV + (or trying to sell to them), then it’s a whole different ballgame.

That to us is a misguided old industry way to view the creative work that is produced and delivered.

Slow, Very Slow – It’s pretty easy to see if there is real progress of minorities/sexes on the screen but behind-the-scenes it’s a different matter.  

There are increasingly more people around the globe who watch streaming content at home rather than dress up, go to the theater, buy greasy popcorn and put seats in seats.

For the last two years, the Celluloid Ceiling report also included data from the DEG’s (Digital Entertainment Group’s) Watched at Home study.  

DEG found that women comprised 10 percent of directors, 13 percent of writers, 21 percent of executive producers and 19 percent of the film editors.

Real Measure – While reviewers and the audience measure the success or failure of a video project different ways, studios and content owners ultimately know the real measure … did it make money.  They tend to deliver a more saleable product..  

The findings were not only higher than the top grossing films but according to Omdia, Parrott Analytics and Ampere, is where more and more of the buying public is getting their entertainment.  

And increasingly, streaming services are double dipping … giving the film a theatrical window and moving it to the smaller screen service using the movie house release to gain some income and using the resulting social media response to build a larger streaming audience.

We don’t totally agree with the Southern California ACLU lawyer who said the systematic discrimination of hiring women for film/TV projects is actual discrimination because we believe the industry is making an aggressive effort to be inclusive in every way.

More importantly, we feel – and trends bear it out – that women are equal to the challenge.

They are making the moves that count and are meaningful.

They think, plan and then act.  

It’s rather like Patrizia Reggiani explained in Gucci when she explained her name, “It was a name that sounded so sweet… Synonymous with wealth, style, power.”

Being a woman working to professionally establish herself behind the scenes in the film/show industry is tough, but as long as folks continue to shine a light on the issue to remind decision makers, progress will continue.  

Hiring women for film/TV projects is actual discrimination because we believe the industry is making an aggressive effort to be inclusive in every way.

      Source – House of Gucci, MGM Studios

It just takes focus, time … and a little boost along the way.

Andy – is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.

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