The celluloid ceiling needs cracking

Imagine a world where you have no voice simply because of the social caste you belong to. Imagine a world where you cannot sit in a popular restaurant simply because of the color of your skin. Imagine a world where you are not allowed to show your forearms or ankles, but must cover your entire body simply because of your sex. These are not alternate realities, but parts of our past histories or the cultures of other countries.
Yet for all that Americans like to think that we are evolved beyond such restrictions, there are still subtle limitations hidden throughout our own culture that most people like to ignore. One such limitation is referred to as the Celluloid Ceiling, or the lack of females working in Hollywood.
The sad fact is that only six percent of the directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2007 were female and this percent has been on the decline since 1998, according to the Celluloid Ceiling Report. That’s less than the amount of female representation in the U.S. Senate.
While this might seem an inconsequential concern at first glance, it is for that very reason that it is constantly ignored. Who cares if more men than women direct movies? What effect does it have on the world at large? And why should anyone be more concerned about movies when there are much more brutal assaults on women and children going on?
“If you change media messages, you change the world,” argues Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University in an interview published on Films42.com. “People don’t always get the connection because it seems frivolous. And when the question is posed to the big power players in Hollywood, their ‘out’ is to say: ‘Well, it’s only entertainment.’ But we know that it’s not just entertainment.”
Film and media have become such an integral part of everyday life for the average citizen that it is impossible to ignore the effect they have on the world. People quote movies and cite scenes during random conversations on a regular basis, as it has become the modern equivalent of oral storytelling. How then can anyone ignore the bias of representation in Hollywood, where it is still a man’s world?
Looking at the Oscars alone, the disparity is obvious. Only three females have ever been nominated for Best Director and no woman has ever won the award. Even Sofia Coppola, the only American among those nominees, won the prestigious award in 2004, not for her directing, but for her writing.
There is even more recent controversy surrounding this very award and female directors as well. Not to steal Danny Boyle’s thunder for his recent Oscar success with “Slumdog Millionaire,” but he did give Loveleen Tandan credit in India as co-director after her contribution to the shoot became “indispensable.” The question remains then why didn’t he share the award he won with her at the ceremony, boosting her into the first female to ever have that credit to her name?
Some might argue that the Academy rules state that only one individual can be named on the ballot paper, yet Joel and Ethan Coen won jointly the year before for their film “No Country for Old Men.”
“They waive the rules at their own discretion,” said Jan Lisa Huttner of Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists Now in an article published in the London Evening Standard.
Of course it doesn’t help the matter when there are female producers like Polly Platt who aid stereotypes against female directors with such comments published in the Los Angeles Times as “men just enjoy being in charge more” or “most women would find [directing a big production] terrifying.” Or Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal who operates under false assumptions: “Look at my summer slate. I don’t think there’s a woman who would’ve wanted to direct ‘Hancock’ or ‘Pineapple Express.'” This simply isn’t true.
The fact of the matter is that female directors get more representation in other countries or in the independent film market. Many argue that this is because of the subject matter that female directors are drawn towards and that such ephemeral subjects aren’t known to bring in a lot of money at the box office. But here once again the figures tell the true story.
The recent box office success of “Twilight” alone debunks this theory. At $70.6 million on its opening weekend, “Twilight” managed to gain the title of the top debut ever for a film directed by a woman. Yet the total gross of the film ($119) only makes it number nine on the list of top box office hits directed by women. The 2000 film “What Women Want” directed by Nancy Meyers tops that list at number one by bringing in $182 million gross. Nor are all the contenders on that list female-oriented in subject matter. “Wayne’s World” directed by Penelope Spheeris in 1992 made $121 million gross and “Deep Impact” directed by Mimi Leder in 1998 made $140 million gross.
Yet women directors are still relegated to the genres of romantic comedy, romantic drama and documentaries, instead of the successful markets of science fiction, action-adventure and horror that target young male audiences. Unlike their male counterparts, women directors are rarely given the opportunity to jump from independent film to a “Lord of the Rings” or a “Batman Begins” success.
However, all is not doom and gloom. With organizations like Guerilla Girls and Women in Film that advocate for more females in Hollywood and financially support women in this craft, there is bound to be a change. There are even contests like Glamour’s Reel Moments that are promoting the directorial debuts of some of Hollywood’s most powerful women. They might not be the answers to the problem yet, but it’s a start. All it takes is one voice to change the world.