Fixing Filmmaking’s Gender Gap
The films produced today tend to provide inaccurate portrayals of pretty much everything, including people. The problem is that viewers, especially young girls, don’t differentiate between what is shown on screen and real life, which affects their worldview and self-image. A study cited by WebMD found that TV shows focused on appearance are impacting the self esteem of girls as young as five (Heubert, 2006). Changes must be made behind the scenes to change what’s appearing on the screen. Although women purchase half of all movie tickets sold in the U.S., the creators of movies are most likely to be men who thus control what viewers watch (Zurko, 2013). Underrepresentation of women in the film industry is a problem because it results in excessively biased films, harming those who don’t separate media from reality.
Ideally, the solution to this problem would diminish all inequalities between men and women on screen, thus eradicating misconceptions of women that stem from their portrayal on film. This optimistic outcome would be the result of an even amount of men and women working in the film industry in jobs at entry level and executive positions and everything in between. Ultimately an even distribution would lead to more diverse decision-making teams that would work toward producing movies that focus on character development rather than their physical appearance. As Tiffany Lathe, vice president for human resources and legal at Rackspace has said, “a more diverse workforce is better for business” (Trapp, 2014). After all, film viewers come from different backgrounds—why don’t the producers? A more realistic outcome is that the culture of the film industry would become more supportive toward women in ways that encourage more women to join and take part in roles that have direct a direct impact on film content.
I propose a three stage solution called FFF, or Furthering Females in Filmmaking, created for women and designed to cultivate, foster, and apply an interest in filmmaking careers and general knowledge about the industry. Although each stage builds atop the previous one, it would be possible for a female to jump in at the stage most appropriate to her age level. The program would take place as an after-school extra-curricular activity run by volunteers who are passionate about the cause. I think that this solution would be most effective in a city with an abundance of resources and interest in the filmmaking industry such as Los Angeles or New York City. Therefore, the program would originate in one of these cities, but would be open to growth depending on its success.
The first stage has two objectives: to introduce filmmaking roles and to open dialogue about female representation in the media. Stage one of FFF would include open discussions about how women in their lives, such as mothers and teachers, differ from women they see on the screen and in advertisements. This topic is included in stage one because it’s important to distinguish media from reality and the earlier this recognition can be instilled, the better. Also, this stage would introduce filmmaking by taking a closer look at kids’ favorite films such as Frozen or How to Train Your Dragon. Girls in FFF would learn about the roles of a director, editor, producer, and screenwriter through the context of familiar films. Through interactive games and activities, they would try out different roles and realize their responsibility of controlling the final product. Stacey K. Black, hairstylist and partial director on TNT’s Major Crimes, thinks women are underrepresented in the film industry “because they are used as currency in advertising…if women were in charge of more content in the film and TV industry, I feel like we would be less of a commodity” (Black, 2014). Stage one aims to tackle her point by showing girls that females are not currency and that they are capable of executing film-making jobs.
The second stage of FFF would take effect once girls have grown out of the first stage, which would begin at middle school and last until the end of high school. This stage would further develop conversations about representation of women in addition to teaching girls more technical skills involved in filmmaking. At this point teachers from stage one would no longer be sufficient for educating the girls in FFF. Industry professionals inspired by FFF’s cause would be brought in to mentor girls in stage two. Girls would gain valuable knowldge from their technical expertise and industry experience, so whether the mentor is a male or female is not very important. As Maria Klawe from Harvey Mudd mentioned in her presentation, a mentor’s gender is not as important so long as they are a helpful resource and support their pupil’s endeavors. These professionals would use their expertise to teach girls filmmaking skills such as creating storyboards, writing scripts, editing sound clips, and so forth. Kendall Sherwood, writer on Major Crimes, said that “men are raised to think they have certain skills that make them more valuable and—in an industry that takes itself pretty seriously—executives may assume they can only find those skills in men” (Sherwood, 2014). Stage two takes on Sherwood’s point by educating girls in filmmaking skills to give them the confidence they need to compete with men that with high self-esteem.
The third and final stage of FFF is designated for women who are serious about filmmaking as a career. High school students interested in this career path would transition to stage three to learn about higher education in filmmaking. This stage would also attract those seeking internships and jobs in the industry. This stage would not only include young women seeking resources, but it would also include female professionals in the industry (who may or may not be mentors in stage two) that would use FFF to network amongst themselves. They could use the program as a way to recruit women looking to get into the film business, such as those who graduated from stage three. Female film professionals could also use stage three of FFF as a support group in which they share advice about how they balance their career with their personal life, thus encouraging women to stay in the industry. Leah Breuer, assistant editor for Major Crimes, believes that filmmaking’s gender gap is due to the pull toward family life. In an interview she stated, “This is an industry that requires so much of our time that it may be a turnoff for some women who want to raise a family” (Breuer, 2014). By exchanging tips and stories of how they have been able to make their careers harmonize with their family lives, women will be able to overcome this turnoff. This final stage serves as a lasting resource for all women involved in the industry, so they are welcome to stay in stage three for as long as they choose. Every woman has something valuable to offer and something to learn—in this way, FFF benefits women looking to get into the industry, women looking to recruit others into the industry, and society as a whole that’s sick of the trend of films today.
Black, S. K. (2014, November 11). Interview by C. L. Patridge., Los Angeles, CA.
Breuer, L. (2014, November 11). Interview by C. L. Patridge., Los Angeles, CA.
Heubeck, E. (2006, October 18). Helping Girls with Body Image. Retrieved December 6, 2014, from WebMD website: http://www.webmd.com/beauty/style/helping-girls-with-body-image
Sherwood, K. (2014, November 7). Interview by C. L. Patridge., Los Angeles, CA.
Trapp, R. (2014, January 31). Technology Needs New Role Models. Forbes, Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2014/01/31/technology-needs-new-role-models/
Zurko, N. (2013, November 25). Gender Inequality in Film. Retrieved December 6, 2014, from New York Film Academy website: https://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/gender-inequality-in-film/#!prettyPhoto