It is no secret that there are far too few women in film. The industry has a long history of male dominance; in fact, up until the early 1940s, the only major role for women in film (besides acting) was the position of script supervisor — or the “script girl,” as it came to be called, because women were only good at taking notes and noticing details. It was assumed women could not have a worthwhile opinion about anything of importance, let alone tell a story with some lights and a camera.
As men built the giant media structure that is the film industry, it became increasingly difficult for women to fight their way into positions of authority. They have yet to gain the same level of creative impact as their male counterparts today.
Women make up only 6 percent of the directors and 10 percent of the writers of the top-grossing films in America each year. They still feel the need to band together and fight this gap, forming groups such as the Women of Cinematic Arts organization at USC. Such information is disheartening in an era where men and women are supposed to be able to achieve equal success in the work field.
But the women making their names in Hollywood right now are not exactly bringing esteem to the creative powers of the female sex. Currently, there are two highly publicized female-driven films in multiplexes across the country: Jennifer’s Body and Whip It.
Actually, by the time this article runs, Jennifer’s Body may be condemned only to the tiny theaters at the end of the multiplex hallway, because the film was a complete box office disaster on opening weekend, grossing only about $6 million.
What makes this flop all the more shameful is the female power behind it. The script was written by Oscar winner Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) and the film was directed by up-and-comer Karyn Kusama (Girlfight).
The two women came to the CTCS 466 Theatrical Film Symposium class here at USC a few weeks ago. They constantly emphasized their mission to create a film that would cater entirely to women. They clearly missed their mark, beginning with the unfortunate casting of Megan Fox. The movie’s poor writing surely didn’t help ticket sales, either.
Whip It did not perform any better — it grossed a measly $4.6 million its opening weekend, losing to the somewhat male-skewed comedy success Zombieland, which pulled in $24.7 million.
Whip It was directed by Drew Barrymore and features an all-female cast, including Ellen Page (Juno). Its theme is best described as “girl power.” Well, where’s the power? The film, unlike Jennifer’s Body, was well-received critically and is a clever and entertaining entry in the void of female-targeted movies. Most of the people who went to see it liked it, but the film did not draw in a large enough audience to prove its worth.
Movies made by women for women consistently fail to make a financial dent, unless the film in question is Sex and the City. And that film did not exactly win any accolades for its artistic achievements (unless you count a nomination for the Teen Choice Awards).
The fact of the matter is that the majority of the filmmaking world is structured around appealing to young men. The executives believe that, while women will go see a movie targeted towards males, men will absolutely not go to movies made for women (how many male readers went to see Julie & Julia?). And this is true, but only because the movies made especially for women are usually horrible, dumbed-down romantic comedies that make the female sex seem like a bunch of love-obsessed idiots.
Even when women actually do direct films of impressive artistic merit, they rarely receive much audience attention. Who saw The Hurt Locker (directed by Kathryn Bigelow) this year, besides a handful of film students?
This was one of the few films of late that proved that women are able to direct films about any subject matter (such as the war in Iraq) just as skillfully as men, yet it made only a ripple of an appearance in our cultural bubble.
It won rave critical reviews, but only brought in a handful of viewers. Its one success was the fact that men were not afraid to enter the theater to see this female-led film because of its universal subject matter.
As with male-driven films, the sex of the director should not indicate the quality or the content of the work.
As a female hoping to break into the film business within the next year or so, artistic or financial failures like Jennifer’s Body and Whip It are unbelievably frustrating. It is already difficult enough for men to claw their way into this unforgiving industry. With hardly any proof that women are talented, too, the percentage of female successes is even slimmer.
Women in the film industry need to start stepping up their game. It may be a struggle to gain equality in such a limited field, but the battle is only going to be more difficult if all women can show for their work is a series of financial losses and artistic flops.
Amy Baack is a senior majoring in cinema-television production.