Money Is the Only Way Out of the Film Industry’s Depressing “Gender Inertia”

It is no great secret that women get a rough shake in Hollywood. Even very famous and talented actresses end up spending a significant portion of their careers gazing adoringly at better-drawn, more-fleshed-out, longer-screen-time characters played by male counterparts. But even more depressing than being an actress, it seems, is being a woman filmmaker in Hollywood. Each January, for the past 16 years, Dr. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has compiled the sad statistics. This year’s report was released Tuesday, and the news is not good.

It, for example, includes the following stats that will make aspiring female cinéastes want to crawl back into bed:

1. Only six percent of 2013’s 250 top movies were directed by women.

2. Only 16 percent of the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors at work overall in 2013 were women.

3. Only 10 percent of the top 250 films of 2013 were written by women.

What’s worse, the report’s author has been telling news outlets, is that the situation has, if anything, gotten worse in the decade and a half she’s been tracking the numbers. She’s quoted as follows:

The film industry is in a state of what might be called gender inertia. There is no evidence to suggest that women’s employment in key roles has improved over the last 16 years.

This may come as a surprise, if you read sites like ours, or are a fan of the many, many feminist pop culture blogs out there. It seems like conversation about diversity in media is at an all-time high. And the chatter can sometimes masquerade as actual progress. But the high volume is mostly a function of frustration. For all that people might be touting this or that item of culture as evidence that women (or people of color, or LGBT folks, and on down the line) have finally broken through, the statistics reveal there’s another story.

What’s worse is that you know that presenting the cold, hard, truth, statistically, will not stop the movie producers of the world from either (a) shrugging their shoulders; (b) putting up a fight à la, “You’re making everything about gender”-type internet commenters; or (c) having the worst reaction of all, which is saying, “Yes, this is terrible, we need to fix this,” and then doing absolutely nothing to change matters. It’s the worst because it manages to be both condescending and stonewalling at once.

What would be my ideal reaction? I’d like someone, anyone, to put their money where their mouth is on this issue. Money is better than talk here. Someone in Hollywood with lots of money needs to make supporting female writers and directors their mission. But the question is: who the hell will that be?