Sunday, February 27, 2011

Women's Work in Movies

Movies today: tonight is the 83rd annual feast of praise and damnation, a celebration of the best & awfullest. I'm dusting off my tails. Francine LeFrak's article titled "The Mysterious Disappearance of Hollywood's Trailblazing Women" bemoans the lack of success for the movies about women this year. She points to Amelia, Conviction, Made in Dagenham, Secretariat and Fair Game. She writes in dollars: is box office the only criteria for 2010 being a "painful" year for women in movies? There are a thousand villains in a movie's supposed failure. The screenplay is the usual first suspect rounded up. Only two women writers: Pamela Gray (Conviction) and Anna Hamilton Phelan, second billed (Amelia). Maybe the director? Only one woman - Mira Nair directed Amelia. Nigel Cole has good woman movie creds (Calendar Girls, Saving Grace). Could be subject matter: Amelia Earhart again? Secretariat is a horse opera, I don't care who owns him. Conviction is a marginal story: sure there's a woman's struggle against possible injustice, but geez, did the brother do it or not? Is there anyone in this country who doesn't know the Valerie Plame story? How did these less than stellar story concepts get produced? This is no mysterious disappearance of women, trailblazing or other, in movies. It's a classic storyline. Moving pictures began in 1895. In 1896, Alice Guy-Blache directed her first narrative film. Frances Marion was scripting movies for Lois Weber, Mary Pickford, Marion Davies (as actors, directors, producers, studio executives) in the 1920s. Dorothy Arzner was admitted to the Directors Guild in 1937, after the money men had laid seige to Hollywood. Women have been, and continue to be, deliberately disappeared. Kathryn Bigelow won the first woman director's Oscar and DGA Award in 2010, a double first - 115 years after moving pictures began. In 2010 only 16% of directors, editors, producers, writers working on the 250 top films were women. I will wager a bunch that this year that percentage will be less by 2%. And we'll get still fewer movies about powerful women, brought to the screen by powerful women. 116 years of the movie business, with pioneering, trailblazing women working the majority of enterprising executive positions in the industry in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And here we are at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Now that's a screenplay to be written, a movie to be directed, edited, produced, distributed. Women's work.


  1. well said, I'm anxious to read who the Oscar winners are! Bob Hope will be hosting the affair. Gaslight, Double Indemnity, and Going My Way have all been nominated. Barbara Stanwyck and Ingrid Bergman's strong performances this year have given female roles a new direction.

  2. What a great post!

    There are indeed so many women both in-front of and behind the camera that their efforts should be more celebrated!

    My sister's Meaningful Media, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, provides a forum of discovery and empowerment for such women (& men) through its mission to increase the quality, visibility and impact of social issue media. You can find them on the web at

  3. I have noticed a couple of interesting stories related to the Oscars and gender roles

    Here's one about How Foreign Movie Heroes Differ from Hollywood's

  4. There was a great article in the New Yorker recently (April 11, 2011) titled: Funny Like A Guy by Tad Friend about the career of Anna Faris that talks about devolving roles for women in movies, what men want to see on screen, and the economics of the movie business. Great article, really well written, entertaining, and I love the way it compares Faris to Lucille Ball!