Hollywood's Women Want to Make Hollywood Better for Women

Hollywood is one of the Boy's Clubbiest of Boy's Clubs; only 18 percent of behind-the-camera positions on the sets of last year's top 250 domestic films, including producer and director, were held by women, and most movies are made for male audiences with nary a strong, three-dimensional female character in sight (unless she's wearing a 3-D bikini), even though more women see movies than men. What's the solution?

The New York Times' regular "Room for Debate" feature can be kind of pointless at times, but this week's topic on how women can gain influence in Hollywood includes wisdom from high-powered movie makers like Gina Prince-Bythewood, Brenda Chapman, and Martha Coolidge.

Almost everyone expressed frustration about the industry's fear of hiring women. "Hollywood power brokers seem to have a deep sense of dread, not to mention potential mommy issues, about giving women directing jobs," said Melissa Silverstein, the editor of Women and Hollywood. "It's almost as if they're afraid that once women start breaking the glass ceiling en masse, something essential could be irretrievably lost."

Brenda Chapman, an artist, writer, and director (Brave, Prince of Egypt), says mentoring is key if we want to get more women into the director's chair, but that it's kind of a Catch-22, since it's hard to make that happen unless there are higher-up women making key decisions in the first place. "Sometimes women express an idea and are shot down, only to have a man express essentially the same idea and have it broadly embraced," she said. "Until there is a sufficient number of women executives in high places, this will continue to happen."

Academy Award-winning producer Cathy Schulman (Crash) said female execs need to trust their instincts. "Although women are more than 50 percent of the filmgoing public, predominantly male decision makers focus on making movies for boys and men, while systematically failing to support stories for women and girls," she said. "Female executives need to break this pattern by trusting their own judgments and interests."

Director Martha Coolidge's (Valley Girl, Weeds) ideas are a little more extreme, like "legislate an intervention in hiring practices, similar to a civil rights or equal opportunity employment act against discrimination in private organizations." But (slightly) more realistically, she says, is the need to put "girl wonders" on a pedestal, Steven Spielberg-style. "We should glamorize female directors: mythologize them and promote their successes," she said. "Only then will the younger generations grasp, in a realistic and exciting way, the possibility of a movie-making "girl wonder."

How Can Women Gain Influence in Hollywood? [NY Times]