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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The film industry has been around as early as 1906 when the first feature length film was made in Australia.  Since then, various studios were established in Hollywood and all over the world. The production of movies and television was created as a form of entertainment when it was first established. Since then the film industry has grown and created a vast variety of jobs such as producers, editors and assistant directors. All these jobs at the beginning were only offered to men, however not too long after, women decided to join the industry. Even though they have influenced the world of film, women have faced many injustices and bias from the public and their male counterparts.

The role of women in the film industry debuted early with Alice Guy-Blaché, who is said to be the first female French director and writer of narrative fiction films.  She was the one who convinced her boss to invest time and money into using the camera that was a fairly new item at the time. Her boss did not like the camera at first glance but because of her, the film industry became possible for France. Not only did she encourage the use of the camera but she also experimented with a sound syncing system, color tinting, interracial casting, and special effects. Her first film titled, La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) was released in 1896.  She directed and stayed in the film industry for more than 20 years, making her a cinema pioneer with the longest career. Guy-Blaché was among the first women to manage their own studio, The Solax Company.  In spite of these achievements, Alice Guy-Blaché is not recognized in film history books alongside her peers and many in the industry are unaware of her success. However, Alice Guy-Blaché is not the only person who is a victim of this. Many female producers, directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers go unrecognized and are not honored for their accomplishments.

The Academy Awards, more widely known as the Oscars, is an annual awards ceremony held in the United States that rewards various filmmakers and films each year. Many directors, production designers, cinematographers, and visual effects teams are rewarded with an Oscar statue. In 2013, there were 140 men and 35 women nominated across 19 categories during the 85th Academy Awards. Shockingly, no female directors, cinematographers, editors, screenplay writers, or music composers were nominated.   However, from 1975 to 2015, only four female filmmakers have been nominated for best director but only one has won the award, Kathryn Bigelow for her film, The Hurt Locker in 2009.  She was the first woman to win this and three other awards making her an icon in filmmaking history. These staggering statistics show that women are underappreciated in the film industry. Since the beginning of filmmaking, women had always been contributing to the film industry. Most women were working as actresses and costume designers but many of them were also directing or co-directing movies. Many film historians wonder why their significant additions were not mentioned in history books. These women chose not to popularize or flaunt their talents as male directors often did. These women were key factors in the growth of the film industry yet they did not get recognition for it. The situation has dramatically changed since those times, however there is still much progress to make. In 2013 only one movie directed by a woman has received worldwide attention, Carrie.  

Women also help influence the way women are portrayed in movies. If more women are working behind the scenes, more women are casted in front of the camera. There is a 10.6% increase in female characters on screen when a woman is directing opposed to a man.  However, even though Hollywood and other movie industries employ actresses from all around the world, female actors are paid less than their male counterparts. In 2013, the highest paid actress was Angelina Jolie who made 33 million dollars as much as the lowest actor, Denzel Washington.  Even though Angelina Jolie made 6 movies between 2010 and 2013 while Washington only made 4. This comparison shows that no matter how talented and how many movies actresses make, they are still paid less than male actors. The reason is because most male actors are paid to act out more dangerous roles.  Male actors are chosen to act out the roles of characters that either die or get hurt more often while female actors act out roles of characters that do not get hurt or preform dangerous stunts. Actresses' paychecks tend to be lower than their males counterparts because of that reason even if they work the same amount of hours and might be as talented as male actors.  

Another important topic that takes account of the role of women in film is how women are portrayed in feature films. Many of these women are often sexualized and objectified. In a study made by the New York Film Academy, in the top 500 films between 2007 and 2012, only 30.8% of speaking characters were women and 28.8% wore sexually revealing clothes as opposed to 7% of men. In addition, 1 in 3 women in movies were either shown in attire that sexualizes them or appeared partially naked.   Women in top Hollywood films are rarely portrayed as strong, independent characters. Usually, they need a man to help them achieve their goals and cannot fight on their own. The executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, Martha Lauzen said that “overall, we have seen little movement in the numbers of female protagonists and females as speaking characters over the last decade. Moreover, female characters are less likely than males to have identifiable goals or to be portrayed as leaders of any kind.”   This statement not only proves that there has not been much change in female representation but that these characters are not being portrayed as strong and independent. However, in the most recent years, this aspect has changed. Nowadays, more independent women are being written into scripts. Recently, more female-led films met success such as Bridesmaids and The Heat. Where instead of being constantly sexualized, they are shown as independent and strong women. Many strong lead female characters are emerging, such as Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games or Beatrice Prior from the Divergent series, that set a model example for young girls. These characters are shown in perilous situations but are able to overcome them by themselves without much help from male characters. But even though these characters are depicted as independent, there is a lack of female representation in leadership positions. Both young boys and girls should see women in political positions, managers, scientists and engineers as a social norm and not an exception. Most of these misconceptions are due to the absence of female characters that incarnate these positions in movies. Movies have a strong influence on the public, in consequence, what these movies show can affect the way people think. Which is why female and male representations in movies should not be overlooked. Most female actresses land a role in comedy films than action or animated movies. In a study released by USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, shows that in 2014 34% of actresses were casted in a comedy film while only 21.8% were in an action or adventure film.

The basis of how women are represented lies in the specific camera angles and the script as well. In 1975, Laura Mulvey, a British feminist film theorist, published her well-known essay titled Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. She discusses the concept of how women are portrayed in films by Hollywood filmmakers. These filmmakers made their films from a male's perspective thus downgrading the female to the status of an object of desire and emphasizing the “male-gaze”. The male-gaze consists of three different gazes: that of the person behind the camera, that of the characters in the film and that of the viewer. The male gaze can be carried out by the camera lingering over certain parts of the female body, such as their curves or their lips. In this case, the camera is acting as the eyes of a heterosexual man gazing upon a women's body.  But not only do such close-ups of women reduce them to the status of objects of desire but also the way that they react to them being the center of male interest. The way a woman is shown reacting to the male attention they are being given also plays a big role. For example, in a shot, the male character may be looking slightly downwards at the female character suggesting that he is putting himself superior to her. The female character averts her eyes and looks elsewhere; this action suggests that she does not feel desire and that she does not mind being the object of desire. The way women are portrayed depends mainly on how their characters are being filmed and positioned in relation to the male characters.

There have been many improvements in the way women are portrayed and represented from films made during the 1930s. The most recent example being Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has received positive reviews on its female representation. The main character, Rey, has become an inspiration and role model for many young girls. One moviegoer recounts her experience with her daughters, “Leaving the theater, my girls felt as empowered as their brother usually does after seeing one of the many blockbusters built for him. They never commented on how pretty Rey is. They never had to flinch because Rey was a sexual object to some man in power. They just felt strong, equal.”  She could have easily been a main character who, when the time came, needed a male figure to help her. She could have easily been another supporting character whom no one really paid attention to, however she was portrayed as being independent and able of getting out of dangerous situations by herself. Nevertheless, when the time for toy production and marketing arrived, Rey was excluded from a majority of board games and toy figurines. Rey was not included in the world-known Monopoly™ board game as well as in a toy figurine collection.  Many fans were upset at her being left out of these toys directed towards young boys and girls who look up to her as a role model and heroine. Geena Davis, an American actress and filmmaker, founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, an organization that works within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need to improve, gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create diverse female characters in the media. Davis uses the phrase, “if she can see it, she can be it”  to encourage the entertainment industry in improving female representation in the media. Media plays a big role in influencing our daily lives and opinions about the world, even if we are not conscious of it. Television, films, advertisements and other forms of media surround us and engrave certain norms in our minds.

Women working in male-dominated fields are becoming more and more frequent. Women have decided that even though they are constantly being oppressed in their work environment and in the general media representation, that working in the industry and trying to change certain aspects of it can lead to a more positive effect. If more women start working in the film and entertainment industry, more women are portrayed in films which may lead to more women to work in the film industry and so on. In 2014, by looking at the 700 most popular films, when there were no female writers, the number of females on screen was 25.9% but if one or more female writers were present, 34.8% of people on screen were female.  Organizations such as Women in Film and Alliance of Women Directors dedicate themselves to promote equal opportunities for women in the film industry, encourage creative projects and enhance positive representation of women in the media. These organizations help create an empowering environment for women in the film industry.  Most women in the industry are working as producers, executive producers or editors. Even then, in 2014, women made up only 14% of producers, 18% of editors, and 19% of producers.   Males mostly dominate key behind-the-scene jobs in the film industry. These jobs include writers, directors and cinematographers. In 2014, only 11% of women were writers, 7% were directors and 5% were cinematographers.   At the 2015 Golden Globes, Ava DuVernay, the director for the film Selma, was the only female nominated for best director. Even though she may have not won the award, it is considered a big accomplishment to have even made it as a director.

Many women who work in the film industry have had experiences of sexual harassment and unnecessary sexist remarks. This is a result of having few women in the industry and workplace. Several of these women have taken action by speaking about it on social media. A blog on the social media website Tumblr, by the title of “Shit people say to women directors”, posts stories of women working in the industry and their personal experiences. Their description reads, “We are an anonymous open blog for all individuals identifying as women who work in film & television. It's a crazy business, especially for women. Until now, we haven't had a platform to share some of the let's call them “unusual” things people have said to us while working. This is for catharsis and to expose some of the absurd barriers women face in the entertainment business.”   In many cases, they are victims of unwanted remarks and objectification. Women are subject to being questioned on their abilities to do their work efficiently by their male coworkers. These same women are subject to many remarks of the males around them. For example, one woman recounts her story while working as an art lead on a major feature film, “I caught a male director openly staring at my chest, while trying to have a conversation. Before I could even say anything he yelled, ‘I'm a MAN, what do you expect?' I just walked away. He found me later again and reiterated that, ‘men can't help it' and wanted to know if I was going to sue him. When I later left the film to work on a TV show, I was made to sign something that said I left for money and no other reason.”   Women in the workplace are already victims of this behavior by their male coworkers. Behavior like this discourages more women from joining and working in the industry. A study by the University of Southern California in 2014 concluded that women directed only 1.9 percent of the top grossing 100 films from 2013 and 2014 however more than half of the student demographic at USC and NYU (New York University), two of the top film schools in the United States, were women studying in the field of filmmaking.  The question then arises, why are men who are studying at the same university have jobs in major film and animation companies while women have little to no position in film crews? This type of question resonates as the film industry continues to rapidly expand and grow.

The topic of women in the film industry contains several major issues that need to be addressed. Such as the problem with the gender pay gap between actors and actresses, or the issue of strong female characters being underrepresented. Even though a lot has improved since the film industry first arose, there is still a great deal of progress to be made. To try and stop gender discrimination in the film industry and in other fields, the famous Harry Potter actress, Emma Watson, launched a campaign called HeForShe that has had a global impact.  Organizations and campaigns such as this motivate women in studying film and help them find jobs in their desired career field.

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