When you think of a big-budget director ready to tackle a new Hollywood franchise, you’re probably thinking of someone like J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg. Unfortunately, most would not think of Kathryn Bigelow or Ava DuVernay.
This disappointing fact is explored in EPIX’s six-part docuseries “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem.” The 4% comes from a
study conducted by USC, which shows that from 2002 to 2014, only 4.1% of the top-grossing films were directed by women.
Wow. That’s one statistic that says a lot about gender disparity in Hollywood.
When I started watching the docuseries, I knew the gender gap was an issue, of course. I had read Jennifer Lawrence’s quotes about being paid less than her costars in “American Hustle” and Cosmopolitan’s article about top actors who have not been in films directed by women.
But the issue was bigger and more pervasive than I had realised. Within the first few minutes of watching “The 4%,” I was astounded.
The film itself is comprised of interviews with producers, directors, actors, executives, and journalists both male and female. Some of them you may recognise immediately: Kristen Wiig, Judd Apatow, Lake Bell, James Franco. Others you may not. But all of the subjects hold the same opinion: The gender gap in Hollywood is an issue that must be discussed and must be changed.
Illuminating statistics are scattered throughout the documentary. Perhaps the one even more shocking than the title’s is this: “In Academy Award history, the percentage of Best Director nominees who are female: 1%.”
The lack of female directors and recognition for the ones who are out there also leaves little chance for real female character development. That’s because, fundamentally, movies are a director’s medium — mostly male directors control them, with all their biases, whether intended or not.
“You’re either on the phone or waving goodbye at the doorstep to your husband or boyfriend or brother or father who’s going off to begin the plot of the movie,” says actress Amanda Peet, who has played the love interest in a number of films during her career, almost all of them directed by men.
Writer, director, and actress Julie Delpy mocked, “You’re expected to talk about relationships, you know, because it’s our only pull of interest. That’s all we know about. Men. Men and love.”
Despite this lack of opportunity, box-office numbers have shown that that female-driven content, as Lake Bell calls it, does well and makes money. As mentioned in “The 4%,” “Frozen” grossed $1.2 billion, “Bridesmaids” grossed $2.8 million, and the “Hunger Games” series grossed $1.4 billion despite the fact that it was passed on by a number of major studios. Sadly, even though these movies have become Hollywood blockbusters, they’re still referred to as “the exception.”
A solution seems easy on paper: hire more women. When executives are asked why they don’t hire more female directors and writers to drive content, their answers usually rememble: “Well, they just don’t have the experience.”
To which director Catherine Hardwicke responds, “Of course you’re going to say, ‘There’s no woman who has a track record for these big action movies.’ ‘Cause you didn’t hire any of us, guys!”
When “Jurassic World” was put into production, Colin Trevorrow, who had only directed an indie film called “Safety Not Guaranteed,” had significantly less experience than many female directors who were interested in helming a big-budget action film. But Universal still chose the relatively fresh-faced Trevorrow to direct the $150 million film.
Still, the fear that if you speak up you won’t be given opportunities is a very real and paralyzing one, as the docuseries shows.
Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston summed up the difference between how men and women are perceived when they speak up in the industry concisely: “Men don’t b—. Men have objections.”
Slowly, however, some things are changing. “The 4%” shows that more women and men are speaking out, and stars like Bradley Cooper are making promises to help change the imbalance.
Keri Putnam, the executive director of the Sundance Institute, thinks it goes beyond just an issue of employment — the problem is at the core of how we watch movies, which is why it’s so important.
“This is about the image we see of ourselves as a culture out there and the image young people see of what stories are worth telling and what perspectives are worth hearing,” she says.
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