It’s International Women’s Day on March 8 and as someone who lives and breathes film, it makes me wonder what that actually means for the ladies in the industry.
This past year has been a fascinating one in the realm of the gender debate in film.
Most recently, we had Patricia Arquette delivering a passionate speech about wage equality during her Oscars acceptance speech, even if the message was soured backstage.
Anyone who still believed that action movies with women don’t sell, was well and truly silenced with the Jennifer Lawrence driven sequel Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 becoming the top grossing film in the US and in Australia.
Similarly, Scarlett Johansson-starrer Lucy gobbled up the box office in the US on its opening weekend with US$44 million, while action hero Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules only took $29 million the same weekend.
AND the screenplay for box office smash Guardians of the Galaxy was actually written by a woman – Nicole Perlman – before director James Gunn took over the reins.
So there’s a lot to be pleased about as a woman in film. But it’s not all arrow-slinging heroines out there.
As revealed by the Sony hack late in 2014, J-Law may be reeling in the big bucks for studios with The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook and the X-Men flicks, but when it came to coughing up the cash for her role in American Hustle, she and Amy Adams were paid less than their male counterparts.
I get why the writer/director David O Russell is earning more and in some ways I maybe understand why Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale might be, seeing as Lawrence’s character is more of a supporting role than theirs. But 1) how does that explain the gap with Amy Adams, who is definitely a lead role and 2) why would Jeremy Renner be earning more? Fanbase size aside, which Lawrence is probably leading in anyway, I think how valuable they are can be judged in another way: Renner’s role in American Hustle could have been played by another actor and it wouldn’t have changed the film much, but Lawrence owned that part. I don’t think anyone could have played it as well. It gave American Hustle a much-needed boost of energy and humour.
Additionally, there was also the obvious and worrying lack of female nominees at the Oscars this year, particularly for Selma director Ava DuVernay and Gone Girl screenwriter Gillian Flynn. Some said this was because of the lack of representation in the Academy, however I believe the problem is far deeper.
It is a problem when there is only one woman people believe is in the running for best director at the Oscars. Many should be vying for a place there and for stories about women. Why is it that every single film nominated for the Best Picture was a story revolving around a man. Women apparently make up around half of the population, so why is it that we apparently aren’t watching their stories on screen? Where are all the female directors and screenwriters?
And then you have something like Wild. A personal, passionate memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, it’s produced by Reese Witherspoon, who also stars, and yet it’s adapted for the screen by men. I’m not saying that screenwriter Nick Hornby isn’t fantastic – An Education is a wonderful movie – and I’m not saying Jean-Marc Vallee who directed Dallas Buyers Club isn’t talented either. I’m just saying, if you have such a personal tale that focuses on that wonderfully complex mother-daughter relationship, why wouldn’t a female screenwriter, or a female director be the right choice to put it on screen?
Maybe there’s just not enough women out there who want a career in film. Apparently a recent report by Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University showed that of the 250 top grossing films, only 7 per cent of the directors were women. It was a two per cent drop over the last 17 years.
It’s easy to get disheartened by such figures. But then you watch a movie such as exceptionally frightening and fabulous The Babadook by Australian director Jennifer Kent, or revisit some of the work of Lynn Shelton, Jane Campion or Tina Fey. Or maybe you catch the documentary Citizenfour by Laura Poitras or a personal fave, Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley. And you realise there are voices out there. Loud voices. They’re being heard, but just not yet in the volumes we need.