Meryl Streep said some wise words about women in films and professional women in general this week at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards . She spoke about how films about women have proved that they can make money and yet big film studios insist on making these huge films that cost so much more to make and often lose a ton of money. Women, not just those making films, need to realize their own power.
Meryl was there to present an award to Help star Viola Davis. In her speech she said:
“In this room, we are very familiar with these dreadful statistics that detail the shocking under-representation of women in our business. Seven to 10% of directors, producers, writers, and cinematographers [are women] in any given year. This in spite of the fact that in the last five years, five little movies aimed at women have earned over $1.6 billion: The Help, The Iron Lady believe it or not, Bridesmaids, Mamma Mia!, and The Devil Wears Prada. As you can see, their problems were significant because they cost a fraction of what the big tent-pole failures cost. . . . Let’s talk about The Iron Lady. It cost $14 million to make it and brought in $114 million. Pure profit! So why? Why? Don’t they want the money?
Alice Walker said that the most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any. That’s like [hearing] that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask for them. It’s incredible.”
Meryl is right about many things. Studios do need to believe in the power of women-focused films. ridesmaids $25 million opening weekend was huge. It seemed that country finally woke up and went, “Hey! Why women are funny!” after that film. The Help which also featured four women on a poster pulled in $25.5 million thanks to many women (74% of ticket buyers) , mostly over the age 0f 35, and more men than expected (26%) during its opening weekend. It also stayed at number week after week.
Jane Fonda, another film legend, said that while women have made strides in front of and behind the camera, the entertainment industry needs more female decision-makers. ”Until more women wield the power to decide what movies and TV shows get made, Hollywood culture won’t really yield all the fascinating complexities that are the realities of women’s lives,” she said. “Until then, we’re accepting supporting roles in an industry many of us have devoted our lives to.”
Women made up only 16% 0f all directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2010. This was a 1% decrease from 1998, according to a study by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D and director of the Center of The Study Of Women In Television and Film. According to a new study the number of women both in front of and behind the camera is on the decline in television. Women comprised 15% of writers on the prime-time dramas, comedies and reality shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW, down from 29% in the 2009-10 season, according to the report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. In the directing ranks, it found, 11% were women, compared with 16% the previous year. “It is my impression that women are still viewed as “riskier hires” and, as a result, are not considered for the big-budget, high-profile films and/or films in genres other than romantic comedy and romantic drama,” Lauzen said in an interview last year.
And the marvelous Meryl is right on another point. Women do need to ask for raises and not just expect them, even if they are doing a great job. And women need to remind studios that Battleship was a disaster and The Help was awesome.