All-Too Male Gaze: Why There Are Still So Few Women Behind the Camera

Women have been pushing the boundaries in terms of what’s acceptable in film and television. But these progressions are still happening only when it comes to female actors, with less movement on behind-the-scenes work. In a new study from Women In Film Los Angeles, women were found to be missing from 88% of directors for films released between 2007 and 2016

The “internalized male gaze examples” is a discussion on how the all-too-male camera crews of Hollywood have been able to dominate film for decades. The article discusses that there are still few women behind the camera, and this is due to the internalized male gaze.

Women make up 49.6% of the world’s population, nearly 49% of movie spectators, and 47.8% of lead parts in the top 200 theatrical and streaming film releases in 2020, according to the UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report.

I’m not a statistician by any means, but the numbers seem to be making sense – which is rather remarkable in Hollywood.

In fact, today’s figures are a far cry from those of 2011, when women accounted for just 25.6 percent of leading parts in films. Women’s presence in cinema has steadily increased in recent years, with an increase of 8.1 percentage points between 2017 and 2018. The research is careful to point out that the primary characters we see on television are still disproportionately white across genders, despite the fact that persons of color have increased their share of major parts from 10.5 percent in 2011 to 39.7 percent in 2020.

But, although women and minorities are increasingly seeing themselves on film (a development that should continue), the situation behind the camera is very different. Despite the fact that 2020 has been billed as a watershed moment for female filmmakers, the stats remain dismal: According to The Celluloid Ceiling, an annual study published by San Diego State University and the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women only account for 23% of critical jobs behind the scenes, up from 21% in 2019 but still below the level of 17% in 1998.

I’m in front of the camera, yet I’m not in front of it.

The research, which looks at how many women have worked in directing, writing, producing, editing, and cinematography in the top-grossing films over the previous 23 years, comes up with some rather grim numbers.

It discovered that two-thirds of the films surveyed employed less than five women in key production positions in 2020, a year of record highs. Only 9% of these films featured a production team with 10 or more women, and just under a quarter of them recruited 5-9 women behind the scenes. In comparison, just 5% of the films had 0-4 males, with the great majority (71%) using 10 or more men.

Producers (30%), editors (21%), and executive producers (20%) were all dominated by women (21 percent ). Following directors (18%) and writers (17%), women were least likely to be employed as cinematographers (6%) – a career that The Washington Post’s Steven Zeitchik described as “Hollywood’s most gender-biased vocation.” 

“It’s weird to boast about attaining record highs when women remain so far from parity,” Dr. Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film said of the 2019 version of the annual study, which indicated comparable historic (but gloomy) achievements.

According to another survey, women made up just 10.6% of directors across 1,300 films.

These figures have a significant impact on the kind of films that the industry is able to produce and how they are produced. Dr. Lauzen’s research, for example, reveal that more women behind the scenes, whether in the writers’ room or the editing studio, frequently means more women directors.

In films with at least one female director, 53 percent of the writers are also female (compared to 8% in films with only male filmmakers), and 39 percent of the editors are female (a number that drops to 18 percent with exclusively male directors). 

Another research, this one from the University of Southern California, discovered that when women were present in the writing room, women’s presence on screen was 50% greater than in films produced only by males. The issue is that the survey also discovered that males outnumbered women in the writers’ room by a factor of seven to one.

But how did we get ourselves here in the first place?

To be clear, it isn’t due to a lack of ability.

Few people realize that women established and managed the cinema business in the early twentieth century, producing, directing, scripting, editing, and operating cameras in silent film productions. However, by the 1920s and 1930s, the business had been consolidated into major studios, and cinema historians are still attempting to piece together the biographies of these lost women.

Furthermore, women account for about half of all film school graduates nowadays. They make up 51% of NYU’s School of the Arts students and 46% of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts students. The skill is there; it’s simply that no one is hiring it.

Women aren’t taken seriously by Hollywood studios.

Despite the fact that many women enroll in film schools, data reveals that what occurs after they finish is a major issue. “The data we’ve seen – the ramifications are alarming.” Susan Sandler, a screenplay professor and faculty adviser at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, says, “The potential is equal, but the possibilities for women simply drop down totally.” “Studios don’t trust women with enormous budgets, and they don’t trust women in general when it comes to studio-produced films.”

“The ultimate truth is that people don’t trust women to earn money,” says Dan Cogan, a film producer. “You are more likely to be a woman nuclear engineer than a woman film director,” according to many. You’re also more likely to work for a Fortune 500 business if you’re a woman. It’s a disgrace.”

Furthermore, the prejudice against female directors is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Women are seldom offered the chance to direct film projects, and when they are, their films are frequently given fewer budgets and are promoted and disseminated less than films directed by males. As a result, even if their ROI is better than male-directed films, they have a reduced probability of making a name for themselves critically or financially (a fact that studios stubbornly turn a blind eye to).

1635603312_68_All-Too-Male-Gaze-Why-There-Are-Still-So-Few-WomenCathy Yan’s Birds of Prey is one of the year’s highest-grossing pictures. Yan has remarked on the film’s female characters gaining their power, as well as behind-the-scenes women challenging institutional hurdles to access.

The persistent misconceptions about women in cinema are part of the issue, and they contribute to our greater social problem of pigeonholing men and women into certain vocations and positions. 

 “When we think of what a director or cinematographer looks like, we usually think of a white man,” Dr. Lauzen continues. “We can’t overlook the influence of subliminal pictures on recruiting choices.” People are more likely to employ people who look like them.”

All-Too-Male-Gaze-Why-There-Are-Still-So-Few-WomenI previously wrote on how stock photos might shape our perceptions of the world in a subtle way. After scrolling through the top free picture results for approximately a minute after searching “filmmaking,” I notice that a lady only wields a camera one (1) time in the hundreds of photos. (However, with paid stock, it’s somewhat better.)

It’s a Boys’ Club, after all. 

Another important issue to remember is that white males still control the vast majority of the industry’s decisions about which projects get greenlit and whose tales get told.

Indeed, according to the Hollywood Diversity Report from last year, 91 percent of studio CEOs are white, 82 percent are male, and senior management is much the same. The same survey indicated that studio heads were 100% male as recently as 2015. This is particularly problematic in project-based sectors such as television and cinema, where hiring choices and career development are less clear.

A Million minuscule slashes

Women are also failed by the industry even before they graduate.

Award-winning actress, director, and writer Naomi McDougall Jones claims that aspiring filmmakers who happen to be women face subtle and not-so-subtle prejudice in schools, based on hundreds of hours of interviews. This may take the form of being advised to view a list of must-see films created solely by white males, or lecturers speaking specifically to male students instead of female students.

Emily Geraghty, a senior producer, editor, and shooter, describes how female students were often consigned to arranging pre-production by male peers who would take on director and camera operator positions in group film projects. Women were also shut out of full shoots in other instances. Worse, standing up for yourself makes it impossible to cooperate with you.

All-Too-Male-Gaze-Why-There-Are-Still-So-Few-WomenIn Little Women, another woman-led top-grossing picture from 2020, Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March remarks, “Women, they have brains, souls, and hearts, as well as simply hearts.” “And they have desire and talent, in addition to simply being beautiful.”

Because of these alienating experiences, many young women who join film school with the intention of creating tales to share with the world leave confused and discouraged.

Furthermore, Geraghty reminds out that when women professionals arrive on site or on set, they are often mistaken for amateurs or students. 

There’s a Long Way to Go

The Celluloid Ceiling’s long-term approach to gender parity behind the camera is more of an evolutionary transition than a revolutionary move; it entails encouraging a cultural shift and refusing to let up, no matter how long it takes.

And major people and institutions are working hard to achieve this. Cogan, for example, co-founded Gamechanger Films with fellow producers Wendy Ettinger, Julie Parker Benello, and Geralyn Dreyfous to fund only female-directed films. 

Women in front of the camera are also doing their part to assist. Eva Longoria, an actress, director, and producer, aspires to promote gender equality and ethnic diversity in her own work. “I usually start filling spaces with women and people of color first, then we’ll go elsewhere if there’s anything left,” she tells The Guardian. “Instead of automatically dismissing women or people of color, I’m actively seeking them out.”

Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Gina Rodriguez, and Constance Wu all vowed to work with female filmmakers in 2019 in the aim of producing more films featuring women in front of and behind the camera.

1635603318_63_All-Too-Male-Gaze-Why-There-Are-Still-So-Few-WomenJennifer Lopez and Constance Wu went on to feature in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, a 2019 film directed by Lorene Scafaria.

Meanwhile, actress Victoria Emslie addressed the age-old argument that studios routinely use: that they can’t find female directors. “As someone who has always leaped at problem solving, I wanted to take at least this one excuse off the table,” she tells the BBC about how she came up with Primetime, a worldwide database of women in the film industry backed by The Geena Davis Institute and Time’s Up UK. And by women, she means all women, including trans, intersex, and cis women, as well as persons who aren’t women but face gender discrimination, such as non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals.

The Topple List, which honors the work of people of color and handicapped cinema professionals, is another such database.

And for those of us who wish to contribute to the development of women in cinema from the comfort of our own homes, this year’s crop of female-directed films is a fantastic place to start. From there, this list of the 100 best female-directed films might be a fun way to spend some time.

The “female gaze” is a term used to describe the way in which women are depicted in film. The all-too male gaze has been criticized for its lack of female representation and how it can be seen as objectifying women.

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