The #MeToo and Time’s Up movement took us by storm in the last couple of years, which made me acutely aware of the gender disparity that exists in the film industry. During my three years as a film student at Montana State University, I have experienced sexual harassment myself.
Here at our film school, female professors teach only 20 percent of the upper division classes pertaining to above-the-line leadership roles on a film set, such as Directing, Cinematography, Producing, Editing, and Screenwriting. The only leadership class taught by a woman is Screenwriting, which is a new development as of the Spring semester of 2019.
Shockingly, this percentage is better than what is happening in the overall industry itself.
A survey from The Wrap concluded that of 90 wide release films from 2018 from the leading six studios in the industry; Universal, Sony, Disney, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros., only 3 percent were directed by women, which is a 5 percent decrease from 2017. This has been a long standing trend in Hollywood, as these numbers are unchanged from at least the last 20 years.
So, what is happening? According to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement – a lot. One in five women will be sexually harassed in their lifetime, and according to a recent survey from USA Today, this chance may be even higher for a woman with a career in the film industry. Another nearly universal experience of women in this industry is walking into a room and being the only woman there, which I have experienced first hand. And despite the recent #MeToo movement, there doesn’t seem to be any discernible difference being made when it comes to the equality of women being hired to film sets in positions of power.
As someone who hopes to make a career in this industry, these numbers are extremely disheartening. But I hope that with the new swing of women coming forward, and more women standing up for equal pay and representation in the workplace, this industry will finally be able to see an improvement in the poor statistics that have been plaguing Hollywood for too long.
Without going into details of my personal experience, I know of too many people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in their lifetime and in the context of the film school. It’s an all too common occurrence and one that needs to stop.
It may be too early to truly see the effects that the recent #MeToo movement may have caused, but I believe that at this moment we have an opportunity right now in this industry to exact change. We have the possibility to hold people accountable for the wrongs they have committed in the past and create new job prospects for women who have been turned away in favor of men who have a history of abusing women in the industry.
Sexual assault in this industry is not a new phenomenon either. Gerald Clarke, an American biographer, wrote a biography on Judy Garland, a famous Hollywood actress from the 1940’s, called Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland, and discovered that she experienced sexual harassment while on the set of The Wizard of Oz, when she was 16. This was at the hands of one of the co-founders of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. Though he was not the only executive of MGM to harass Judy Garland. An unnamed executive, when denied by Judy Garland, screamed that he would end her career.
This pressure from higher ups in companies is a large component of why many women do not report the abuse they’ve endured in the workplace. Many accounts of sexual assault when widely unreported up until recently, though there was a swing up of reports in the 80’s and 90’s. TV Guide was one of the only media outlets that reported on these accounts during that era.
Despite the upturn in recent reports from the #MeToo movement, around 60 percent of all rape and sexual assault is never reported to the police. With a survey from USA Today saying that 94 percent of women in Hollywood have experienced sexual assault in their careers, one can presume that one of the main reasons people are staying silent about their trauma, is fear of repercussions on their careers, as stated before in relation to Judy Garland. Which are hard enough to come by as a woman in this field. Evidenced by the fact that of the major positions to hold on a film set; Producer, Editor, Director, Cinematographer, Writer, and Executive Producer, they were held by women only 14 percent of the time on average.
It’s not only the crew members and cast that experience discrimination. The characters portrayed in films are also treated differently whether they are a man or a woman. Based on the top 500 films from 2007 through 2012, only 30 percent of the speaking roles were held by women, and of these speaking roles roughly a third of them are wearing sexually provocative clothing or are partially naked, according to information presented by the New York Film Academy.
Even films that show strong lead characters, such as Wonder Woman, or Valkyrie in the new Thor: Ragnorok, they are still depicted as wearing heels. In the case of Gal Gadot who played Wonder Woman, while on screen you see her kicking ass while wearing 4 inch heels, she did not wear them for filming. They went in after the fact and CGI’ed her feet so that Wonder Woman would be wearing heels, something that makes no sense for her character, as someone who grew up in a society of all women, whose only concern for dress being the practicality of how to fight in it. Why on Earth would heels have been included into her costume for the final product of the film. A similar thing happened to Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, in Thor: Ragnorok. Hollywood is trying to champion these strong female characters, yet they are still treating them as if they are objects of desire for men by dressing them in completely impractical ways for a warrior to dress.
It is clear this industry needs to make big changes in the way it treats women, on and off set, as well as on and off screen, if we’re to see any real differences paying off. This starts with hiring more women onto big motion pictures. Films that had a woman as the director saw a 10 percent increase in female characters, imagine the change that could happen when the majority of major roles are held by women instead of the status quo of those roles being held by men. With films like Wonder Woman coming out in the last few years, it’s clear that change could be on the horizon, we must continue to push for this change and encourage more women to join the industry and to speak out against abusers who dominate it.