228: The Self-Empowered Woman: Women In Hollywood

Dear Followers,

As moviegoers, we like to think that conditions have never been better for women in the film industry. Unfortunately, gender bias is alive and well in Hollywood, as well as on our TV and movie screens.  In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently responding to a request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding the tendency of major studios, networks and talent agencies to hire men over women. Below are some statistics that are sobering for those of us who (optimistically) believe that things are always “getting better.”

  • Only 4% of top-grossing movies were directed by women over the last twelve years.
  • The “Golden Age of Women in Comedy” was actually 1990, when “The Golden Girls” (Susan Harris), “Designing Women” (Linda Bloodworth-Thomason), and “Murphy Brown” (Diane English) won Emmy nominations.
  • Stephen Colbert’s show has 19 writers—only two are female. And Jimmy Fallon’s show also has 19 writers, and only three are female.
  • From 2007 through 2014, women made up only 30.2% of all speaking or named characters in the 100 top-grossing fictional films in the U.S.
  • And according to an August report from the University of Southern California, only 19.9% of female characters were 40 to 64 years old, and only 1.9% of the movies were directed by women. The numbers for minority females are even more dismal.
  • One reaction to the male-driven studio system is that female stars (like Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon) are producing their own projects.
  • The movie “Suffragette” had a female director, writer and producer, as well as female heads of both costumes and makeup.
  • Female leads in dramas rarely earn notable amounts of box-office cash. But female driven comedies (“Spy,” “Trainwreck” and “Miss Congeniality”) make lots of money.
  • Industry observers are watching to see how this year’s female-driven titles perform. Those movies include: “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “Freeheld,” “The Intern,” “Sisters,” “Truth,” and “Queen of the Desert.”

Whenever I speak to women’s groups, I like to remind them about Frederica Sagor Mass, who was the first was American female screenwriter. It’s a little-known fact that during the silent movie era, most of the films were written by women. But when “talkies” came into vogue, and movies became Big Business, the females were swept aside and Hollywood turned into the boys club that it is today—a century later.


About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.