“I’m not a female filmmaker, I’m a filmmaker”: Breaking through the celluloid ceiling
I always kind of knew that being a woman in the film industry would be tough, but I never realized how tough it would be. I mean, it wasn’t until 2010 that a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, won an Oscar for best director. For god’s sake, they even played “I am Woman.” Patronizing much? What about “I am Director?”
In 2008, when I went to grad school for film at USC, which is the best film school in the world according to The Hollywood Reporter, only 13 of the 50 incoming filmmakers, were women. It wasn’t until 2010 when USC finally made a point of admitting 50% women, calling themselves “forward-thinking” and patting themselves on the back. What is this, 1950??
When I said I wanted to go into directing, my graduate advisor even told me “maybe pick something else, there’s not many women in directing. Try editing instead, women do that.” Being stubborn, I disregarded his advice and pursued my path and won the Harold Lloyd award for directing twice, and became the only woman selected to direct a major film in my year with a $12k grant and Academy-Award winning mentors.
Even after film school, when I became a television producer, I would regularly be told in executive meetings that they “wanted a woman at the table” but that I “shouldn’t speak to the clients, we just need a female presence.” The boy’s club of executives would often criticize me for being too “aggressive” and “bossy” compared to other male producers.
Well screw that! I made sure that every executive meeting, I piped up and made my ideas heard, and it worked. I was able to create and produce my own primetime show, City Walk, before the age of 30, I created and directed a web series called Best Friends Book Club to encourage literacy in teenaged girls, I worked with Martin Sheen, Comedian Dane Cook, Adam Devine of Workaholics, Kevin Nealon of Weeds, Adam Carolla of The Adam Carolla Show, and many other talented actors.
I’ve also directed several films, including a documentary about third-wave feminism and pole dancing called Polar Opposites – despite the fact that a male colleague told me “no man will ever want to watch a film about just women” and another male filmmaker publically posted “I’ve got a pole they can climb” on our webpage. The joke’s on them, because after the film’s successful festival circuit, it was bought and broadcast by the Documentary Channel and I’m fairly certain those great ratings weren’t from women alone.
Now I’m a working director and producer, but it hasn’t been easy. I worked hard, but the very fact that we even need to have a Bechdel Test shows how far we still have to go in terms of women in the film industry.
So what can we do to promote equality in film and media?
o Write better women characters
- We don’t need any more films with Megan Fox being objectified, or damsels needing to be saved and sexy teenaged girls being pursued by a slasher. Write complex characters that have their own minds, their own lives, and their own flaws and problems. Check out Ms. Marvel who’s an amazing new superhero who not only battles supervillains, but also sexism and xenophobia towards her Muslim heritage.
o Share your expertise
- For years, we’ve been taught that women are all out to get each other. Surprise! We aren’t! And you can help even more by giving another woman a hand. Be a mentor, join a message board and share answers, help problem-solve. You might just get help yourself in return.
- Get involved by supporting organizations working to change the inequality, such as Women in Film, Women’s Media Center and Women Make Movies.
o Think equally
- We often hear about “women’s films” and “chick flicks.” Guess what? Women are the majority of the world population, so maybe we should just call them “films.”
o Support your fellow women
- There are so few women in the film industry, so why not go out and celebrate how kickass they are! Nicole Perlman was the first woman to write a Marvel film and it’s amazing!
o Neutralize your language
- The days of “actor/actress,” “director/female director,” “cameraman” and “sound guy” are over. And it’s about time we found a new term for “Best Boy!” What about “First Assistant Grip” and “First Assistant Electric?” Language has power, and words can change minds. Many a time I’ve been on set with an amazing female “best boy” and it just s
- Marvel is a great example of this when they announced that the new incarnation of Thor will be female and they made sure that their language reflects it: “This is not She-Thor,” senior writer Jason Aaron said in a Marvel release. “This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”
*Infographics courtesy of the New York Film Academy*
Caitlin Starowicz is an award-winning writer, director, and producer for film and television. She has been recognized by Women in Film and Television, DocUtah, the LA Times, Buzzfeed, Women Make Movies and The Documentary Channel. She can be reached through her website at www.caitlinstarowicz.com and is always willing to help a fellow filmmaker.