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Women Filmmaking Stats

Dayton The Philly Inquirer critic Carrie Rickey has come up with some provocative statistics about women in the film business:

First, the stats:

60% of Oscar nominated documentary features are directed by women,
40% of Oscar nominated foreign-films are directed by women,
25% of Sundance 2007 features and shorts are directed by women
10% of best-picture Oscar nominees are directed by women (although “Little Miss Sunshine” is co-directed by Valerie Faris)
6.25 % of top-250 domestic box office grossers in 2006 are directed by women
1.8 % of top-1000 domestic box office grossers in 2006 are directed by women.
As every journalist knows, you can spin stats to support any argument. I don’t want to spin, only to ask the question do these stats mean good news or bad news? I’ll supply the evidence without spin. You’re the jury. I want your verdict. Analyze this:

1. Women directors dominate this year’s Oscar’s documentary category with Amy Berg’s “Deliver Us From Evil,” Heidi Ewing’s and Rachel Grady’s “Jesus Camp, “Laura Poitras’ and Jocelyn Glatzer’s “My Country, My Country.”

2. This year’s foreign-film nominations include Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding” and Deepa Mehta’s “Water,” giving what Variety used to call “femme helmers” two out of five slots– the last time this occurred was in 1985, when Agnieszka Holland’s “Angry Harvest” and “Coline Serreau’s “Three Men and a Cradle” were nominated.

3. 2006 marks the fourth time in 79 years that the Academy nominated a female director. Previous nominees: Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” (1975), Jane Campion for “The Piano” (1993) and Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation.” None of them won, although both Campion and Coppola bagged statuettes for original screenplay.

4. Of this year’s 250 top grossers, 6.25% are directed by women, which is actually down a tick from 7% in 2005 (and this takes into consideration Faris’ half equity in “Little Miss Sunshine). This year’s list: “Step Up” (38), “Little Miss Sunshine” (48), “The Holiday” (59), “John Tucker Must Die” (75), “Take the Lead” (91), “The Nativity Story” (97), “Stick It!’ (105), “Marie Antoinette” (137), “Friends With Money” (147), “Something New” (163), Material Girls” (164), “Water” (192) and “Secret de Ma Mere” (225).

5. By genre, three women directed titles are rom-coms (”The Holiday,” “Friends With Money” and “Something New”), two are family coms (”Little Miss Sunshine” and “Secret de Ma Mere”), two are teen coms (”John Tucker Must Die” and “Material Girls”), two are dance musicals (”Step Up” and “Take the Lead”), two are historical dramas about women and religion (”The Nativity Story” and “Water”), one is an unconventional biopic (”Marie Antoinette”) and one a sports comedy (”Stick It!”).

6. Of the films on the Top 1000 Box Office list (not adjusted for inflation), 20 are directed by women. Noteworthy: most of them are comedies. Marshall directed four of the top 20, likewise Meyers. Heckerling has three titles and Ephron two. Brit Maguire and Aussie Armstrong are the only foreigners on the list.

7. There’s more correlation than usual between box office and Oscar nominations with these titles: Nine of the 20 women-helmed Top 1000 box office grossers received Oscars nominations. Shrek won best animated feature. It remains to be seen how “Little Miss Sunshine will fare. Of these 20, half are already classics: “Shrek,” “What Women Want,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Wayne’s World,” “Big,” “A League of Their Own,” “Bridget Jones,” “The Parent Trap,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Little Women.”

The question is, what do they mean, exactly? The best I've been able to come up with, over years of asking why women filmmakers don't do better in America (movie producers and writers, and TV directors, producers and writers all do better than directors) is that in some profound way, all the factors that serve to ruin many of our best male filmmakers also divebomb talented women. I've seen many women make their great indie early efforts--women with a voice--and then disappear. They are diverted out of movies, into television, or marginalized. But the other factor is that other cultures support women filmmakers, who are able to work in industries where movies aren't so hideously risk averse and expensive. Women in Hollywood are given the assignments that men don't want: romantic comedies, family movies. And their eagerness to please allows them to compromise. Julie Taymor is an example of a powerful artist who does not compromise, but finds easier voice in opera or theater or television than she does in movies. It's so hard to make good movies here anyway, that even the best and brightest can't get it done.


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