Women have been directing films in the United States since the beginning of film as a storytelling medium. In the nineteen teens Lois Weber was one of the highest paid directors in Hollywood, male or female. However, in mainstream culture much is made of how few female directors there are and little is known of their place in history – and even their triumphs in contemporary culture. That is starting to change. More and more has been in the news recently about women in film. The ACLU and EEOC began investigating the issue thanks to Maria Giese, an advocate for female filmmakers and award winning director. Many other grassroots efforts (Film Fatales, Directed by Women, The Director List, Seeking Our Story, Alliance of Women Directors) have helped to set the stage for a movement which has now entered the Hollywood mainstream.
The challenge of fighting gender discrimination in the hallowed halls of Hollywood recently adopted by the ACLU and others within the Entertainment Industry has a long history. In 1979 Michael Franklin, a national Executive of the DGA and the “Original Six,” six female DGA members blew the lid off the discriminatory policies of the studios with a class action suit which led to the numbers of women directing in Hollywood to go from only .05% in 1985 to a whopping 16% in 1995. However, after those gains in the late 20th century those numbers stagnated and even went down to 6.6% by some accounts. Looking at the statistics only gets us so far. As Lexi Alexander pointed out in her blog article lambasting Hollywood for its shameful treatment of female filmmakers – talking about statistics doesn’t solve the problem. It’s an opening but only an introduction to the full story of what it means to be considered the 2nd Sex in the 7th Art. It’s time for the full story to unfold and circumstances to change. Kathryn Bigelow, the one woman to win the Oscar for Best Director, who has tried to distance herself from the label of “woman” director in the past even acknowledged in an article, “Gender discrimination stigmatizes our entire industry. Change is essential. Gender neutral hiring is essential.” Will the ACLU succeed? Will the media attention and celebrity debate spark lasting change? Do new distribution platforms and cheaper digital filmmaking resources make it possible for more women to direct? Will that lead to more women working as directors? The story unfolds…
Interested in reading the thesis I wrote on the subject? Check it out here.
JENNIFER DEAN (Director/Producer) is a graduate of the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center with a Masters in Liberal Studies with a Film Studies emphasis, completing a thesis on women directors in film. She was exposed to the films of early female directors such as Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blaché and decided she wanted to further explore women who have taken up a camera to direct their own stories – hence the idea for the documentary was born. She went on to acquire an MFA in Production from CCNY (to get better at doing the filming part of the doc) where she was told by the department head that “directing is a masculine profession,” in 2013. As an undergraduate she studied theatre at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and did post-graduate work in Performance Studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. In 2002 in San Francisco she formed La Vache Enragée Productions. Officially incorporating as a Non-Profit in 2005, the company produced a multi-media event of short plays and silent short films accompanied by live originally composed music. She was a runner-up for the London Sundance/Nokia Competition with her short documentary about the “Underground” Music Scene of the NYC Subways.
CARON K (Producer) is a producer, writer, teacher, and literary agent who in 2010 received her master’s degree in film studies from the CUNY Graduate Center. A former Twentieth Century Fox film executive, she served as associate producer of the 1995 hit film Waiting to Exhale, based on Terry McMillan’s bestselling novel. Caron reviews films for Educational Media Reviews Online (EMRO) and teaches English at La Guardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens. Publishers Weekly referred to her as “scout/producer/editor and chutzpah queen.” She now heads up Caron K Literary Enterprises Unlimited. She, along with producing partners Natasha Herring and Jennifer Dean, is planning a documentary of her thesis, The Depiction of Enslaved African-Americans on Film: From Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903) to Sankofa (1993).
ERIC RICE (Producer) is a producer and actor living in NYC. He holds a B.A. in Applied Arts & Sciences, in Drama, Emphasis in Acting from San Diego State University, made possible through funding from the U.S. Army G.I. Bill/College Fund. In San Francisco he performed on stage and was Managing Director of the Unidentified Theatre Company, Executive Director of La Vache Enragée Productions, and a company member of Three Wise Monkeys. Recently he carried out a 365-day #shecandowhatyoucando campaign on Twitter wherein he sought to show appreciation and bring attention to the works of female filmmakers across the globe. More information: riceunderwater.com.