Angry Women Too Scared to Fight Hollywood Boys’ Club

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The stats are sickening. Indiewire just released its 2014 Oscar predictions for best director. Its list contains 15 names, all men. During the 85th Academy Awards in 2013, out of 19 categories, only 35 women were nominated for awards, while 140 men were nominated. There wasn’t a single female nominee for directing, cinematography, film editing or original screenplay writing. Hello?! Hey Hollywood, haven’t you noticed that half of the world is made up of women?

Directors are usually eager to talk, but when I asked female filmmakers to speak about sexism, most declined. That shouldn’t surprise. They’re probably terrified of being blackballed.

I did get a few brave women to speak about the problem. One is trailblazer Susan Seidelman (“Desperately Seeking Susan”). She has been successfully making movies for 30 years.

“I came out of independent cinema,” said Seidelman. “Most of the women working today are in independent movies where you’re your own boss. In many cases you’re also the producer. I did my first film in 1982 on a very low budget. I was the force behind it and it did surprisingly well. When I did, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan,’ I wasn’t even 30 yet. It was a union movie and the union guys had no idea I was the director; they thought I was a production assistant. One of the guys, an electrician crew member, asked me to get him a cup of a coffee. I did it — not to be subservient but to enjoy his surprise when I was the one who said, ‘Action.'”

Because “Desperately Seeking Susan” did so well, she rose above the sexism in the field. But, she knows her story is not typical of female filmmakers. Seidelman said, “LA still functions like a boys’ club. Movies that make the most money at the box office are action, comic book movies, or special effects, and it’s an antiquated notion that the big studios still believe that only guys can direct these types of films.”

Documentarian Michèle Midori Fillion (“No Job For a Woman”) said, “The movie business is a white boys’ game. I have one story that has haunted me. A top editor in the movie business was working on a Hollywood feature film. She had a young son and a full-time babysitter but kept that a secret. She would jump in a cab saying, ‘I’ll be back in a few.’ Then took a cab home to tuck her child into bed at night. She’d rush back to work and never mention kids, she was too afraid her male coworkers wouldn’t treat her with respect if they thought of her as a mother instead of a film editor.”

Women have had a bit more success in the documentary genre. Director Ruth Thomas-Suh made a powerful film titled, “Reject.” The film’s theme is ostracism and the impact of rejection, its connection to physical pain, and how it acts as a precursor to violence. There is a way to teach tolerance in young children so as to hopefully avoid future school shooting rampages like Columbine, Sandyhook, and Newton.

“On one busy day of filming,” she said, “there was only me and the cameraman. Throughout the day, people kept addressing him with long and involved questions about the film. He’d politely answer as best he could. Yet, the more minimal his responses became, the more they asked him and reverently listened to what he said, even when I tried to interject with the answer. It was ironic due to the subject of our film, that I felt like an outsider looking in at the whole scenario. He and I had a chuckle about it on the drive back to the airport and joked that I must’ve seemed like his very junior assistant, since I was running around trying to get signed releases, and handle all the production details.”

OK, so they laughed about it later, but the cameraman was complicit. He should’ve said, “I’m not the director, she is standing right there.”

Here’s hoping Americans learn from the Swedes. Cinemas in Sweden now have a ratings system. For the highest rating, a movie has to have at least two female characters who speak to each other about topics other than men. It’s a start.

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