How Is the Industry Working to Improve Life in the Field?
The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AII) has revealed the results of its annual report on Inclusion in the Director’s Chair and, again, Hollywood got a failing grade when it comes to putting women in positions of power on set. USC Annenberg associate professor Stacy Smith, who is the founder and executive director of the AII, said that, in a tally of 1,100 films released between 2007 and 2017, women made up only 4.3 percent of all directors. It gets worse when race is factored in: only four black females, two Asian females and one Latina directed among those 1,100 films.
Another study, The Celluloid Ceiling, conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, studied 250 of the top-grossing U.S. films of 2012 and found that women made up 11 percent of the directors, 11 percent of the writers and 25 percent of the producers.
Women in Film partnered with the Sundance Institute to conduct similar research on gender disparity in the indie film arena in the last decade. Out of that study, PGA member Lydia Dean Pilcher and the PGA Diversity Committee’s chair Deborah Calla redoubled their efforts to address gender parity, and formed the PGA Women’s Impact Network.
Less visible are the women’s groups that have formed to specifically address the concerns of women behind the lens, working in cinematography, editing and post-production. We spoke to representatives from three such groups to find out what prompted their formation and what they’re doing to improve conditions for women working in the field.
Cinematographer Rachel Morrison is the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar for cinematography, for her work on Netflix’s Mudbound. That it’s taken this long for a woman to be recognized in this field is a reflection of how difficult it has been for women to make their way through the ranks and become cinematographers. Both the honorary American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and the International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600) have had a low percentage of female members, although both groups are currently supportive of female cinematographers.
It’s been such a long slog that at least three women’s cinematography organizations have been created in recent years. The International Collective of Female Cinematographers (ICFC) was formed in 2015, according to Rose Fadem-Johnston, a founding board member who is on the cinematography faculty at American Film Institute. The idea behind ICFC, which has 275 members, says Fadem-Johnston, is to counter the misperception that there aren’t enough female cinematographers.
“This is the common reason given by producers, directors and agencies that becomes self-reinforcing,” she says. “People feel they do their due diligence by interviewing one woman, but [they are] simultaneously making the female interview an outlier, so they don’t hire her. We assume positive intent. If you really can’t find us, we’ll make it easy for you.”
ICFC also exists for mutual support. “It’s such an isolating field,” explains Fadem-Johnston. “We provide a place where, especially if you’re not based in Los Angeles or New York, you can ask questions, talk things out and make new friends.” Activities are member-planned and coordinated and include master classes and meetings on specific topics. She gives kudos to some of the vendors, including Efilm, Light Iron, Canon and Zeiss, that have helped out by providing space or sponsoring events.
Although the organization doesn’t focus on sexual harassment, Fadem-Johnston notes that most women coming up through the ranks have experienced it. “Just hiring women changes the effectiveness of communication on set and lowers the amount of harassment,” she says.
Cinematographers XX (CXX) is a Los Angeles and New York City-based organization for female cinematographers, and ICFC’s Fadem-Johnston and CXX founder Autumn Eakin are both quick to note that they aren’t competitive. “All these groups are about forming networks and sharing resources,” says Fadem-Johnston. “It’s a generation of women rejecting the idea that there can be only one or two token women at the top. We don’t compete with each other as groups or individuals.”
And Eakin notes that she met early on with ICFC founders to chat about CXX’s structure. “We are absolutely ally groups,” she says”
On its website, Cinematographers XX describes its mission to “be used as a resource to find and hire cinematographers who identify as women,” with a roster that is “inclusive and supportive, while maintaining a high standard of experience and works.” The site lists only cinematographers who have worked for five years or more. A third, U.K.-based organization, Illuminatrix, describes itself as “a collective of female cinematographers based in the U.K. who work internationally and have at least five years of experience in the field.”
Editing is another craft where women are fighting for parity. The handful of top female editors (Thelma Schoonmaker, Carol Littleton, and Anne V. Coates come to mind) leads many to think that parity isn’t an issue. In fact, the percentage of female editors working in the industry is 20 percent, a number that has held steady (and even dipped a little) for more than 20 years.
“It’s fantastic that we have such major figureheads and mentors,” says Dorian Harris, ACE. “But they’re practically the only ones. There should be 50 percent women.”
Women editors have organized a women’s steering committee through the Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG), chaired by Harris, who reports that the first women’s committee was created at ACE in 2013. But she and a few other ACE and MPEG members wanted to create a group that reached more female editors than are in the invitation-only ACE. In 2014, Harris, Joan Sobel and Tatiana S. Riegel, all ACE members, brought the idea to the MPEG board and it was unanimously approved. The group had a rocky start as the passionate members debated their mission.
Eventually the group settled on a membership survey. Out of all 7,642 of the organization’s members, 2,258 responded, two-thirds of them men. Among the findings, 60 percent said the guild had a “diversity issue.” About 35 percent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation or physical disability, and nearly 25 percent felt it hindered their pay rate.
“The response was amazing,” says Harris. “That was the first inkling the committee chairs had that people didn’t feel represented or paid as much because they were women or minorities. The survey was irrefutable, and we had the stats to prove how bad things were.”
Since then, the women and diversity committees had a “break-the-ice” event so members could meet. “We felt an incredible kindred spirit and cohesiveness,” says Harris. “We’re shining a light on the fact that women, African-Americans, Asians and Latinos aren’t represented, and we’re starting to make some strides.”
More specifically, she says, getting to know one another has been an important first step. The group sent out another survey to try to get a handle on racial diversity within the Guild. Another issue for women editors is whether having a family will be a serious impediment to building their careers. “The needs of younger women are extremely important, and we’re hoping to do a women’s steering committee event around sustaining relationships,” she says.
Post production has been a more female-friendly arena, since it covers so many categories, from engineers and colorists to administration, sales and manufacturers of post gear. Still, HPA Women in Post was born out of the very popular HPA Tech Retreat, where, says HPA Women in Post Chair Kari Grubin, the event drew “the same group of 25 to 35 women” among 500 attendees.
Grubin and Loren Nielsen brought the idea to the HPA board for sign-off, and then, beginning six years ago, the group planned an annual WIP luncheon at the HPA Tech Retreat. “Initially it was about providing an outlet,” says Grubin. “Those first few years were about understanding what our group of women wanted to celebrate and support.”
Activities grew to include summer networking lunches, and even before SMPTE and HPA became “part of the same family,” four years ago, she says, WIP began to host the Women in Technology luncheon at SMPTE’s annual conference, with speakers that have included then-Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences’ president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Marvel head of production Victoria Alonso.
More recently, WIP launched the Young Entertainment Professionals, which mentors both young women and men. The first class, last year, was two-thirds women, and this second year is closer to half and half. “The goal was to provide a place where we can encourage the next generation of our industry’s professionals to stay within the industry and understand how it’s changing,” says Grubin. “We provide them with mentorship, introductions and education and make sure we support the future of our business.”