Did you know that women made up the majority of film directors in the silent movie era? I didn’t until I saw the documentary This Changes Everything at a private screening hosted by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Now, in 2018, over 80% of the top 100 grossing films were made by men. This film shines a critical light on gender parity in Hollywood. Like me, when you read that sentence you probably thought about equal pay and representation – but it is far more than that.
Let’s do an experiment. Think back to your childhood. What movie or TV show that you remember made you feel like you could do or being anything you wanted to be? For me, I can’t think of any. I don’t think I felt that way about any movie until the Tomb Raider and Charlie’s Angels, which didn’t come out until I was over ten years old. But that experience is different for men – and there are numbers to explain why.
Growing up invisible
A large part of This Changes Everything features research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media. In talking about why she started the organization, Davis cites the effects media has on young children: ““we are teaching them that girls and women don’t take up half the space in the world.” In one study conducted of children’s media, they found that 72% of all speaking roles were male, and 4/5 narrators of animated characters were male. There were simply a lack of leading female characters. And when they were depicted, female characters are six times more likely than male characters to be shown in sexy, skin-tight attire. What is this telling little girls?
At age five, young boys and girls have the same ideas about what they want to be when they grow up. After that, it drastically changes. The documentary, supported by the research, attributes this to the lack of female stories being told. Former Chair of Dreamworks Animation, Mellody Hobson says, “I’ve been one of those little girls looking for myself. You start to believe that there’s something wrong with you.”
For Men by Men
In 1979 a group of six female directors in the Director’s Guild of America, or the “original six,” found that in the previous three decades only 0.5% of all directing assignments were given to women. And although they sued the studios for discriminatory hiring practices under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there was no lasting change. In 100 years, only one woman has ever won an Oscar for Best Director. In one of Geena Davis original studies in 2010, she found the following:
Further, a higher percentage of girls/women are shown on screen when one of more femles are involved in directing of writing films. In order to tell more female stories that aren’t stereotypical, inconsequential, or sexist we need more women in production. And the dollars show it. More and more, movies made by women gross more than movies made by men. Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, grossed $821 million. Man of Steel, another DC movie, directed by a man, only grossed $668 million.
What it comes down to can be summarized by a quote from director Maria Giese, “women’s creative input is not making it into our nation’s story-telling – into our narrative.” This is extremely problematic, because worldwide our media makes up 80% of the world’s media consumption.
How To Make Change
This Changes Everything does a great job explaining what needs to be done to create systemic change. Overall, the film was hard-hitting, shocking, and heartbreaking. But what President and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Kelley Griesmer said at the beginning of the event, “this is not depressing, this is energizing.” The film made me want to do more. And being surrounded by a theatre of over seventy women (and one man), I could feel how palpable the desire for change was. There were audible gasps, and “wows,” and a few remarks of “really?!”
What hit me the hardest was that throughout the film, they showed young girls watching media, with sound bites from existing films out there. Snippets filled with stereotypic, derogatory, and sexualized comments directed towards female characters. It made me think back to those movies I watched as a young girl. Movies that made me so painfully aware of my body and my looks. One interviewee in the film, who I cannot remember said that the thing she had learned early on as an actor, was that “the way your body is shaped means more to the world that what you’re thinking about.”
That sentiment, and watching all the misogynitic movie and television clips made me feel vulnerable and exposed. The film successful created the effect that I believe it wanted to. And the biggest takeaway for me about how I can personally help this issue, is to take my power back as the consumer. More and more we talk about voting with our dollars – not buying from companies that are corrupt, discriminatory, or bad for the environment. The same has to be true for movies. We can make the choice for ourselves and our children, no not see movies that depict women in sexist ways. To instead pay to see films with central, complex female characters and more importantly, films directed and produced by women.
The last thing that struck me was that the documentary was directed by a man. It seemed a little weird when that was the first thing to pop up after a documentary about female representation in the film industry. While the movie discusses the importance of male allies – this still seemed strange to me.
The Women’s Fund
If you haven’t heard of the Women’s Fund, you’re missing out. Right here in Central Ohio, this organization is focused on igniting social change for gender equality. They host numerous events that spark conversation and raise awareness, and also conduct invaluable research into related topics. What I love about this organization is that it also takes on a very intersectional approach – taking the time to also address the experiences of women of color.
Their work doesn’t only address today’s women, but also today’s girls. Not only are they focused on disrupting social norms, but they work to “empower all women and girls to reach their full potential.” From advocacy to education, they are committed to giving us our voice back. Their decision to screen this film only further proved their fierce dedication to addressing gender equity in all spaces of our culture and society. If you are interested in learning more about the Women’s Fund visit their website, or shoot me a message. We can’t fight this fight on our own. As said in the film, “misogyny is an invisible sport,” and the more of us standing together to shine a light on what’s lurking in the darkness, the greater the impact.