At the 86th Academy Awards this year, Cate Blanchett, the Australian actress of screen and stage, accepted her second Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, in which she played the lead.
“Perhaps, to those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they are not,” Blanchett told the crowd as she held a male figure rendered in gold.
Her admonition to the filmmaking elite attending the Academy Awards was not unwarranted. As a new study by fivethirtyeight.com suggests, a common myth persists among filmmakers and studios that films about and for women do poorly at the box office. Studios and filmmakers often credit the poor turnout of female films as the reason that more aren’t created.
In 2007, former Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov stated his company would stop making films about women after a poor performance at the box office of several films with leading women including The Invasion and The Brave One featuring Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster respectively.
The idea that women are bad for business has been oft refuted by box office statistics that show women attend movie theaters with the same frequency as men. In fact, ticket stats released by MPAA, a lobbying group in Hollywood, in 2013 show that women actually attend theaters at a higher percentage than men – 52 percent to men’s 48 percent.
The films that female moviegoers see are made mainly by men and about men. Of the top 250 films created in 2012, women accounted for 9 percent of directors according to a Celluloid Ceiling report. The same report found that the largest percent of the films studied, 38 percent, employed zero or only one woman.
With women comprising a small part of the filmmaking process, female filmmakers locally worry that stories about women can’t, or maybe aren’t, being accurately portrayed by male filmmakers.
“In order to make a good work, it has to be personal in some way,” says Karen Skloss, an Austin documentary and narrative filmmaker, “and there’s a big difference between the perspective of a man and a woman.”
Michelle Voss, the founder and executive director of Femme Film Texas, an Austin organization that teaches filmmaking and media literacy to young women, believes the differences between men and women in filmmaking are cultural. She believes an exclusive male movie culture is responsible for the lack of women in filmmaking.
“[From] my experience… working in film and noticing there just weren’t even women to hire, there was something weird happening in the culture where women were not thinking of themselves as filmmakers,” says Voss. “Then they weren’t getting the technical skills to make films.”
Voss’ female filmmaking programs are just some of the advances for females in film. The implementation of the Bechdel test, a test that measures the amount and context of female speaking roles in movies, is gaining traction. In Sweden, cinemas are now rating films based on their measuring up (or failing) to the test. All female film festivals like Birds Eye View of London are similarly appearing.
“I think it’s become kind of hip and cool to be a female filmmaker now,” Skloss says. “And it’s something I’m really excited about.”