Women and Film: Katie Couric and Others Reflect

As we head into Oscar weekend, we talk with Katie Couric, Catherine Hardwicke and more about the underrepresentation of women in film and how we might improve things moving forward…

Broadcast worldwide to millions of viewers, the Oscars are meant to be a celebration of the greatest cinema of the past year. Unfortunately, the glitzy event has also become an annual reminder of the serious lack of female representation in Hollywood.

None of the 9 Best Picture nominees this year were helmed by a women and in the 84 years since the category has existed, including this one, only 4 women have ever been nominated for Best Director. And only 1 has won.

It’s not for lack of talent though. Melissa Silverstein of Women in Hollywood has a list of women who made excellent films in 2011 but were inexplicably left out of the Academy Award conversation (watch her video here). It’s no wonder though when you consider, as the Los Angeles Times reported last week, that 77% of the Academy voters are male.

Yet recognition at the Oscars is just one of many problems talented women in Hollywood face. We recently asked some very successful women, inside and outside of Hollywood, their thoughts on the current status of women and film.

Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight and Thirteen, believes “trying to get different stories told– movies that break out of the box and speak from a different perspective” is the biggest obstacle women facing female filmmakers and female actors today.

“Almost every actress I know would benefit from more complex characters where they could really shine,” added Hardwicke. She mentions Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster and Hilary Swank in Girls Don’t Cry as examples of what women are capable of when given ambitious roles.

Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role, made over $392 million at the box office

Katie Couric, who has worked in front of and behind the camera for decades, believes ageism is another factor maintaining Tinseltown’s glass ceiling.

“Stephen Sondheim wrote the great lyric, “First you’re another slow-eyed vamp. Then someone’s mother. Then, you’re camp,” and I think despite that line being 40 years old, many actresses in Hollywood still find it true today. There may be ageism at play, a sense that once you’re taking Centrum Silver you may not be right for most leading roles on the silver screen,” she said.

Yet the former Host of CBS Evening News attributes even more of the problem to the lack of women behind-the-scenes.

“I think too often in answering this question we focus on leading ladies rather than the lack of ladies who lead. In 2011, women directed just 5% of the top grossing films, were just 18% of all executive producers and just 4% of all cinematographers,” said Couric. “Yes, Hollywood needs to put aside the notion that a gal of a certain age can’t be sexy, but the problem is much more than skin deep.”

In the video above Jennifer Todd, a producer on Memento and Alice and Wonderland, asks “did women start going to the movies less, or did we stop making programming for them more?.”

Martha Lauzen, citing her own research at San Diego State University, found that in comparing the box office returns of films featuring female protagonists with those with male protagonists “there was no statistically significant difference.” What did matter though was the budget and support these films received from the studios.

Yet as part of a media industry where only 3% of the top clout positions are held by women, it would seem that female-led films, and the women who want to make them, are simply being ignored.

“We need to foster the next generation of women leaders behind the camera, women like the late Laura Ziskin who scaled the studio walls like Spiderman (her film, by the way) and came in with guns blazing, action-film style,” said Couric. “If more women ran the show, the show would most likely feature more women, and in roles that authentically depict all the stages of life.”

What’s your take? How do we change the numbers in Hollywood? Leave your ideas below and join us Sunday night during the Oscars as we live-tweet the media’s portrayal of women on the Red Carpet using #femTV, as part of our SexyorSexism? campaign. We will also participate in the Women’s Media Center conversation around the lack of women in film using #whereRwomen throughout the night.

by Imran Siddiquee