Last month, the ACLU sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission smacking down Hollywood’s sexism and insisting something be done to get more women into top positions. It was a strong move, and a new report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film titled Independent Women proves that there is no shortage of women in the independent film circuit waiting to break into Hollywood’s highest-grossing sectors.
The study found that between 2014 and 2015, 26 percent of all behind-the-scenes jobs (writers, producers, executive producers, directors, cinematographers and editors) at 23 independent film festivals were held by women. On the flip side, a complementary report shows that women held a minimal 17 percent of behind-the-scenes jobs on the 250 top-grossing films of 2014—the same percentage employed in these roles as in 1998.
On the blatant and persistent discrepancy between Hollywood and independent festivals, Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, writes:
The findings drive home the point that women who direct are much more plentiful than the numbers from the mainstream film industry would lead us to believe…Claims that qualified women directors don’t exist or are in short supply are at odds with the data.
Earlier this year The Los Angeles Times reported on the gender gap in Hollywood, saying that more large studios are looking to hire women. However, large studios are also reportedly decreasing the number of films produced in order to finance fewer projects with larger budgets. Peter Cramer, co-president of production at Universal Studios, told The Times , “The challenge on studio films is to find someone who has directed a movie of a similar size, scope and scale before”—meaning women directors are often out of the running because they lack that type of experience.
However, for many directors it was not prior experience in studio filmmaking that brought them commercial success. How would Cramer explain the choice of Colin Trevorrow as the director of Jurassic World despite having only one other (independent) feature-length film under his belt—Safety Not Guaranteed? Many male filmmakers cut their teeth on the independent festival circuit before moving on to direct big-budget films—why shouldn’t women be given the chance to do the same?