Hollywood, we have a women problem. Women in Hollywood are underpaid, underrepresented in leadership and unable to find enough high-quality roles.
According to Forbes, last year, just four actresses made more than $20 million per movie, compared to 21 actors. While some may say that’s because movies that feature male leads make more money at the box office, their explanation doesn’t pass muster.
San Diego State University film professor Martha Lauzen found that “when the size of the budget is held constant, films with female protagonists or prominent females in an ensemble cast earn similar box office grosses (domestic, international, opening weekend) and DVD sales as films with male protagonists… Films with larger budgets generate larger grosses, regardless of the sex of the protagonist.”
This may not be new information to individuals, particularly females, who make their living making movies, but in the past few weeks, Hollywood’s problem with gender inequality has once again become painfully clear in high profile ways.
Jennifer Lawrence, current It Girl, published a highly-read and talked about opinion piece (subscription-only) about the gendered pay differences on American Hustle.
San Diego State University released a study that showed female directors and producers are more likely to hire female crew members – finding that on productions where at least one-third of the producers and executive producers were women, the number of female directors, writers, editors and cinematographers that were hired more than doubled. So it’s not that women don’t want to work in Hollywood, but they may only get hired if a woman is in charge.
And now it’s being reported that Maureen Dowd’s first big piece for The New York Times Magazine will be an exposé about gender inequality in Hollywood.
Hollywood needs to realize that they’re facing an industry-wide crisis. If they hope to control the narrative (and outcome), someone will need to take decisive action. But who will take the lead in improving the status quo? Who has the most to gain and enough power to shake things up? What can be done?
Here are five clear steps that someone (or some studio) must take in order to improve the situation and get credit for proactively addressing the issue:
1. Good communication can’t make up for bad business decisions.
Hollywood needs to add transparency to pay discussions, and assume that money decisions will become public. If men and women are working the same amount of days in similar roles and have equivalent star power, their pay should be comparable. I realize that two of the three of these are not easily quantifiable, but there is no public relations plan that can gloss over unequal pay among superstars. If a studio (or a coalition of studios) makes a public pledge to even the playing field and be open about pay, there is a real opportunity to be seen as a leader and improve relationships with top female talent.
2. Support existing talent.
We need a well-resourced effort to support women producers and directors. Studios can commit to increasing the number of female-directed movies by a certain percentage over the next five years. And then they have to do it. The talent is there, the studios have to be committed to fostering it.
3. Create new talent.
If studios are having a hard time finding that talent, they should consider launching a paid apprenticeship or internship program that targets females at top film schools and helps increase the talent pool.
4. Change the statistics.
You know the system is broken if the number of female crew members increases when a woman is in charge of the set. Again, set goals for diversity (gender and elsewise) to even the playing field and give opportunities where they’re deserved and earned.
5. Come up with new ideas.
Create a coalition across studios to brainstorm additional solutions to improve Hollywood’s record on women. The coalition needs to include decision makers and come up with new, impactful ideas in a short amount of time.
Yes, Hollywood has a women problem and the path forward won’t be without cost. Women will continue to demand better, if not equal, treatment by Hollywood, and they need active support from their male counterparts and industry heads in order to bring about change successfully. Wise individuals will see this turning point as an opportunity – an opportunity to insert new creativity and voices into an industry overcome by tradition and sequels.
Shira Fine recently relocated to sunny California, after spending the last decade working as a strategic communications professional in Washington, D.C. She is a vice president in SKDKnickerbocker’s Los Angeles office, where she advises a range of corporate and non-profit clients.