International Women’s Day: Shine Global and Women in Film

Shine Global Women - Intl Womens Day 2017

By Alexandra Blaney

Today is International Women’s Day and Shine Global is very proud to celebrate the many women we have worked with over the years as filmmakers, subjects, and activists.  Over 70% of the films Shine has produced or been involved with since our founding, have been directed or co-directed by women while all of them have had female producers.  And on screen as well, we have shared the stories of many resilient and strong women and girls including Rose and Nancy in War/Dance, Perla and Zulema in The Harvest, Inocente in the Oscar-winning Inocente, Lois and Noor in Dancing in Jaffa, Pushpa in Waiting for Mamu, Phreeda Sharp in 1 Way Up, Aisholpan in The Eagle Huntress, and Fon and Eye on The Wrong Light.

In the film world, gender inequality both on and off the screen has become a push button topic.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation of major Hollywood studios just found that they “systemically discriminated” against female directors and the EEOC is currently in talks with those studios in an attempt to address the charges.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has conducted extensive research and published many studies on women’s on-screen representation and behind-the-scenes employment.  They found that in 2016, only 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films were women, which actually represents a 2% decline from the previous year and is on par with percentages achieved almost 2 decades ago, in 1998.  In independent film, outside of the major studios, women are better represented, accounting for 25% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers. The Center for the Study of Women also found women are much more likely to work on documentaries than on narrative features. In the festivals they studied for the 2016 The Women in Independent Film Report, women comprised 35% of directors working on documentaries versus 19% of directors on narrative features. These numbers show there is still a long way to go to achieve gender parity.

This behind the scenes inequality is reflected on screen as well.  While the number of female protagonists of the 100 top grossing films in 2016 increased from 2015 by 7% to make up 29% of film protagonists, in films helmed exclusively by men, women were only 18 percent of protagonists.  In films with at least one female director or writer, 57% of protagonist were women.  Overall, audiences were still more than twice as likely to see male characters than female characters in top grossing movies, even with such blockbusters as the female-starring Rogue One.

And why does this matter?  Media has a huge influence on our social and cultural behavior, especially on children who are engaging with media up to 7-10 hours a day.  Omission or negative depictions in media can have lasting consequences for children’s beliefs and values.  Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media operates with the belief that “if she can see it, she can be it” and has been working towards increasing representation of women both on and off screen.  We’ve seen this maxim at work first hand with The Eagle Huntress.  Since Aisholpan’s debut as the first female to compete at the Golden Eagle Festival, three more girls have entered.

An article in AAUW Outlook magazine titled “The High Cost of Hollywood’s Gender Bias” found that women on screen are mostly see in traditionally female-dominated occupations, such as teachers and waitresses, and underrepresented in high-level occupations, such as doctors and engineers. A Geena Davis Institute study that analyzed gender roles in popular films distributed between January 1, 2010, and May 1, 2013, found that women held only 13.9 percent of senior executive positions, and only men were depicted as partners in law firms.

While women are underrepresented as a whole, representation for women of color is even worse with only 24% of women on screen being non-white.

At Shine we are proud of our track record of women-lead films and we are part of the movement demanding gender equality in the film industry and across all professions. Women and girls deserve to be seen and heard.