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Does Sex Still Sell?

Does Sex Still Sell?

Articles - Directing

Actress-producer Rosie Perez, producers Margo Lion and Jean
Doumanian, actress Swoosie Kurtz and playwright Wendy Wasserstein
at the New York Women in Film & Television’s 25th anniversary.

Women have really come long
way in the entertainment industry over the past few years…. Haven’t
they? Actually, the perceptions and the facts are alarmingly

“The Celluloid Ceiling,” a recent study by
San Diego State professor Martha M. Lauzen, revealed some disturbing
facts about the entertainment industry. Of the 250 domestic top-grossing
films of recent years, men directed more than nine out of 10
and served as cinematographers on virtually all of them. Even
if you believe that’s less than shocking, considering that directors
and DPs have always been male-dominated fields, it doesn’t end
there. Men also wrote and created eight out of 10 situation comedies
and dramas airing on the broadcast networks. In fact, women comprised
just 23 percent of all executive producers, producers, directors,
writers, editors and DPs. What’s worse, the study found that
the number of women writers actually declined in
recent seasons, dropping from 27 percent in 2001 to 19 percent
in 2002.

“None of these statistics surprises me,” says Orly Ravid, who
runs her own film distribution and consultation company, Film Huddle,
in Los Angeles. “In the film industry, as in the rest of the world,
men are less confident about women’s abilities—and less inclined
to give women the same chances as men… Women have to be twice as
smart, talented and strong.”

For Paula Goldberg, a Los Angeles-based writer-director
who has worked in both television and film, the entertainment
industry is about building relationships, and “men tend to build stronger
relation­ships with other men.” The key, says Goldberg, who
now works as the creative director for a female boss at an online
greeting card company called BeatGreets, “is simply for women to
build better relationships with women.”

Women Make Movies, Women in Film and Television and Women in the
Director’s Chair exist for precisely these reasons. These organizations
help women help each other succeed in an industry where even the
most privileged men can sometimes fall flat.

Women Make Movies began in New York City in 1973, the year after
NOW (National Organization of Women) formed, and during a time
when women like Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller and Gloria Steinem
were actively boycotting the sexism of mainstream media like The
Miss America Pageant, Ladies Home Journal and Playboy.
These same women knew that the media—who could promote their cause—held
the key to women’s liberation, and therefore were sure to invite
the press to every boycott, protest and march.

Women Make Movies was the next logical step.
For 30 years, the organization has worked to amend the “the under-representation
and misrepresentation of women in the media industry” through its
Production Assistance Program, which counsels women on how to successfully
fundraise for projects. It also runs the Distribution Services
Program, the leading distributor of women’s films and videos in
North America. Women Make Movies markets its 400-plus titles from
New York City through its catalog of documentary, experimental,
animation, dramatic and mixed media works. In the last five years
alone, the catalog has earned women media makers more than $1 million.

Women in Film Near You

CineWomen LA
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Women in the

Women in Film & Television

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Women Make Movies
Image Network

Women in Film started in Los Angeles in 1973 after journalist
Tichi Wilkerson-Kassel read a Hollywood Reporter story that
reported that women had written just two percent of the television
stories that year. The small group of women Wilkerson-Kassel organized
in the wake of this abysmal statistic became the first Women in
Film. The organization has since developed a local base of 2,400
members, along with a number of female empowering programs including
a Film Finishing Funds, a college scholarship and a high school
internship program.

There are also the more high-profile events such as the annual
Crystal Awards and Lucy Awards (named for Lucille Ball) for outstanding
achievements by women in film and television. The Dorothy Arzner
Director’s Award and the Martini Shot Mentor Awards celebrate the
many outstanding men who have helped women shatter the celluloid

In 1978, the New York chapter changed to include
Women in Film and Television. Since then, the organization has
become a global enterprise, with 40 international chapters (from
Atlanta to Africa) and some 10,000 members worldwide. There are
the annual conferences around the world, yet members operate
mostly through their local chapters, which provide members with  directories,
seminars, workshops and other public events meant to help women
network and community-build.

Women in the Director’s Chair started in Chicago
in 1981 to serve as a “resource for people committed to building a movement for
social justice, and a forum for lively public dialogue on a wide
range of critical issues.” Programs include a media literacy project
that works with incarcerated youth, a video archive and library
of over 700 tapes for educators and activists, a community center
with a 100-seat venue for screenings and workshops and an e-mail
list. The organization’s largest project is its 10-day March media
festival, which showcases more works by women than any other festival
in the country.

Despite these organizations, women’s progress
in the entertainment industry, as surveys like “The Celluloid Ceiling” point
out, is slow and uneven. While the women who founded them couldn’t
have imagined a Sherry Lansing, the first woman to run a studio,
it now seems as if Lansing might go down as the only woman to
ever do so.

For many, the problem is that these organizations
operate in what could be described as a “pink ghetto.” While
they can and do help women network with each other, they do so
at a distance from the mainstream entertainment industry, where
(white) men evidently still direct nine out of 10 of the top
films. For lasting change to take place, women in large numbers
will have to infiltrate the middle, where the gender hierarchy
lives and breathes, and where those with unshakable power make
the executive decisions.

There are also limitations within these organizations.
As Ravid points out, “the women with power are usually not at the meetings.
So networking is good to a point, but it’s hard to get beyond a
certain level.” This is not to say that these organizations are
not worthwhile. As Ravid concludes, “you just have to be realistic
about what can come of participating in them.”

Whatever achievements women in entertainment have made over the
late 30 years would likely have been impossible without organizations
like Women Make Movies, Women in Film and Television and Women
in the Director’s Chair, which are still run by small groups of
tireless and idealistic volunteers. Maybe the key is to ask not
what these organizations can do for you, but what you can do for
these organizations? As one of the most powerful and respected
men in history once said, from there anything is possible. MM

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