This weekend, one of my most-loved childhood friends got married, and I stood by her side as Maid of Honor. My role entailed organizing a bridal shower…
A few days ago I received my final grade for Writing the Short Film, a class dedicated to understanding the structure of and creating screenplays for shorts. This grade represents my successful completion of the class, and the end of late-night writing sessions, group workshops, and the frustration over writer’s block. And as I sit here, reflecting on my work this semester, I can’t help but think of the work of my fellow classmates. After all, the material of the class relied so heavily on collaboration that I’ve gotten to learn the writing styles of my classmates, and how they go through their own creative process. But I’m also reminded of my classmates themselves, and how although each of them are talented and creative individuals, together we demographically create something less-than-ideal.
On my first day of Writing the Short Film I walked into Eaton 207 and immediately noticed something: there were two boys in the class for every girl. And as… upsetting as that can be, it wasn’t completely unexpected. When I talk to my friends about movies (a common hobby of ours, as many of my friends are in Tufts University TV with me) we discuss our opinions on directors such as Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers, Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson. It’s not very often that a female director like Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, or Lisa Cholodenko would be mentioned. And that’s nothing against my friends. Rather, it’s a simple fact that male directors are more well-known, and an arguable fact that their films are more well-respected. Even a simple google search of “film directors” will name 17 male directors before their first female director (Kathryn Bigelow). A search of “film writers” names 11 men before a woman (Jane Campion), and 28 more men are listed before a second woman is.
So it was no surprise to see that there were twice as many men in my class as there were women. And yet, unlike the filmmakers in Hollywood, these students didn’t need to fight their way into the class. We registered when eligible to register, an eligibility based on age rather than gender. We individually chose this class, not thinking about such large topics as gender equality. But somehow, despite these individual thought processes, our class came together to represent a larger problem of Hollywood demographics. And to help me explain why this is an issue, or at least something to be aware of, I asked a fellow classmate, Cassidy Olsen, a series of questions via email to get her opinion as well.
Cassidy, too, said she “wasn’t surprised to find that the class enrollment mimicked the real-world balance of male and female screenwriters.” She also brought to my attention “if anything, the percentage of women in our class compared to men is actually higher than in Hollywood,” after finding a statistic from the Writer’s Guild of America West: female writers accounted for only 15 percent of feature film work in 2012, down from 17 percent in 2009. So for a campus that is so politically active and socially engaged, why aren’t more women eager to break this statistic?
The Tufts Admissions website itself boasts that at Tufts, “women take especially strong roles in the sciences and engineering.” So it’s not as if women on campus aren’t already making strides in male-dominated fields; we just haven’t gotten around to boosting our presence in film yet. Cassidy makes an interesting point, that “female screenwriters not getting work perpetuates a cycle of women not getting into screenwriting and film production.” With the country becoming more and more aware of the gender gap in our society, there’s been a push to engage women in a wide range of subjects, STEM definitely being one of them. At the end of the year GoldieBlox released a commercial (see below) “featuring” some of the most phenomenal women of 2015. Their professions include Supreme Court Justice, athlete, comedian, actress, rapper, and yes, engineer. But there isn’t one director, writer, cinematographer, editor, producer, or showrunner. Which helps emphasize Cassidy’s idea and show how women aren’t being enticed to get into film, acting aside. We don’t have many accessible role models, we don’t see women being recognized for their work, and we are getting more and more discouraged, thinking that we’ll never make it as a woman in Hollywood.So maybe the reason my screenwriting class lacked women was not because women don’t care, or aren’t interested, but because women don’t see screenwriting as a likely career, nor as an acceptable hobby.
Personally, as one of the five women in my class, and as an aspiring filmmaker in general, I feel responsible to create stories about women. It’s not that I find female protagonists more interesting than male protagonists as a whole, but to be honest, I’m tiring of only seeing movies that surround men. The American Film Institute’s Top 100 Greatest Films only feature an arguable 9 films that have female protagonists, and maybe an arguable half dozen more that have equally strong male and female leads. So I feel that it’s my responsibility to create more female protagonists, create more women who are complex and vulnerable and tough all at the same time.
Cassidy did not share this exact sentiment, but said “as a woman with a feminist perspective who is aware of how internalized misogyny can come out, [she] had trouble writing in a way that was true to [her] values and understanding of character” when writing an “all-male buddy comedy.” She noted that her script had a female character at the “center of a romantic power struggle” and kept asking herself while writing if the character was feminist, or if she was a real woman. Because it’s not that these women don’t exist in real life, but after years of having them misconstrued by male writers, it can be easy to follow by example and turn these real women into male playthings, power-up tokens to be collected on a journey toward self-discovery. As she says, “internalized misogyny is real, and societal/industrial pressures can come out in the scripts of even the most self-aware female writers.”
Many of the men in our class wrote scripts with interesting, compelling, and complex female characters. And many of the women in our class wrote scripts with male characters that could be described the same. We watched professional shorts that featured men and women of all status, age, nationality, race, and complexity. And many of these films were created by women. So the situation is not hopeless, and the gender makeup of our class could have been the luck of the draw. But the important thing is to notice these startling demographic differences when confronted with them. And we also have to keep in mind that gender aside, everyone in that class shared a similar age, education level, and campus. Even with the incredible diversity within the class, we only represented one small spectrum of the voices that are out there. So if the class is taught again next fall, I encourage you to take it, and to add your voice and your story to the mix.
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