The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem (Part Three)

The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem, directed by Caroline Suh, features six, five-minute short films on the gender gap in Hollywood. The title derives from Dr. Stacy Smith’s research, which finds that only 4.4% of approximately 1,100 top-grossing films (2002-2012) are made by women directors.

Among the many intriguing answers that were given, three of them stand out: They are not talented enough. They are not dedicated enough. They don’t know how to handle budgets. The 4% discusses them here:

They are not talented enough

This is harsh but believe it or not, every woman has thought about it in some form or another. Maybe men are just better at doing this? When asked about why not more female filmmakers get recognized by the industry, many (including women) will say there aren’t many qualified women out there. It is simply not true. Readers of this site will probably know better. The 4% suggests that the gender percentage in film schools is 50/50, and thus the sudden drop in the job market is not only dramatic but ridiculous.

And after my interviews with Deborah Riley Draper (director of Olympic Pride, American Prejudice) and Leena Yadav (director of Parched), I discovered a repeated theme – it is extremely difficult for a woman director (regardless of how talented they are) to find funding. Female directors in The 4% say that it takes a woman five to six years to work again if her first film flops. That is unfair if we were to compare this to the amount of opportunities were given to male directors. After the indie auteur, Richard Linklater, experiencing several commercial flops, Scott Rudin still approached him about School of Rock.

In the end, it is a matter of the amount of opportunities available to women. And it’s not enough. You can’t expect the first one you take a shot at is gonna be a golden cockerel. It’s like giving a young Beethoven the piano forte and says “Now you play like Mozart!” Talent needs to be found, cultivated, and shown. It’s a costly process but can be managed within limits. All we need is for the producers and agents to bestow the same faith they throw at men upon women. It can be done and promises success since – well, it works for men!

They are not dedicated enough

To some extent, I think this is perhaps a bigger problem. As Fran Lebowitz put it (I paraphrase it here), the difference between men and women is that when they have a baby, women seem to be really interested in it. Director of Fifty Shades of Grey, Sam Taylor-Johnson took a break in her career to take care of her babies. She talks about her experience to find a job after her break in The 4% and how the doors close because of her role as a mother.  

This is fascinating because now we are digging into the biological difference that leads to the depiction of women as sensitive, kind, delicate, and loving. How can one of them even want to (not to mention has the capacity to) make a movie like Transformers? Yet when asked, almost all the women would want to make a Hollywood blockbuster. And after watching the rough, handheld aesthetics of Hurtlocker, who would’ve thought that it was made by a woman. This, I concede, is not a fair way to win an argument. Yet it’s not really a fair question to ask in the first place, is it? How can you handle this task, which is your job, while being a mother? If passion, hard work, and talent cannot stand on their own, there is no way to persuade one that a mother, like a father, would want to do her job right.

Even if you believe into those stereotypes, more than half of the population are sensitive, kind, delicate, and loving, and a lot of them go to the movie theatre. So why not more fantasies for women? Why not women writers writing about relationships? It makes money. Indeed, despite how you feel about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey has garnered a remarkable $571 million at box office. So somebody has watched it.

They don’t know how to handle budgets

This statement technically belongs to the first one, but as so many people give it credit, it has earned its place as an individual category. Money. Ah, money! The idea that some think women will inevitably tremble and fall before $100 million is preposterous, considering the reality it is men who have the propensity to go over budgets: see Spielberg’s Jaws, the 24th James Bond film (Spectre), and of course Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

I’m not saying that a woman would never make this kind of mistake (in fact many of them are happy ones even though some almost bankrupted their studios). But if you can let a man risk everything you have ever owned, why can’t you let a woman gamble a little?

Some last thoughts:

I fully understand the futility of speech; it might not be much but it’s something. I wearied myself out and you were probably crying that you had heard all those things before. But if you made it to here, it would mean that you want to hear something and something real. So here they are.

Regardless of what you do, if you were a woman out there and you wanted to do something really difficult, you’d better do it. Not in a Taylor Swift (if you do it, you will get it) kind of feminist movement, but a subtle kind of rebellion, a little stirring beneath the frozen land that suggests that spring is coming.

It is unfair that we are trapped in the South Pole, but it will be idiotic if we just sit around and starve ourselves so we can be thin enough for that rugged man to carry us out of the icy coffin with his thick arms.

Try. Work. And work hard. Fail or not, you did something. One person tried. And that means a lot.

I personally believe that besides schooling and encouragement, success is a chance study. The more women attempting to reach the star, the more likely that one of us will get there. The next female Spielberg will be lucky. She will succeed not because of her own merits but because so many other women have attempted and built a stair. She will be less likely to be dissuaded from her goals because she has more faith. She will be more likely to have opportunities because other women have opened doors.

Yes. It will be incredible if we were her. And we might be. But even if we weren’t, how dare you to say that those women – those that labored and dreamed and loved with such passion – are not important to history?

The 4% is set to debut on Epix on March 8, International Women’s Day.

© Peier Shen (11/1/16) FF2 Media

Photo Credit: Jigsaw Productions

Tags: Caroline Suh, Gender inequality, Peier Shen, The 4%: Film's Gender Problem

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