There's been a lot of talk about 2015 being the Year of the Woman in Film, but who's doing the talking? Patricia Arquette started the conversation during her speech for best actress at last year's Academy Awards when she put out a call for gender wage equality. It's a palatable message most reasonable people can get behind when discussing bus drivers and schoolteachers. We are less forgiving when someone like Jennifer Lawrence speaks out about the considerable wage gap between herself and her male costars. Admittedly, it's hard to feel bad for a woman with such radiant skin and $50 million-plus in the bank. She should just shut up and be grateful, right? But who on earth is putting on their shoes to see Jeremy Renner in American Hustle? JLaw's the one selling the tickets, yet Renner brings home more money, and this happens consistently in Hollywood and indeed many other industries all the time. One can only conclude that work done by males is valued more, and the only way to change that is to keep pointing it out, annoyingly, until it changes.
Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, Brooklyn and Star Wars: The Force Awakens have done well to put women at the center of their stories, but I'm more interested in who's behind the camera. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that women directed just 7 percent of the top films in Hollywood in 2015. They make up only 13 percent of screenwriters, and the numbers are equally dismal for producers, editors and cinematographers—and it probably goes without saying that women make less on the dollar in all of these positions.
If we open up the conversation to include racial minorities, the picture gets even more bleak. This year, the Academy failed to nominate any actors of color for the second year in a row, forcing us to dust off last year's #OscarsSoWhite. If you're thinking the disparity is only because there weren't enough standout black performances to warrant a nomination, that's exactly the point. Viola Davis summed it up when she became the first black woman to win an Emmy for best female actor: "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there."
And then there's the boys' club of film criticism. When I became a certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes late last year, it felt like one of the crowning achievements of my life. It means what I say about a movie in the Indy counts toward the overall critical consensus. I wasn't immediately aware that women comprise just 20 percent of RT critics (and that's actually a downward trend. Before the Internet, the playing field was much more equal.) The simple explanation for the disparity comes down to perception and authority. According to a December 2015 article in The Atlantic, research in the mass communication field has shown that just the mere historical lack of women in opinion writing feeds the perception that women's opinions must be less valuable.
The problem of authority was a small hurdle for me to overcome when I first started writing film criticism, although it didn't feel as though it had anything to do with being a woman. I wanted to write, "I think it's this way." But my editors said: "Lose the 'I think.' Write: 'It is this way.'" I didn't want to sound like a bossy know-it-all, but now I get it. The "I think" is implied. Today, I feel lucky I was too dense to feel self-conscious about my gender until my career was well underway and it was too late to change.
There seems to be a cultural perception that dudes are simply more interested in cinema, but that's wrong. Women buy just as many, if not more, movie tickets than men, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. And there's no scientific evidence to suggest that directing, editing, shooting or acting in film, nor writing critically about film, is somehow a specialty of the man's mind. Really, any proportion of women in the industry that dips below 50 percent means we have more work to do.
The good news is this isn't some amorphous, abstract problem with no solution. Those same studies on gender inequality reveal that women directors and producers tend to hire women to work on their movies at a rate of 50 percent, compared to 8 percent by male filmmakers. As it turns out, the solution to not enough women making movies is to hire more women to make movies.