By Boyd Falconer, PhD and Jim Amos
Sometimes we pull a muscle patting ourselves on the back when even the smallest amount of change occurs. Lost two pounds in six months? Yes, let’s celebrate with ravioli. Managed to clean half the garage? That calls for a nap.
2017 is being heralded as The Year of the Woman in Hollywood and to a certain extent that is indeed the case. But look at the bar on which we are grading. The percentage of widely available films directed or produced by women have historically been in the single digits, so the fact that we are making any sort of progress in that field is admirable, but it also brings to mind the phrase once you’re at the bottom the only way to go is up. And if you compare the film business with other industries you’ll see that women in film aren’t making the kind of inroads that other female executives are making.
But if you take a deep dive into the details, 2017 should provide cause for optimism for women in film. Patty Jenkins delivered one of the most beloved and successful superhero films in history in “Wonder Woman” and that beeping noise you hear is the Brinks truck backing into her driveway with her well-deserved payday for “Wonder Woman 2”. In addition, 2017 has seen directorial efforts from exceptional female directors like Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, Niki Caro, Lucia Aniello, Dee Rees, Trish Sie and an eagerly anticipated film (“Lady Bird”) from indie actress turned helmer Greta Gerwig.
In addition, this year’s crop of Best Actress Oscar nominees is the most voluminous and luminary in ages. Julia Roberts, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Jessica Chastain, Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, Michelle Williams, Nicole Kidman, Isabelle Huppert and Jane Fonda all could lay claim to one of the five spots on Oscar night. Most industry experts agree that 2017 will be a much better year for actress performances than ones from their male counterparts.
In addition, Emma Thomas produced one of the most successful films of the year in “Dunkirk” and producer Megan Ellison’s studio, Annapurna Pictures, is already making and distributing films. In addition, the latest instalment of the Star Wars series this December is under the guidance of Lucas Film President and producer extraordinaire Kathleen Kennedy.
This follows an overall trend across all businesses. For example, according to both American Express and Womenable, 340,000 net new jobs were created by female owned companies between 2007 and 2015 while male owned businesses actually shed net 1.2 million jobs. The percentage of women at top levels of Fortune 500 companies is at an all-time high.
But despite those impressive statistics, real world challenges remain for women in business. Many women have expressed a concern about coming off as too aggressive in a business environment. A recent client of Boyd’s describes this experience beautifully. During early negotiations for a new business deal, Donna, as we’ll call her, felt afraid to be firm and clearly state what she believed to be fair. “Through experience, I eventually learned that, woman or not, my business would fail if I refused to defend or fight for it.”
Another female entrepreneur, featured in Babson College’s Global Entrepreneur Monitor, describes similar success by ceasing to worry about hurdles. “I have stopped worrying if people will treat me differently in business because of my gender … and have stopped comparing myself to others, including men,” she said. “The bottom line is, if you’re successful, no one cares whether you are man or a woman.”
“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” Sally Kempton
But there are still major chasms to traverse in the motion picture business. An excellent example of this was this summer’s “Wonder Woman”. As late as 6-8 weeks before release there were still many men in the industry who doubted the box office grossing potential of a superhero movie featuring a female lead and a female director. Most often that female bias was hidden under a pile of specially selected statistics and gut reactions but in other cases the misogyny was overt, especially in the anonymous world of social media. There are now 820 million reasons why they needn’t have worried about whether moviegoers would accept and embrace a female superhero and director (overall worldwide gross–$820,000,000).
Outside of Hollywood, women are also finding the terrain of success as arduous as ever, despite the modest gains of the past few years. Surveys and interviews of businesswomen in recent years show that the common traits of entrepreneurship – nimbleness, adaptability, persistence, customer-centricity and humor – are the keys to success. Not software, not funding, not personal networks, but behavioral traits. It’s grit. It’s a focus on avoiding mediocrity and staying the course.
“To me, the only sin is mediocrity.” Martha Graham
In life’s moments of utter joy, you ought to find yourself free of pain. At the very least, you ought not be worrying about hurdles in front of you. So 2017 may well be The Year of the Woman in Hollywood, and for a moment or two (or six!) on Oscar night, many women taking that stage will be experiencing utter joy.
We all still sense much pain among women across the cinematic landscape. Yet there is palpable momentum on their side. And as long as we avoid mediocrity, we’ll keep Martha Graham happy.
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