Women in Film celebrates female achievements

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Oscar was good to women this year.

Of the 176 nominations for the 80th Annual Academy Awards, 43 (24%) went to women. Three of the films nominated for best picture had female producers: Lianne Halfon ("Juno"), Jennifer Fox ("Michael Clayton") and JoAnne Sellar ("There Will Be Blood"). Four of the 10 writing nominees were women: Diablo Cody ("Juno"), Nancy Oliver ("Lars and the Real Girl"), Tamara Jenkins ("The Savages"), and Sarah Polley ("Away From Her"). And the best actress and supporting actress categories boasted both new and familiar faces.

Women in Film celebrated the accomplishments accordingly. The nonprofit that champions and mentors women in the entertainment industry -- and which is observing its 35th anniversary this year -- threw its first Oscar party in February.

"It's important to look around and say, 'Good job!'" says Jane Fleming, WIF president and a producer at her own company, Shot in the Dark Entertainment.

Good job, indeed. In light of the statistics on the number of females working in entertainment, the 2008 Oscars were monumental.

Women comprised only 15% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic-grossing films of 2007, according to "The Celluloid Ceiling," the annual study conducted by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State University's School of Theatre, Television and Film and director of SDSU's newly created Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. That figure is actually down two percentage points from when Lauzen began the study in 1998.

"I was very surprised," Lauzen says, "and honestly, considering that this is 2008, I remain surprised."

The surprises kept coming, especially in the field of directing. In 2007, on the same 250 films, the number of female directors was a dismal 6%; that figure has also declined one percentage point from the previous year. And female cinematographers? A minuscule 2%.

In television, women are faring somewhat better. According to Lauzen's annual "Boxed In" study, during the 2006-07 primetime season, women accounted for 26% of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors and directors of photography working on sitcoms, dramas and reality programs -- an increase of two percentage points over the previous season. What's more, women comprised 35% of writers and 38% of producers.

There's also some good news in the executive ranks.

"There are women producers and studio heads and network heads and agents and managers," says Iris Grossman, ICM talent agent and WIF president emeritus and awards chair. "At the executive level, I think we're doing great."

Such progress is cause for rejoicing, but the big picture is still gloomy.

According to U.S. government statistics, women outnumber men 152 million to 148 million and in 2007 comprised 46% of the labor force. But in entertainment? Not so much.

This is significant for reasons beyond the obvious. In addition to gender equality, what's suffering is what Fleming calls "diversity of voice."

"That the numbers of women working behind the scenes in the film industry are actually on the decline is mind-boggling when you consider that these are the architects of our culture," Lauzen explains. "The people who tell the stories in our culture ultimately control that culture and have a lot of power over how we see groups of people, events, etc. -- and that remains a mostly male activity." Furthermore, she notes, it's mostly an upper-middle-class white male activity.

Those men make excellent films and TV programs, of course, and the industry does hire, mentor and promote women. In fact, WIF's Paltrow Mentorship Award -- which is going to famed former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing this year during tonight's Crystal + Lucy Awards at the Beverly Hilton -- is named after the late Bruce Paltrow "because he mentored so many women in the entertainment business," Fleming says.

But the disparity in the numbers renders WIF and its support and celebration of women in entertainment all the more important.

"We keep building on those tangible programs that actually make a difference, where we're actually out there giving funds through scholarships and grants or through the Film Finishing Fund," Fleming says, "or we're actually giving hands-on training, like with the PSA Program or our mentoring or internship programs."

The Film Finishing Fund helped one woman become not only a 2008 Oscar nominee but a winner: One of last year's recipients, Cynthia Wade, won (with Vanessa Roth) the best documentary short Oscar for "Freeheld."

"The men have always had, in quotes, 'The Boys Club,' so maybe it's now time to have 'The Girls Club,'" Grossman says.
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