Meryl Streep is making headlines again. This time it’s not for winning another major award or acquiring a new juicy film role. Nor is it for a who-wore-it-better dress comparison. Rather, this time it’s for using her prominent, highly respected voice to encourage the Hollywood business powersuits to give more women a chance to participate in the making of big-budget movies. At the 2012 Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards last week, she urged for a change: “In this room, we are very familiar with…dreadful statistics that detail the shocking under-representation of women in our business…[Women make up] 7-10% of directors, producers, writers, and cinematographers in any given year. This in spite of the fact that in the last five years, five little movies aimed at women have earned over $1.6bn: The Help, The Iron Lady (believe it or not), Bridesmaids, Mamma Mia! and The Devil Wears Prada. The Iron Lady…cost $14m to make it and brought in $114m. Pure profit! So why? Why? Don’t they want the money?”
Streep’s words were consistent with those of Martha Lauzen, PhD, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film. Lauzen tested the age-old notion that films featuring female protagonists bring in less profits than films featuring male protagonists. “What we actually found was that there was no statistically significant difference between films featuring female protagonists and male protagonists; or women working behind the scenes. What we found did make a difference was the size of the budget.” Lauzen then noted if women were given the same budgets as men, they would likely display similar profit margins.
There indeed seems to be a growing awareness and cultural push towards women telling their own stories through use of media, whether it be in news stories or via film and TV. Journalist Megan Kamerick is dedicated to advancing a balanced representation of women in media over all, and calls attention to the fact that while women make up half of the population, only 24% of news subjects (the people in the news stories) are female. However, women represent more images than men if they are students or homemakers.
Certainly, there’s no shortage of material if one considers any number of current news stories, one which states, “Women hold less than 20 percent of all legislative seats, 70 percent of the poorest people — those who live on less than $1.25 a day — are women, and 4 million more women die each year than men, a result of poor families’ preferences for male infants and underinvestment in women’s and girls’ health.”
So, will Hollywood see an increase of big-budget female roles and behind-the-scene positions? Will more TV shows feature a wider array of women’s concerns, struggles, and strengths? Will there be an increase of female commercial spots beyond the student and homemaker roles? It could be argued that the collective media is the most powerful force in influencing cultural perceptions. If so, what influence would this kind of change have on culture in general?