Creativity at Work: Women-made films may be viewed differently now

NORTH ADAMS — I watched the 75th annual Golden Globes Awards last Sunday. It was the first and only awards show I have been interested in watching as an adult. I wanted to hear what the attendees of this cinematic celebration had to say about the revelations of sexual misconduct of the past year as they were photographed in their black gowns and tuxes.

I was floored at the solidarity and the seriousness within the spectacle. The activist arm candy, tenacious red carpet interviews, and emboldened acceptance speeches shifted the internal moment from the reactionary #metoo to the dissident #timesup.

But Oprah Winfrey was the movement's ambassador, delivering the message to millions of Americans in a way that these other women, known and unknown, never could. Oprah is not just an entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist — she is a change agent. Her $2.8 billion net worth reflects her ability to influence what people watch, read, eat and think.

The truth is that Oprah's power, like the dozens of authoritative men that were stripped of theirs over the past three months, rests with the consumers of her products: you and me.

Movie-making is an economics game, a trillion-dollar business dictated by demand. Our decisions at the box office drive the value of industry resources that perpetuate institutional culture. Perhaps female actresses and staffers wouldn't have been so conflicted about outing powerful male abusers if they didn't think their careers would suffer.

In some ways, Americans understand the power of our wallets, the power in making consumption choices. We have exercised it to protest animal cruelty in fashion, labor exploitation in manufacturing, political influence in business, and corporate ethics in food.

And yet, this awareness eludes us when it comes to film.

"Wonder Woman," the contemporary feminist anthem directed by and starring women, is only the 125th top grossing film domestically and doesn't crack the top 50 highest-grossing films ever. More Americans went to see "Crocodile Dundee" when it hit theaters in 1986..

Aside from co-directed animated films and "Wonder Woman," the next highest-grossing female-directed film in the United States was 2008's "Twilight" with Catherine Hardwicke at the helm. Ranked as the 199th highest-grossing film domestically, the ensuing installments of the franchise — all directed by men — each out-earned the first by 30 percent and by nearly 50 percent globally.

Does this mean that films made by men are better?

In the case of the Twilight franchise, Hardwicke's film received a cumulative score of 49 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the film review aggregator, which is the same score as two other films in the series (the remaining two, New Moon and Breaking Dawn Part 1, scored 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively). Twilight received a cumulative audience score of 72 percent, the highest of all five films.

Comparisons, however, can be futile, and this is not an argument about subjectivity. At this point, to decide whether or not to watch films made by Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Paul Haggis, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Roman Polanski and others based on a qualitative assessment of their work is missing the point.

Many films made by women are culturally beloved and critically acclaimed. Women have directed roaring comedies, intense dramas, war films, period pieces, moving documentaries and razor-sharp satire. But, as Barbra Streisand pointed out at the Golden Globes, only one woman in the history of the ceremony has won a Best Director Golden Globe. Only five women have ever been nominated. That's five out of 347 nomination opportunities.

If it's outrageous that women don't seem to be given more access to opportunity, it's equally infuriating that women's films are not being seen.

At a time in America when women are the majority, when cause is more important to millennials than convenience, when intentions are weighed equally against actions, why are we not rushing to the theater to see films made by women?

For Oprah to call time on "a culture broken by brutally powerful men" in Hollywood and beyond marks, in my mind, a significant shift in how the fight against sexism, misogyny, harassment and abuse will be waged. People listen to Oprah. Let's hope her speech will encourage more Americans to support the future of female artists in film by putting our money where our hashtag is.

A former creative economy specialist for 1Berkshire, Julia Dixon is chairwoman of the North Adams Public Art Commission, and a creative economy consultant, entrepreneur and visual artist.


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