In March, women made film histor: Kathryn Bigelow landed an Oscar for best director after 30 years in the business. In its 82 year history, the Oscars had never voted a woman as best director and have only nominated four (Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Lina Wertmuller and Ms. Bigelow). She also took home the Director’s Guild of American prize, the first woman to do so in its 60 year history. And all of this during Women’s History Month
The recognition she gained made me stop and take notice, to test the wind; has something changed? Are we moving into a new era? Has the measuring stick moved? Perhaps something in 2010 is different?
No sooner than thinking it, I heard a BBC radio debate/discussion popping with energy and emotion. The reason? A blog titled “A Rant About Women” by Clay Shirky, an NYU professor. To recap his thesis, he says that “not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks,” and women need more “role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead.”
I am pretty sure that despite his wish for more females who behave like Bernie Madoff to pave the way for other successful women (what?), Mr. Shirky’s rant intends for women to gain more of what they want. What his blog does very well is brush all the little bugs we don’t get to talk about much, out from under the carpet. Which bugs? Well, we’re actually quite familiar with these bugs. Perhaps the most difficult one to squash is the way we measure what success is, and which traits are considered desirable in a job applicant. For positions with any sort of power, hiring tends to lean towards aggressive, narcissistic and self-promoting types, traits more often discovered in males than females. For supporting positions, hiring leans towards those with less ambition who are cooperative and even meek. (Mostly associated with females.) Another bug swept from under the carpet is that white males actually hold most power positions (in film only 17% of directors are female), and they tend to hire folks that remind them of themselves (because they love themselves very much).
All fine and well, so women and people of color should just be more aggressive, more like (white) men right? Well, in the case of women, we know that often backfires. Bitchy women are bitches who should not be in power. Bitchy men are strong leaders, to be rewarded. If you take the example of just three men, often referred to in articles as jerks, Steve Jobs, James Cameron and Donald Trump, we have three prime examples of “successful leaders” who are um, also jerks, which is totally OK since they all have a schlong.
I also ran into a well intentioned blog titled: “16 People You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business.” In a blog posting only days later, the author, Timothy Hurst poked fun at himself pointing out that his first posting overlooked any women (not for lack of great female led green businesses) but a sort of “Colbertian inability to see gender.”
I think he has pegged the nail on the head. Many, (not all), of our male friends in power positions have a terrible, terrible condition. I worry for their health and their spirit. Not only are they sufferers of “Colbertian gender blindness” and unable to recognize talent across gender lines, they are blind to color and even to recognizing those with different Alma maters. In some extremely successful white males, the disease is terminal and they are unable to see past their supremely awesome meee-ness, (because it’s all about me) and can only see or hire mini-me’s. (You know who you are.)
I call upon all males who may have a touch of this disease, to take a remedy immediately. I suggest working as a secretary under a male boss for two weeks. That should be enough to shock a bit of sensitivity into most. Repeat therapy with stints as a nurse, a waitress at a restaurant like HOOTERS and as a grocery store stock person will also help. Wearing fake breasts and pantyhose is recommended to enhance the experience.
While I call upon males to be responsible, I also call upon females to create their own businesses and forge their way outside of the system. Let us lead the way with integrity, seeing across gender, color, sexuality and religion.
While we’re at it forging new paths, it doesn’t hurt to take a bit of Mr. Shirky’s advice and shamelessly promote ourselves, maybe, errrr, if it seems to be a good idea, or not.
Ok, well, if we can’t muster the nerve to promote ourselves, perhaps we can get up the gumption to recognize those woman who have inspired us, and promote them. So here it goes. This is my shout out to all the women who have inspired me along the way as an emerging filmmaker. There have been many men as well, but I will take this moment, in this month, to thank the women and shine a spotlight on their work.
To one of my professors at Michigan State, Mrs. Lisa Lorraine Whiting Dobson, until I met you I had no real evidence that woman DID work in film. It was all hearsay up until that point. You are an intuitive and inspiring teacher.
To Amanda Micheli, San Francisco’s darling for her amazing body of work.
To Sascha Ettinger-Epstein, my friend and fellow filmmaker who I am in total awe of. Your work is amazing, gritty, sensitive and desperately needed.
For the movie Jabe Babe by Janet Merewether, which is brilliant, funny and creative. It’s everything I wished I had done in a documentary, but haven’t…yet.
For the movie Entre Nos, that I saw at the Traverse City Film Festival directed by Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza, I thank you. You made an AMAAAAZING indie film that is elegant, well written, well produced and powerful.
To Maya Deren, whose haunting experimental works stay with you for a lifetime.
To Mira Nair, who spotlights strong female characters in her films Vanity Fair and Amelia, known for her excellent film Monsoon Wedding.
To Julie Delpy, actress but also director. Her films are intelligent, sexy, comic and feminine.
To Jane Campion, my long time hero, director of Sweetie, The Piano and In the Cut.
To Lynn Hershman Leeson, far out, cutting-edge and awesome.
For The Corporation, one of my all time favorite documentary films, and Jennifer Abbott, who is one of three directors.
And of course, to Kathryn Bigelow who has inspired us all.
For all of the filmmakers out there who I know and don’t know, from all walks of life, those who are established or dreaming of breaking out and getting a chance, I encourage you. If you can imagine it, with determination, there is a way for you to do it. Keep up the great work!
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