Why We Need More Filmmakers Who Aren’t Cisgender White Men

Look at the Oscar-winning filmmakers over 90 years, and you’ll see a sea of white faces. And they’re not only white, but also overwhelmingly male.

The winners have been so homogenous that this year’s nominations look like progress.

This year, directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele joined the only four black or female directors to ever be nominated for Best Director. We’ll learn if they make even more history at the Oscar ceremonies on March 4. 

If Gerwig wins for her quirky coming-of-age story “Lady Bird,” she’ll be the second woman. If Peele wins for his hilarious, sharp horror film “Get Out,” he’ll be the first black person of any gender. 

They’re trailblazers, for sure. But we can’t use their success to claim we’ve achieved diversity in Hollywood. We still have a long way to go.

Last year a University of Southern California study found that male directors outnumber female ones by 12 to 1. Furthermore, women characters are more likely to wear sexualized clothing and be less essential to the plot.

“If we were to remove a particular character, we can see if the centrality of the graph changes, which reflects how important they were to the script,” study lead Shrikanth Narayanan told the L.A. Times. “And we found that if you remove female characters, the centrality doesn’t change as much as it does for males. So one thing we’re finding is that across these various stories, more central roles are given to male characters.”

Stereotypes are a big problem. Latino characters talk more about sexuality than whites. Black characters swear more. Older characters are treated like sages.

As Jill Solloway once said, we could even the playing field by asking straight, white, cisgender – meaning non-transgender — men to take a break from films for the next century.

That’s not realistic. Instead, we need to empower talented filmmakers who don’t fit that mold.

Women. People of color. Transgender people.

Let’s give them the chances that we’ve given cis white men. Even starting small can yield big results.

For instance, the USC study found that the presence of women screenwriters bumped female representation on film by 50 percent, on average. Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer advocated against the gender pay gap and the race pay gap by tying their salaries together earlier this year.

Female filmmakers from the Canadian Screen Awards have some ideas on how those in the industry with privilege can help.

“We have seen in the past cultural moments where we have … a few notable films that sit on the minds of the population in terms of them being symbolic of representation,” Marc Choueiti, of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, told the Washington Post. “We want to see that occur more regularly and frequently across the system … rather than just pointing to specific examples where they stand in for something that we don’t see across the board.”

Making the movies more diverse means better art for everyone. It means we hear more people’s stories. It also makes money.

People of color, for one, buy movie tickets at higher rates than white people. The audiences are waiting.

Photo Credit: Peabody Awards/Flickr

67 comments

Marie W
Marie W26 days ago

Thank you.

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DAVID fleming
Dave fleming6 months ago

TY

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KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

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Lesa D
Lesa D6 months ago

thank you Emily...

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Maureen G
Maureen G6 months ago

Where did "cisgender male" come from?

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Deborah W
Deborah W6 months ago

True that filmmakers over the past 90 years WERE predominantly white-faced males. Having said that, slow progress comes from lack of funds, inability to connect in a meaningful manner to the general public. Doesn't hurt that stereotypes are now recognized as a BIG problem by more than the few ... Latino characters talk more about sexuality than whites ... Black characters swear more ... Older characters are treated like sages. Things that have always played to the crowd, newbees now catching up. Should be an interesting future ...

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