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"OSCAR IS HARDLY A LADIES' MAN" by Carrie Rickey Inquirer Movie Critic, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 8, 2006

Sunset Boulevard is a fabled thoroughfare, storied as much for its humongous movie-star mansions as for the gigantic billboards used by Hollywood to communicate with itself. Last week, one month before the Oscar ceremonies and one mile from the Kodak Theatre where the annual event is held, one billboard appeared that's already the talk of the talk shows.

That 800-pound gorilla pictured up there at the intersection of Sunset and Cahuenga isn't King Kong but Queen Kong, using one mitt to grab an Academy Award and the other to shake free of her shackles. "Unchain the Women Directors!" demands the billboard, which satirizes what's missing from this year's gold derby: nominations for female directors.

A coproduction of the Guerrilla Girls and Movies by Women, grassroots collectives dedicated, respectively, to fighting discrimination in the arts and in the film industry, the billboard speaks to what Martha Lauzen, communications professor at San Diego State University, calls "the celluloid ceiling."

Never mind that four of the six major Hollywood studios have women in top executive roles - just 7 percent of the 250 top-grossing films of 2005 were directed by women, according to Lauzen.

Only three times in 78 years has the Academy nominated a woman director: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1975), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003). None of them won (though Campion and Coppola did take home statuettes for original screenplay).

For women producers, last year's numbers are more encouraging. Of the 250 top-grossing films, 26 percent have at least one female producer. And 80 percent of the films competing for the best-picture Oscar have one female coproducer. That's good news.

The bad news is that none of the five best-picture nominees has a woman in a lead performance. Yes, there are females in Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Crash, but they play wives-of and friends-of. Good Night, and Good Luck and Munich depict virtually all-male professional worlds.

Appallingly, this ratio of males-to-females isn't just among best-picture nominees. Men outnumber women on-screen 65 percent to 35 percent, according to 2004 figures from the Screen Actors Guild. If American movies reflect U.S. society, then the mirror is distorting the number of guys and gals out there.

Who shackled Queen Kong? No one entity is responsible for the poor showing of female directors at the Oscars and female performers on screen.

In 2005, you can't entirely blame the Academy given that the handful of eligible female-directed films included Nora Ephron's unbeguiling Bewitched, Angela Robinson's running-on-empty Herbie: Fully Loaded, and Niki Caro's lumpy North Country.

You can't entirely blame actresses such as Cameron Diaz (In Her Shoes) and Drew Barrymore (Fever Pitch), who starred in excellent films that failed to connect with audiences and Academy members.

Nor can you blame the women in the executive boardrooms who agree with their male colleagues that it's commercially safer to make movies where adventurers are men and their women subsidiary to their work.

You can, however, blame these execs, male and female, though, for green-lighting safe and superfluous female-driven projects such as Bewitched and the forthcoming I Dream of Jeannie. This is the same kind of thinking that for years relegated African American actors and directors to unthreatening comedies.

Assigning blame won't change the entrenched sexism in Hollywood. But for those who think that protest won't change anything either, think again.

Ten years ago when the 1995 Oscar nominations were announced, and only one of the 166 nominees was African American, protesters cried "Blackout!" and Hollywood listened. In the intervening decade African Americans have been cast, produced and nominated in greater numbers.

With Queen Kong, the Guerrilla Girls and Movies by Women shine a klieg light on the way Hollywood is tilted against women. Ladies and gentlemen, when you're at the multiplex this weekend, ask yourself: Are you buying that ticket to a predominantly male film because that's what you want, or because that's all there is? For the sake of your daughters as well as your sons: Isn't it time to crash the celluloid ceiling?

Last Year's Films by Women Directors Top-grossing 2005 movies, ranked by U.S. box office:

36. Herbie: Fully Loaded (directed by Angela Robinson), $66 million
39. Bewitched (Nora Ephron), $63.3 million
87. The Wedding Date (Clare Kilner), $31.7 million
97. Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama), $25.9 million
117. North Country (Niki Caro), $18.3 million
Source: Financial data from Box Office Mojo

"Beware! Queen Kong is coming"

No woman has ever won a best director Oscar. But now a group of female film-makers
are determined to storm Hollywood's last male bastion.

by Sharon Krum, Friday, February 24, 2006 The Guardian, UK

If you're a power woman in Hollywood right now, the odds are your life is in something of a frenzy. The Oscars are a week away, which means the hard-core primping has begun: Botox, teeth-whitening and last-minute liposuction. Dispatches from Tinseltown suggest plastic surgeons and dermatologists are working around the clock to shave years and inches off this year's contenders. But as these women drive to their appointments they're being reminded of the one thing in their industry a scalpel can't fix: the fact that no women were nominated for this year's best director Oscar. They know this because a giant billboard, erected at the intersection of Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards is shouting these very statistics.

"Unchain the women directors!", screams a giant female gorilla clutching an Oscar while trying to break free of her chains. "Women directed only 7% of the top 200 films of 2005. No woman has ever won the best-director Oscar. Only three have been nominated."

Queen Kong, as she has become known, is the joint handiwork of feminist arts advocacy groups the "guerrilla girls" and Moviesbywomen.com, who paid $6,000 for the advert.

"Fifty years ago in America, law schools had virtually no women students or professors, and their attitude then is much like that in the film industry today," says guerrilla girl Kathe Kollwitz. "The prevailing opinion was that women don't want to be lawyers and, anyway, they wouldn't be good at it; they're too emotional. But there was a movement that forced schools to change, and nobody today says women aren't capable lawyers. We're saying the same thing. Let women in, we'll show you we can do it."

Is it really, as has long been suggested, that Hollywood is simply a boys' club? How then to explain the number of women executives in Hollywood, where six studios now have female heads of production? Maybe women just don't want to be directors?

"That's a fallacy," says Tara Veneruso, 33, who directed Janis Joplin Slept Here and is about to helm the forthcoming independent action drama Izzy. "I meet a new woman director every day in this town and I find they are struggling to get those first doors open. Women want to direct but it's simplistic to suggest it's a boys' club."

Entrenched perceptions are the key stumbling block, says Martha Lauzen, communications professor at San Diego State University. "There is still an underlying assumption that women aren't as proficient as men, and that directing's too technical, too hard. When a man makes a film that bombs, people say: 'Oh, but he has the fundamental capacity to get the job done, we'll give him another chance. When a woman fails, well, she's not up to the task.'"

"Don't be misled by the high-profile names you hear - Gurinder Chadha, Beeban Kidron, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Niki Caro, Betty Thomas, Sofia Coppola, Mary Harron - they are making great strides, but to understand what's really happening to women in Hollywood, look at the numbers."

The great mystery here, of course, is not why male executives at studios don't give women a hand up, but why the proliferation of women hasn't made a radical impact. Lauzen suggests it's because it's the male teen audience who buy the bulk of tickets every weekend.

"Action adventure movies are the tent poles of the industry, and there's still the idea that only men can direct them," she explains. Mimi Leder, who directed The Peacemaker, and Kathryn Bigelow, who directed K-19: the Widowmaker, are viewed as anomalies in the industry. "They just don't trust women with those $200m budgets," adds Veneruso. "They feel women can only direct romantic comedies. Of course women can direct anything. It's about storytelling, not gender."

Mira Nair, director of Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding recently explained how she wanted to venture into testosterone territory but was rebuffed. "I was very keen on a political thriller. I went out to LA to lobby for it and I got the vibe that they were humoring me," she said. Kidron has had similar experiences: "The only thing that I'm upset about is that I'd like to make a Bond film - and I know I'd do a good job - but that's always pooh-poohed."

One film producer, who asked not to be named, admits she finds it difficult to watch directors such as Ephron make a studio millions of dollars with You've Got Mail, only to be offered more of the same. "Many women do gravitate toward character-driven movies. But you never see the studios say: 'Hey, Nora, would you like to direct Lethal Weapon 6?'"

Director Veneruso says she is shooting her independent action film hoping it will work as a calling card. "Directors need a track record for studios to take an interest in them. It's not just women; men have to slog at it too. You have to start small and build up to it."

But starting small has its own problems. "Once, I was at the financing stage for a feature when I took a meeting with the investor. When it was over he wanted to stop at a strip club to see if I would be interested in a particular girl." To cast? "No, he wanted me to sleep with her and he would watch. The social aspect of raising money can be more complicated for women. And so much business in Hollywood is conducted through networking, it often puts women on the outside."

The oft-repeated mantra in Hollywood is that the only colour that matters is green. But Veneruso says even when a woman directs a $100m movie, there's no guarantee the studios will greenlight her next project. "Women have to prove themselves over and over, men don't have that issue."

"I think Hollywood is enamoured with the stereotype of the male genius director who bends the world to his vision," says Kollwitz. "When he's a success, they nurture him." They don't, she contends, go looking for the woman genius director.

They do, however, make quiet assumptions, says Lauzen. "There's this ridiculous idea that women become mothers and all of sudden their ambition disappears. I have spoken to plenty of women directors and that's never been the case. What they say when they're given a project is, I'll work it out."

The Queen Kong billboard comes down the day after the Oscars. Both Kollwitz and Veneruso admit it's a great stunt, but not a solution. "The answer is mentoring," says Veneruso. And events such as the Birds Eye View film festival for emerging women directors, starting in London on March 8, are also, she says, crucial for exposure.

"I was talking to a man in the business and he said: 'Well, you don't expect me to hire women just because they're women do you?'" says Kollwitz. "And I said: 'Actually, yes. Things won't change until you do'".