Behind the Scenes


Alexa Druyanoff

While the Hollywood sign symbolizes glamor and fame, there is another side to the entertainment industry.

“And here are the all-male nominees.” Just three years ago, Natalie Portman spoke these famous words as she introduced the nominees for Best Director at the 2018 Academy Awards. Since then, her pointed recognition of this pertinent inequity seems to have struck a chord with the entertainment industry. At the 2021 Academy Awards, Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director, and Emerald Fennell was the first woman in 13 years to win Best Screenplay for Promising Young Woman, a female-led thriller centered around sexual harassment.

According to The Guardian, there are more women than ever working in the entertainment industry this year. This is salient progress, and a step in the direction towards equal female representation in film and television, which has long been absent. But these parameters of progress deserve context.

According to a February 2020 study by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, while women comprise 49% of the total workforce in media and entertainment, the majority of those women occupy entry-level positions. Women make up just 27% of C-suite positions, which include Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO) and others. Celluloid Ceiling, a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego University published annually since 1998, supports McKinsey’s data, showing that women do not occupy the majority of high-level positions in film production. In 2019, female directors, writers, producers and cinematographers made up only 21% of staff on top-grossing films, and that number has increased by a mere 4% since 1998. We should not belittle the importance of the work done by women in all roles, but the positive change in the number of women working in entertainment is overshadowed by the fact that they do not have jobs equal in stature to those of men.

This pattern is also visible within the most public aspects of the industry, including esteemed awards ceremonies. Just 11 years ago, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director in the awards’ then-81 year history. Rachel Morrison was the first woman to win for Best Cinematography, but only in 2018.

Accepting the Powerhouse Award at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards, pop superstar Dua Lipa spotlighted “how far [women] have to go,” pointing out that women made up only 2.6% of Billboard Hot 100 song producers that year (less than 1% were women of color) and one-sixth of songwriters. At the 2021 Video Music Awards, out of six nominees for Artist of the Year, five of them women and four women of color, the only white man nominated won. It’s 2021. In the past 10 years and certainly within the last 50, the world has been rocked by an awakening to how hard women must fight to be seen, heard and understood. For all of the good change, how come this barrier still exists? And more importantly, what damage is it doing? Why is it a problem that women aren’t at the top?

Because where women are absent, men are abundant. Moreover, the barrier keeping women out of high-level media jobs is allowing patriarchal practices to pervade another part of society. If women are doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes but men are running the show and receiving all the credit for it, hopeful generations of girls are taught that women are still being forced into their historic role: to be quiet, subservient, helpful but never audacious, hardworking but never bold. It sends the message that women cannot or should not be leaders, when, in reality, so many of them are—they just go unrecognized. They are the likes of Doja Cat, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Megan Thee Stallion and Ariana Grande at the VMAs and in a world that bends to Justin Bieber. It’s important that society doesn’t deny or diminish the progress it is slowly making. But we have a long way to go, and a great deal of change to be made.

Until we get there, Celluloid Ceiling is a fitting name for the study that details the profound inequity women continue to face.