Equity in the Film World: A Conversation with Screenwriter Amy Fox
Did you know that more than half of US moviegoers are women? Or that films with female leads gross significantly more than those with male leads? How about that scripts written by women yield a higher return on investment? (Check out Women and Hollywood for these and more statistics.)
Despite these trends, only 4 women have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, and Kathryn Bigelow stands alone as the only woman director who has ever actually won. In 2016, women represented a fraction of directors, writers, cinematographers, producers, and editors working on the top 100 grossing films.
This left us wondering what’s up with the film business. We sat down with acclaimed screenwriter, playwright, educator, and fellow Avenger Amy Fox to find out more.
Fox was on the lookout for organizations taking on the mission of more gender equitable representation when she found out about the first New York GenderAvenger meetup via Facebook.
“There is a lot of conversation around how we make more women visible in the public sphere and I was attracted to GA because they have a very specific and concrete set of tools that need to find their way into more hands,” she told us.
A passionate advocate for elevating women’s voices in the arts and the workplace, Fox wrote the screenplay for “Equity”, described by the New York Times as “bracing, witty and suspenseful ... a feminist thriller sharply attuned to the nuances of its chosen milieu". Starring Anna Gunn, lead by women creatives, and backed by women investors, “Equity” tackles gender stereotypes in the cutthroat world of investment banking.
Working on "Equity" proved to be a turning point for Fox.
“I see myself as an activist for women’s voices through my own work, the work of people I teach, and in public speaking,” she tells us.
“But I think I came to that in the last five years. It wasn’t how I saw my career path in the beginning, but doing this project about women on Wall Street and looking at some of the clear sexism in that world ended up opening my eyes to the more systemic issues in my field and others. Hearing from women who have seen the film that they, too, have had these experiences in a variety of professions made me even more passionate.”
Early on, Fox experienced success, but it was soon followed by a lull. She sees this inexplicable gap in work in the context of a trend among women in film.
“It was later that I started to see the actual statistics on how many women writers and directors there are and how many have a first film made but don’t get support to do the next one. My first film was released at Sundance when I was in my early 20s and then things really slowed down for me. I didn’t realize it was part of a larger pattern of what tends to happen to women in that field.”
Moviegoers can create change by supporting women writers and directors at the box office.
It’s not that men can’t write for and direct women or that people should not go see films by male creatives, but, until the balance is more equitable, audience support of women-made films makes a big difference.
Fox recalls that “Equity” was released on the same weekend as “Bad Moms”, which lead her to share an epiphany with her social media community.
“I’m a mom and there were a whole lot of moms in my social media feed saying ‘let’s have a girls night and celebrate moms’, which prompted me to point out to them that the film was actually written and directed by men, and that perhaps seeing my film was a better way to support women. They were shocked. They just assumed that a film about moms would be written and directed by moms.”
Women writers and directors represent a small percentage of the creatives behind the highest grossing films (4% and 11% respectively). Fox feels that there is also a lack of strong female characters, but the disparities here can be more nuanced. She points to the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, an analysis of speaking time by gender in popular films, which has helped quantify this aspect of representation in film. (Spoiler alert: male characters get double the amount of screen and speaking time when compared to female characters.)
Fox notes that the activism of the GenderAvenger community plays an important role in lifting up women creatives.
“Opening up the spaces in which women are asked to speak is really, really key because we have something to say.”
And her advice to women entering her field? “Develop your creative focus, own your individual perspective, and don’t apologize.”