Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling: Women in Hollywood

From "Negotiations: Unique Challenges for Women" -- Wendy Japhet, Rena Ronson, Linda Lichter

Once upon a time, in the land known as “Hollywood,” women were just as prominent as men in the world of filmmaking. The “fairer sex” richly occupied every role imaginable, from director, to producer, to editor, to screenwriter. In fact, half the films made from 1917 to 1925 were written by women. One of the greatest screenwriters of her time, Frances Marion, was the first person, male or female, to win two Oscars. (*If you haven’t seen “Without Lying Down – Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood” find a way to get your hands on it.)

So, what happened? And even more importantly, what can we do about it?

Women in Hollywood: 100 Years of Negotiating the System” recently convened some of Hollywood’s best and brightest at Pepperdine’s School of Law to answer this question, and many more, with some eye-opening results.

First things first: understand money is power. Women need to advocate for themselves.

Nell Scovell, co-author of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

As Hollywood became a financial juggernaut in the 1930s and big studios grew more powerful, women were slowly but surely marginalized and pushed out of the decision-making roles.

Nell Scovell, Hollywood television writer and co-author of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, during a phenomenal and personally revealing keynote, divulged how an agent once said to her during a negotiation process, “You don’t care about money, do you?”

HBS professor Herminia Ibarra calls these stereotypes, such as women valuing money less, Second Generation Gender Biases.

Women need to care about money. And they need to be their best advocates when negotiating their worth.

When it comes to fighting for what we deserve, Scovell implores women to, “not think of it as stirring up trouble  — please think of it as stirring up progress.

Rena Ronson, co-head of the Independent Film Group at United Talent Agency, made the case for having what she called “Fuck You Money” — meaning, the financial ability, and mental fortitude, to walk away from a deal.

Women are excellent negotiators — except when it comes to negotiating for ourselves,” noted Barbara Annis, author of Same Words, Different Languages; Leadership and the Sexes; and Work with Me (with John Gray).

Second, women need to stop caring about being liked.

This is a weighty one, since women (girls) are conditioned from a young age to “be nice” — to be likable.

Scovell cited the “Howard/Heidi Study” which found women are actually penalized in the workforce for being successful. When a man is successful, he’s well liked. When a woman does well, people like her less.

“Two professors wrote up a case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen, describing how she became a successful venture capitalist by relying on her outgoing personality and huge personal and professional network. The professors had a group of students read Roizen’s story with her real name attached and another group read the story with the name changed to “Howard.” Then the students rated Howard and Heidi on their accomplishments and on how appealing they seemed as colleagues. While the students rated them equally in terms of success, they thought Howard was likable while Heidi seemed selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” via @Forbes

This likeability factor becomes noticeably apparent, and problematic, at the helm of the camera as Directors and Directors of Photography (DPs/cinematographers) show the worst numbers for females in Hollywood: women occupied just 9% of director roles in 2012 and only 2% of DPs were women. 

It’s tough to get the job done right, let alone well, if you’re worried about “being liked.” Hollywood continues to reward the arrogant and irreverent behaviors of the James Cameron’s and Michael Bay’s of the film world, while penalizing directors like Brenda Chapman (who was very conscious in her quest to break the Disney/Pixar heroine mold with Brave) for standing up for her vision.

Finally, women need to keep fighting.

Sometimes it means taking a stand and making a ruckus. Sometimes it means walking away from a deal. And sometimes it means using good old-fashioned logic and humor.

Lesli Linka Glatter, executive producer of Homeland and director of virtually every hit television show, from The West Wing and House, M.D. to Mad Men and The Newsroom, said it best when highlighting the ludicrousness of thinking in Hollywood:

“I heard the excuse, ‘We hired a woman once and it didn’t work out.’ Can you imagine someone saying, ‘We hired a white guy once — it didn’t work out’?”

You can follow many of the women who spoke at the conference on Twitter:

And to keep up with happenings at Pepperdine University, follow @Pepperdine_News for updates.





About Amy Senger:
Amy Senger is an L.A. transplant by way of Washington, DC, and co-founder of 1X57, named to Washingtonian’s Tech Titans list with her partner Steven Mandzik. Follow her on twitter @sengseng and follow the Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch or email amy@1×


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