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Panelists: Status of women in film bleak, change is underway

October 4, 2013


Kalyen Ralph and Joanna Demkiewicz of The Riveter.

Filmmakers and media experts yesterday painted a grim portrait of Hollywood where men dominate and refuse to not only give women the resources needed to make films but also refuse to reflect them in an accurate light on the big screen.

But attendees of the first ever Citizen Jane Summit yesterday agreed that they can change those statistics and said there’s a movement underfoot.

“We need to come up with practical ways and ideas on how we can make a change and how our evolution can turn into a revolution and happen a little quicker,” said Kerri Yost, associate film professor at Stephens and program director of Citizen Jane Film Festival.

Students and community members yesterday joined industry experts at Historic Senior Hall on the Stephens campus to talk about the under-representation of women in Hollywood and what can be done to boost those numbers.

Part of the problem is basic behavior, said Melissa Silverstein, author of “In Her Voice” and the Women in Hollywood blog. In general, men like to be entertained, and they’re more willing to go to movies on opening weekend to get that entertainment. Women, on the other hand, are more critical about what they pay to watch and they’re willing to wait a few weeks after the opening to go. That’s an issue for Hollywood, she said, which essentially judges success on opening weekend sales.

In at least one way, a solution is simple. Women need to support female filmmakers not only by going to see their movies but also by going on opening weekend.

Statistics aren’t any better for women on screen. The number of female actors is currently at a five-year low, she said.

And the numbers are worse for African American women, Yvonne Welbon, Academy Award nominated filmmaker said. Her research has shown black women have made just 80 films in the history of movie making. Two black male filmmakers—Spike Lee and Oscar Micheaux—together have directed almost as many films as all black women combined, she said.

“That’s a little troubling.”

But those numbers aren’t unique to film. Two recent University of Missouri graduates, Joanna Demkiewicz and Kalyen Ralph, said they were disheartened as students by the lack of women working in long-form journalism. That’s why they started “The Riveter,” an online and print magazine that provides space for women to tell their stories. Independent film is parallel to what The Riveter is doing, they said.

The summit closed with audience members joining panelists to talk about ways to improve the statistics.

The Columbia community can play a role in supporting female filmmakers this weekend during the Citizen Jane Film Festival. The festival kicks off today with a series of panel discussions, and the opening film, “Maidentrip” starts at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Missouri Theatre. Citizens can purchase single tickets at the venues or swing by the Box Office on campus for weekend passes. A complete schedule can be found here.

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