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A Crack in the Celluloid Ceiling: The Significance of Chelsea Barnard

For women in film ‐ it’s still the 20th Century, says new study.
By  · Published on January 13th, 2017

For women in film ‐ it’s still the 20th Century, says new study.

Annapurna Pictures, the production company behind critically acclaimed, award-winning movies like The Master, Zero Dark Thirty and American Hustle, has named Chelsea Barnard its President of Film.

Barnard will oversee all film development and production, continuing to act as Chief Creative Officer, alongside Annapurna founder and CEO, Megan Ellison. Of Barnard’s promotion, Ellison said:

Chelsea’s specific eye for content that supports and enhances the Annapurna brand is invaluable and I could not be happier to watch her step into a role that I have always hoped and envisioned for her.

The complement is more than well-deserved. Barnard has been with Annapurna since its inception in 2011, executive producing 20th Century Women, Her, and Foxcatcher during her tenure. In addition to her new duties, Barnard will remain the lead executive on Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming Daniel Day Lewis film, and the Tom Stoppard-penned A Christmas Carol.

Barnard (L), and Ellison (R) at the Golden Globes.
Celebrating Barnard’s promotion feels particularly urgent in light of the release of the 19th annual Celluloid Ceiling report: a study from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film that tracks female employment on top grossing movies.

In spite of Hollywood’s ongoing investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision, the figures for 2016 are disheartening bordering on abysmal. In many cases the numbers are lower than in 1998; the percentage of cinematographers increased marginally; the percentages of writers and producers remained unchanged; and percentages of directors, executive producers, and editors declined.

Speaking to The Times, Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center, said:

The current small-scale remedies, such as the shadowing and mentoring programs, may benefit handfuls of individuals, but they fail to recognize the magnitude and scope of the problem.

According to the report:

One of the most striking parts of the report are the figures that show how many of the 250 top grossing films had no women behind the scenes: 92% had no women directors; 77% had no women writers; 58% had no women exec. producers; 34% had no women producers; 79% had no women editors; and 96% had no women cinematographers.

The Celluloid Ceiling report is an extremely compelling gesture towards Hollywood’s gender diversity problem behind the camera. While it may feel like progress is being made with regards to inclusivity, as Dr. Lauzen puts it: “Women working in key behind-the-scenes roles have yet to benefit from the current dialogue regarding diversity and inclusion in the film industry.” Until conversations about diversity in film actively lead to women being hired and trusted to do the same jobs as their male peers, we won’t see large scale change.

In a comparison of the 500 top grossing films from 2016, the study showed that “films with at least one female director employed greater percentages of women…than films with exclusively male directors.” On a film with at least one female director, women made up 64% of writers, whereas on films with exclusively male directors, women only accounted for 9% of writers.

All of this is to say that the promotion of Chelsea Barnard to such an influential position matters a whole lot. Not just because she is a capable, exceptional, and talented producer (which she 100% is), but because being hired and promoted can make a difference. I have no doubt that Barnard’s influence and example will enable more women to climb out of the 20th Century.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).