It’s the 30th anniversary of the Bechdel Test this year – that famously low hurdle that movies can leap simply by featuring at least two women who talk about something that isn’t a man – and yet the numbers on female filmmakers are still abysmal. In fact, they’re dropping.
Women represented 7% of directors, 11% of the writers, 5% of DPs and 18% of the editors on the 250 highest grossing movies last year, but the calls for greater equality have gotten louder recently. Probably as a direct result to the wider dissemination of disheartening statistics. High profile actors like Jessica Chastain, acclaimed directors like Ava DuVernay and others are obviously feeling more freedom to speak bluntly about the issue. The question is whether that public and publicized outcry will lead to any significant change.
It’s arguable that it led to Warners prepping Wonder Woman (and hiring a women to direct it (twice)) and Marvel to prep Captain Marvel (and hire women to write it), but the bulk of the upmountain climb remains.
Enter Meryl Streep. The most accomplished living actress has now given a large amount of money to the cause of fighting ageism and sexism in filmmaking by helping found a new program for female screenwriters over the age of forty.
According to the New York Women in Film and Television website , The Writers Lab won’t be bound by any genre specifics. The program will bring 8 screenwriters to upstate New York (Wiawaka Center for Women on Lake George) for the weekend of September 18–20th in what they call, “recognition of the absence of the female voice in narrative film, along with the dearth of support for script development.”
If you meet the requirements, you’ll have to hustle up: the deadline is June 1st.
Guest mentors will include:
- Caroline Kaplan (Boyhood, Personal Velocity)
- Kirsten Smith (Legally Blond, Ten Things I Hate About You)
- Jessica Bendinger (Bring It On, Aquamarine)
- Mary Jane Skalski (Win Win, The Station Agent)
- Gina Prince-Bythewood (Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights)
This is obviously fantastic news for whatever percent of the 5% of our audience that meets the age and gender qualifications. My only, loving criticisms are that:
- That list of mentors shouldn’t do much to thrill, say, horror writers.
- It’s only one weekend for 8 writers. Hopefully it’ll grow.
- Why must it discriminate against men???
Just kidding on that last one. The Writers Lab sounds like a sincere corrective, and a potential step in the right direction of offering us different perspectives and stories. It’s also noteworthy that Streep isn’t merely lending her face to it, but also providing funding from her own pocket to make it a reality.
Kudos to Streep, NYWiFT and every one else striving to make this program a factory for improving talent. Good luck.