I am a Woman
– Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, actress, and American Civil Rights Movement activist
Last Thursday evening was the World Premiere of the Lunafest film festival in San Francisco. This year the Lunafest East Bay Organizing Committee – this is my first year on the committee – was honored along with other organizations and individuals for their work in raising money for local nonprofits and for the Breast Cancer Fund, which is a beneficiary of Lunafest. On Wednesday I’ll blog about the nine short films that were chosen out of more than 900 films that were submitted for consideration, as well as the wonderful words of Jeanne Rizzo, RN, President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund. But in today’s blog I want to share the inspirational message of special guest, Dr. Stacy L. Smith.
First of all, a little more on Lunafest, a film festival by, for, and about women dedicated to building community through the power of film and through the power of the story: The film festival was established in 2000 by LUNA, the makers of the Whole Nutrition Bar for Women, to “simultaneously promote women filmmakers, raise awareness for women’s issues, and support women’s nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada.” The mission of Lunafest is to “celebrate and inspire women through the art of film and community fundraising.”
Dr. Stacy L. Smith is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her work “examines gender and race on-screen and behind the camera in cinematic content as well as barriers and opportunities facing woman and people of color in the entertainment industry.” She has authored numerous articles, reports, chapters, and papers, focusing on gender, race, hypersexualization of girls and women, and violence.
In her talk, Dr. Smith discussed studies she had done on speaking characters – defined as having at least one speaking line – in 100 of the top-grossing films per year. Data on characters were broken down by demographics, physical appearance, and occupation of the character. In 500 films, of the 21,000 characters, 71.6 percent were men and 28.4 percent were women. It should come as no surprise to many of us; however, when you consider that half of the U.S. population is women and nearly half of the workforce at 47 percent is women, it’s a disturbing to say the least. Dr. Smith noted that there has been no change in gender prevalence since 1976: Of 55 films from 1976 to 1990, only 28 percent were women; of 400 films from 1990 to 2006, only 27 percent were women; and of 500 films from 2007 to 2012, only 28 percent were women.
Dr. Smith also looked at the hypersexualization of male and female on-screen characters. Only 9.4 percent of men were partially nude, while 31 percent of women were shown on screen partially nude. Nearly 50 percent of women were identified as thin, while only 16.2 percent of male characters were thin. Dr. Smith posed this question to the audience: What is the solution to this representational crisis? Women! “When women are present, things change,” she declared.
Dr. Smith examined three major places in which the presence of women in certain positions made a difference. She looked at 820 films from 2002 to 2012 and found three areas of change. In the area of production, when men are directors, only 28 percent of key positions on the team were women. However, when the directors were female in indie films, the number of females in key positions rose to 44 percent. Second, when females directed, there were more girls/women on-screen but less sexualization. Finally, when females directed, the percent of on-screen characters for girls and women rose to 61.7 percent, with more stories about female competition and athleticism.
“The presence of females can alter the status quo in women being silenced and sexualized,” Dr. Smith emphasized. She pointed out that Lunafest, which is shown in 150 cities and raises resources for local nonprofits, is the perfect platform to drive change to the status quo. “It’s the story of all of us, and it can affect the landscape of humanity,” she said. “When women are present, things change.” Dr. Smith encouraged us all to promote change locally, nationally, and globally. Check.