Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals honored actress Marion Cotillard with the 2013 Woman of the Year Award, yet there was little recognition of the fact that this honor carried with it a gendered moniker. Cotillard is renowned for her portrayal of powerful, commanding female leads, most notably Édith Piaf in the 2007 film La Vie en Rose, for which she won an Academy Award.
After explaining that NINE is one of my favorite musicals of all time, I asked Cotillard about her thoughts on the status of female artists and stories featuring strong women in Hollywood. After jokingly shushing me for mentioning NINE, a movie that was a veritable flop with most critics and viewers, Cotillard answered with a simple, yet endlessly evocative phrase, “There will always be stories of strong women.”
Considering the burgeoning discussion of the striking presence of women in this year’s Golden Globe awards, such as big wins for Lena Dunham and Girls, this assertion seems more potent than ever. After so many years of women being solely in front of the camera and available for public consumption, could we be finally entering an era of gender parity in film and television? Could the male gaze finally be blinded by a newfound equity?
This is, of course, a twofold issue. On one hand is the measurable presence of women artists working in the media industry, and on the other is the deeply subjective public reception of women in the media.
With regard to the former, the numbers are staggering. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, “Women accounted for 25% of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on situation comedies, dramas, and reality programs airing on the broadcast networks in the 2010-11 prime-time television season. Among writers, just 15% were women; of directors, just 11% were women; and of directors of photography, just 4% were women.”
The situation is as dire in Hollywood as it is in television. The same report indicates that “in 2011, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. Women comprised just 5% of directors, 15% of writers, and 4% of cinematographers.” These numbers speak for themselves, but what about the social conditions that frame such unbelievable statistics?
In order to combat gender inequality in Hollywood, there must be a concomitant shift in the public consciousness, one that creates more than a new formulation of taste, but rather a complete reworking of foundational understandings of gender.
Though Cotillard is correct in that history is populated by stories of diverse women with riveting stories, can their voices be heard in what is undoubtedly a masculinist society? Only time will tell, and the question is certainly up for debate. As Cotillard noted earlier in the press conference, “There is a reality that everyone shares,” and it is certainly within our power to shift that reality toward equity and open-mindedness.
William Simmons would like to thank the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, as well as Marion Cotillard for her kindness and warmth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter.