Power of Women in and Behind Films

Viola Davis' historic Emmy win and inspiring acceptance speech was truly a moment to celebrate, but it also brought to light the wide gap that still exists for women and especially African-American women, in the entertainment industry. Women in television and movies still remain drastically underrepresented.

The statistics tell a sobering story of women in television and movies and prove even more the importance of sharing stories of successful, strong and talented women as part of our nation's narrative. It's also why the National Women's History Museum recently honored Viola, along with Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren and award-winning producer and writer Gale Anne Hurd. These women are changing the narrative.

Research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that females comprised a paltry 12 percent of protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014. In secondary roles, females are also underrepresented, comprising 29 percent of major characters and 30 percent of all speaking characters. This in spite of the fact that women purchase more than half of all movie tickets sold each year.

Surprised? These statistics have not changed in more than a decade says scholar Martha Lauzen who has authored an annual report on women working in film and television.

The numbers are more shocking as we have hailed what appears to be the arrival of more lead women and protagonists on the big screen in movies like Divergent, The Hunger Games, Gravity and of course on television with growing audiences for Scandal, Veep, and How to Get Away With Murder. But as we have learned, these individual successes are not translating to improvement across fields -- or even in specific industries.

We celebrate the women like Viola Davis, Diane and Gale Anne, who continue to break barriers and create new ideas of what can be accomplished, but we also know that old stereotypes persist. But society is changing. Women are entering and graduating college at a higher rate than their male counterparts and pursuing occupations in male dominated fields, but this is not always reflected in the movies that make it to the theatres or the series that air on your television screen. Hollywood, through its stamp of approval for movies and pilots, is demonstrating a slow adoption to society's evolution.

We know that television is a significant storyteller in our society -- but even in our 21st Century it is not telling the complete story. A story that embraces the contributions of a group that makes up 51 percent of the U.S. population; a story that highlights the diversity of talent and strength across women. While women make up half of the movie-going population, often the stories on the screens do not reflect society's reality -- unless a woman is directing, producing or writing.

Interestingly, studies show that in films with at least one female director or writer, women comprised 37 percent of all speaking characters. Moreover, 39 percent of protagonists in films from female writers and directors were women. Compare that to women making up four percent of the lead characters in films from male filmmakers.

What does this tell us? We must produce more women in these fields in order to encourage more female writers, directors and producers,. Our young girls must see women in these roles and be able to watch strong, talented, intelligent women of all races on their screens. Then, we can move to a state where, as Diane Warren said, women are described as producers, writers and directors - no caveat needed.