TheaterMania Logo
Special Reports

Hey, Kathryn Bigelow: If Hollywood Ain't Lovin' You Right, Come to Broadway

Women direct 15 to 20 percent of Broadway shows but only nine percent of Hollywood films. It ain't equality, but it's better on The Great White Way. logo

At the 2012 Tony Awards, director Diane Paulus was nominated for the revival of Porgy and Bess.
© Michael J. Lutch
While women were featured prominently on the stage at last night's 85th Annual Academy Awards (Adele, grrrl, you killed it), it might be -- as host Seth McFarlane duly noted -- because the finer sex is easy on the eyes. When it came to acknowledging the accomplishments of directors, women were invisible. To the south and east of Hollywood, in the land we call "Broadway," female directors are faring better.

Let's start with Hollywood. Last year, there were six Academy Awards categories with a total of zero women nominated. This year, that figure rose to seven. Across all categories, 140 men and just 35 women were nominated. There were no female nominees in the major categories of Directing, Cinematography, Film Editing, Writing (Original Screenplay) or Music (Original Score). And speaking of "zero," U.S. Senators John McCain, Carl Levin, and Dianne Feinstein's beef with Zero Dark Thirty successfully axed Kathryn Bigelow's chances (the only female director originally nominated).

It's not just the Academy. The underrepresentation of female creatives at the Oscars reflects the plight of women in the film industry at large. According to a study by the Women's Media Center, women directed only nine percent of the 250 top box office films of 2012. Women comprised 25 percent of producers, 20 percent of editors, 17 percent of executive producers, 15 percent of writers, and two percent of cinematographers. And 38 percent of films employed either zero or one singular woman in these creative roles. Overall, women accounted for 18 percent of all behind-the-scenes gigs, just one percentage point more than in 1998.

While women represent only nine percent of film directors, they direct 15 to 20 percent of Broadway shows. If you're a woman directing on the Great White Way, your odds of taking home a golden award increase. At last year's Tony Awards, fifty percent of the nominees for best direction of a musical were women. Diane Paulus was nominated for directing The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and Kathleen Marshall for Nice Work if You Can Get It. Pam MacKinnon received a nomination for her direction of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Clybourne Park. Six women have won Tony Awards for stage direction, while only four female directors have been nominated for Oscars. The 2011-12 season saw three women directing plays on Broadway as opposed to one woman in 2001-02.

If you're a female writer, however, keep your eye on these stats: Over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women have fluctuated between 12 and 17 percent. In 2009, Emily Sands, a Princeton economics student, released a study that revealed only 17 percent of the works on and off-Broadway and in regional theaters were written by women. Sands found that even though plays and musicals written by women sold 16 percent more tickets a week and were 18 percent more profitable than other shows, producers did not extend the run time longer than less-profitable shows written by men.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck called Sands' findings "disastrous" statistics. "[I]t is related to another disastrous statistic, which is the number of women writers and directors in Hollywood," Rebeck said, during her Laura Pels Keynote Address in 2010.

For female directors, however, there is hope on the Great White Way. Work by women is gaining traction off-Broadway, where female directors often collaborate with female playwrights and actresses.

"The old boys' club of New York theater, for decades defined by the chummy relationships of producers and directors, is changing with the rise of female directors who are in demand by veteran playwrights as well as hot young writers," Patrick Healy wrote last month in The New York Times. "These directors are the new power players of Off Broadway, staging some of the most critically acclaimed productions in recent years, and they are starting to get more shots at the better-paying, career-making gigs on Broadway….The change is unfolding largely because the female directors have cultivated collaborations with playwrights and are emerging as forces to be reckoned with."

Rachel Chavkin told The Times: "The real truth that I've learned since school is that the number one way a director makes their career is by rising with a playwright."

Is the theater world perfect? No. Is it better? Yes. And the more women on board, working together, the better it will be.

Or in other words, come to Broadway, Kathryn Bigelow.