Hollywood Women Screenwriters: The Brave 13 Percent or I’m Feeling the “Melancholia” – Where Are “The Descendants” of Women?

Only 13.8 percent of the working screenwriters in Hollywood are women.

Women are unfairly underrepresented in the movie industry and it’s blatant discrimination against  50 % of humanity, including your mother, grandmother, wife, girlfriend, sister and daughter. Stories by women are being lost, generations of archetypes, role models and sympathetic characters down the drain, because the movie industry is so dominated by men.

The question many men connected to Hollywood insiders and agents ask themselves, when they encounter a woman screenwriter, is not “could this be the next great literary talent?” but “would I do her?” All the men I have met connected to the motion picture industry who expressed interest in my scripts, instead, sexually harassed me. That includes a screenwriting instructor, his agent and another agent I met at a screenwriters’ conference. They never actually read my work, and I was certainly not shown respect. Despite them, I continue to write.

I am grateful to Jane Fonda, who attached herself to my first screenplay and other women I’ve met who encouraged me, but I know it’s not easy for them to help me get an agent. In the early days of filmmaking women were strongly represented, and there were numerous successful women screenwriters like Anita Loos and Frances Marion and directors like Lois Weber. Backed by the powerful producer Mary Pickford, they helped create the Hollywood motion picture industry.  Nowadays, scripts won’t be considered because they are written by women.

“The Descendants,” the latest film written and directed by Alexander Payne, continues to garner critical acclaim and has already been nominated for many awards. Woman love Payne’s movies,  and it’s a good thing we have them to go to, because only 4 women, total, directed top 200 Hollywood films in 2011. Another awards season is rolling around and there are no women screenwriters or directors nominated for most of the major awards this year, although the Golden Globes nominated “Bridesmaids” for Best Comedy, and the Writer’s Guild of America nominated Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig for “Bridesmaids” plus Diablo Cody for “Young Adult” in the category Best Original Screenplay.

From “Facts and Statistics About Women in Hollywood” by Melissa Silverstein:


• Women directed 7% of the top 250 grossing films of 2010, the same as 2009.

• Women wrote 10% of the top 250 grossing films of 2010, up 2% from 2009.

• Women comprised 15% of all executive producers, down 2% from 2009.

• Women comprised 24% of all producers, up from 2009.

• 18% of all editors were women, the same as 2009.

• 2% of all cinematographers were women, the same as 2009.

In 2011, although Hollywood released dozens of “women centric” films in the top 200 list, only 3 were actually directed by women.  Films by women writer/directors did well at Sundance 2012, such as “Mosquita y Mari,” by Aurora Guerrero; “For Ellen,” by So Yong Kim; and “Your Sister’s Sister,” by Lynn Shelton. Angelina Jolie and Madonna both recently directed major films, Melissa McCarthy is on a roll, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler rule the tube.


Even though Alexander Payne has won multiple Academy Awards for his movies, “The Descendants” originally opened in only 9 theaters nationwide – so, obviously, the filmmaker who appeals to women must also suffer people of little faith. His Hawaiian family drama/comedy quickly expanded to 400 theaters, took off from there and will undoubtedly be a world-wide success like his previous hit “Sideways.” Two young actresses, who play sisters, give extraordinary performances, and Shailene Woodley has been nominated for several top awards as Best Supporting Actress.

But the main female protagonist in “The Descendants” doesn’t express any emotions or interact with the other characters, because she is in a coma during 99 percent of the movie, and her husband does all the talking for her. Sometimes I feel an unwelcome meanness towards women in Payne’s work. The mother in a coma was treated with barely disguised contempt, and Kathy Bates’s character, the humorless mother of the groom in “About Schmidt,”  was ridiculed. In both films, mothers die and fathers get the kids to themselves.

Lars Von Trier is another sensitive, innovative and perceptive filmmaker – qualities that are usually admired by women. He has given us an unforgettable pair of sisters, and their magnificent horses, in “Melancholia,”  but by the end of the story, they became unconvincing to me. I can only attribute it to his lack of experience as a female – nobody is perfect.

And it’s not that men can’t write about women – I’m just sayin’ 13 PERCENT? Give us a break, brothers.

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Hollywood Women Screenwriters: The Brave 13 Percent or I’m Feeling the “Melancholia” - Where Are “The Descendants” of Women?, 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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About the Author:

Writer, screenwriter, novelist. Current project "The Mermaid and the Lawyer" Upcoming: a World War II spy series "Dame Freya"
  • Well, thank you for pointing out that about ‘The Descendants’. I reviewed that movie not too long ago and found the main character’s attitude towards his wife disturbing, to say the least. And he’s supposed to be a character that many seem to like. I didn’t get it. However, George Clooney did act well in that film.

    For someone who is connected to the film industry now, I see your point. It does seemed to be ruled by men but I have been fortunate enough to have met many women, and men, in the field who have been nothing but kind to me. I know that is rare.

    I must admit growing up that I was the only girl who was obsessed with movies; and it was boys, and now mostly men, with whom I converse with about films. I am not saying we shouldn’t be equally involved in the movies but just an observation on my part.

    The film industry is one of the hardest to break into and I wonder if there is an equal amount of women trying to break in as men. That would be an interesting statistic to know.

    Great article and welcome to Expats Post!!! 🙂

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  • Welcome, Bebek. So nice to see your article. Great job!

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  • Cher Duncombe

    Your sentiments remind me of that old canard, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Hollywood has long held a reputation of being misogynist in their ways. How dreadful to know that it is still going on.

    Wonderful article, Bebek. Welcome to Expats!

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