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Hollywood's man problem may be a matter of simple math

For all of the hand-wringing over what enabled movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s bad behavior for decades, the answer likely lies in the numbers.

Mathematically, Hollywood has a man problem.

Men overwhelmingly dominate nearly every portion of Hollywood, from movie sets to the corporate suites. Of the 100 top-grossing movies released last year, only five were directed by women, according to a USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism study. Men received nearly 87% of the screenwriting credits, the study found, and 79% of the producers were men.

And it’s not just movies. Men created three-quarters of the television shows that ran during the 2014-2015 TV season, USC found. And of the 1,550 executive positions in major entertainment companies, men filled more than 60% of them, and 80% of the highest-powered jobs.

A slew of studies, negative headlines and diversity programs has done little to budge the lopsided statistics.

“Hollywood is a big boys’ club — a big, white boys’ club,” said Jennifer Warren, chairwoman of the Alliance of Women Directors and a former actor and director. “Why would they want to change that? It’s not to their advantage.”

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, however, the conversation has moved beyond issues of opportunity and parity to that of abuse.

For women trying to make it in a highly competitive industry, tolerating long hours, bawdy comments and inappropriate behavior has long been part of the job. Bullying is often prized in Hollywood, and women have long lacked the clout to stand up to their male bosses, powerful producers and crew chiefs.

“When I started in this business in my 20s, there was a pervasive feeling that rich, powerful men in any business could do what they wanted — and that’s just the way it was,” said film producer Christine Vachon, 54, whose credits include “Carol,” “Still Alice” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” “It was baked into our lives.”

Since the New York Times and New Yorker magazine first detailed the sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein, more than 50 women have made accusations about inappropriate behavior, including rape and other forcible sex acts. Police in Los Angeles, London and New York have opened investigations.

His downfall unleashed a wave of allegations against other powerful men. More than 300 women have complained to the Los Angeles Times about alleged lewd behavior by writer and director James Toback. Amazon Studios, based in Santa Monica, ousted its studio chief Roy Price this month over allegations that he made crude sexual advances in 2015 to the producer of a high-profile show.

Viacom’s children’s channel, Nickelodeon, quickly fired the creator of one of its most popular cartoons, and NBC News on Thursday suspended journalist Mark Halperin after numerous women said he sexually harassed them.

Many accusers have said they were afraid to come forward earlier because they worried that speaking out would damage their careers — or they didn’t think people would take their complaints seriously. Indeed, Weinstein Co. and Amazon were aware of some allegations, but little action was taken against the executives until after the scandal exploded.

Full Coverage: Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal >>

An indulgent “boys will be boys,” “locker-room talk” attitude has long excused those men most often known as “womanizers,” and the scarcity of women in positions of authority can exacerbate the problem.

“From the very top, you have this imbalance,” said Cathy Schulman, an Oscar-winning film producer (“Crash”) and president of Women in Film. “And that situation allows bias to creep in, and from bias you get prejudice, and from prejudice you get discrimination.”

This month, more than 200 female animators sent an open letter to major studios, saying that harassment was widespread and “this abuse has got to stop.”

“As more women have entered the animation workforce, it seems that some men have not embraced this change,” the women wrote. “They still frequently make crass sexual remarks that make it clear women are not welcome on their crews.”

Women make up only 23% of the 3,395-member Animation Guild.

Two years ago, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into Hollywood hiring practices, primarily the plight of female directors. The investigation was prompted by the American Civil Liberties Union, which prodded government agencies to explore the gender imbalance documented in reports from USC and the Directors Guild of America.

A spokesman for the commission declined to discuss the matter, citing confidentiality laws.

But a look at the ranks of Hollywood’s guilds underscores a widespread imbalance:

  • In the largest organization, SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors, other performers and radio and TV broadcasters, women make up 42% of the union’s 160,000 members.
  • In the Directors Guild, which has 17,000 members, 23.4% are women, including unit production managers, assistant directors and stage managers. Just 15.1% of directors in the guild are women.
  • At the 9,000-member Writers Guild of America West, the group that includes television showrunners, who guide shows onto the air, women make up just 25%. (In contrast, women make up about 60% of the network audience for scripted shows in prime time.)
  • Only about 19% of the 4,500-member Teamsters Local 399, which represents drivers, casting directors, location managers and animal handlers, are women.

The problem extends to cinematographers, audio and music production, music composition and other technical aspects of the industry.

“Women were allowed to be screenwriters, editors, script supervisors — things with paper or things where you’re locked away in a room,” said Mary Harron, director of “Alias Grace,” “I Shot Andy Warhol” and “American Psycho.” “But on the floor [of a set], it would be male. I think it’s an unconscious prejudice that when you’re dealing with a machine, you should be a guy.”

The Cinematographers Guild declined to release gender statistics.

“This isn’t a problem that can be fixed from the bottom up,” Schulman said.

The Producers Guild of America comes the closest to gender parity, with women making up 47% of its 8,100 members. Producers typically collaborate in a group, pulling projects together and solving problems — skills encouraged in women. Men also have been more welcoming of women in these circles.

“We are so used to getting the male point of view — even for women’s stories,” Warren said.

Roles are routinely created for older men — but not older women. Among the top films of 2016, USC found that just a quarter of the characters older than 40 were women. Amazon Studios last year canceled a feminist drama, “Good Girls Revolt,” about a group of female journalists fighting for equality in the workplace. And for two straight years, CBS has failed to pick up a comedy or a drama with a female lead.

Reed Morano, director of the Emmy-winning Hulu drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” said decision-makers tend to typecast female filmmakers as those who can pull off romantic comedies and other light fare.

“Women can do any of these genres,” Morano said. “It's just that the system, the way it's set up, there's this lack of trust.”

That means the pool of experienced and successful creators is small, and filled with men.

“Everyone is complicit in the current situation,” said Dana Walden, chairman and chief executive of the Fox Television Group, in charge of the TV network and 20th Century Fox Television studio.

There have been breakthroughs, of course. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award in 2010 for directing “The Hurt Locker.” With her 2014 movie “Selma,” Ava DuVernay became the first African American woman to direct an Oscar-nominated film. Patty Jenkins, who struggled for a decade to make a second feature film after “Monster,” directed this summer’s biggest hit at the U.S. box office, “Wonder Woman,” which raked in $412 million.

Greater strides have been made in television, where the arrival of streaming services and a surge in original content has created more opportunities. Female-centered shows “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Big Little Lies” swept this year’s Emmys, an awards show that for years had been dominated by male antihero dramas like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.”

“Things are changing,” said Walden, the Fox executive. “Studios do want to hire more women. If it is just viewed as a politically correct thing to do, it will never get done. But if there is a recognition that it makes for good business, things will happen pretty quickly.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after two years of being pilloried on social media with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, began welcoming more women and minorities into its ranks.

Since 2015, just before the academy launched its initiative to double the number of women and minorities in its membership, the percentage of women has increased from 25% to 28%. The percentage of people of color is now at 13%, compared with 8%. Now, 21 out of 54 members on the academy’s board of governors are women, as is its chief executive Dawn Hudson.

The Academy governors also quickly booted Weinstein from the group that bestows the Oscars.

“You have to change the entire culture by making it more diverse, both racially and in terms of gender,” said Harron, the director.

The USC diversity study recommended that companies keep more expansive lists of women to hire as directors and for other behind-the-scenes roles; industry pipelines, film schools and festivals should also set benchmarks for inclusion.

The study added that writers should make an effort to add five female speaking roles to every film, while A-list talent — writers, directors and producers with bargaining power — should add equity clauses to their contracts.

In the last two years, companies including Fox, CBS, NBC and Universal Pictures have ramped up mentorship programs. High-profile television producers DuVernay, Ryan Murphy and Melissa Rosenberg have used their clout to create opportunities for female directors on their shows, which include “Feud,” “Queen Sugar” and Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.”

“We have far to go, and we’re going to have to work a little bit harder,” said actress Angelina Jolie, who also works as a producer and a director. “But I think if we support each other, women in this business will move forward.”

Times staff writers Josh Rottenberg, Jen Yamato and Richard Verrier contributed to this report.

meg.james@latimes.com | Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

meredith.blake@latimes.com | Twitter: @MeredithBlake

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UPDATES:

11:50 a.m.: This article has been updated to say the Directors Guild of America has 17,000 members. Previously, the guild said it had 16,000 members.

This article was originally published at 3 a.m.

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