While 1992 was dubbed the "Year of Women" in politics, critics of the entertainment industry have given 1993 a less-flattering label: the "Year of Women as Door Prizes."
Images of women as items to be controlled and manipulated continue to pervade movies and television, according to a panel of producers and directors who gathered Saturday in West Hollywood.
The discussion was a project of the Women's Image Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes positive portrayals of women in entertainment. The group met to recognize philanthropist and publisher emeritus of The Hollywood Reporter, Tichi Wilkerson Kassel, and film producer Laura Ziskin ("Hero," "Pretty Woman").
Some panelists traced the lack of strong, heroic women characters in film and TV to a meager pool of female screenwriters, while others blamed the dictating power of the marketplace and the lack of high-level women agents. But if the group did not agree about why women continue to be objectified and victimized in entertainment, they did agree that society at large--not just Hollywood--holds women back behind the scenes and in them.
"It isn't just about entertaining. It is about how women are viewed--how we are treated when we go home, how we feel alone in a parking lot," said Tammy Bruce, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women. "Bad things do happen to women, but we don't need to exploit them to show it."
Power--who has it in the industry and how it is reflected in entertainment--was widely decried as a roadblock for women filmmakers.
"Part of creating a positive image for women is showing that we can be in control and it doesn't have to be threatening," said Jane Goldenring, senior vice president at Touchstone Pictures whose credits include "The Rocketeer."
"Our entire culture is male authoritarian," said producer Alex Rose, who produced, among other films, "Norma Rae." "Most American heroes have guns in their hands. And most American women don't."
In an interview, Ziskin acknowledged that competition and success at the box office have put a damper on the development of women's and other diverse projects: "Movies have to be a success before they open. You have only one Friday night to make or break. We as an industry can't take chances."
If the industry isn't taking the risks on its own, as many of the panelists said, then women will have to fight harder to see their projects developed their way, even if it means using smaller, independent companies or non-traditional collaborations.
Said Goldenring: "When you are doing movies, it's your job to entertain in one sense, to enlighten in another. It is incumbent upon us to put across messages in films. You don't have to have a dinosaur hit every time out to be successful."