Welcome to Girls on Film -- a Monday-night Cinematical column full of female-centric musing, rants, love and aggravation.

Life isn't black and white. It might be nice and inspirational to talk about hard work bringing great rewards, but the world is not that simple. It's a game of who you know, where you are and when you're there. It's about the art of shmooze just as much as the art of professional performance. It's a world of navigating personal and public politics.

So why don't we remember that when talking about the struggles of women in Hollywood?

Discourse on these issues always dissolves into a discussion of merit, a narrow opinion that the absence of women must show their inability, whether that be to actually pull off the job, or merely having the confidence to make themselves seen. But every so often someone speaks up to remind us of the inner-workings behind the cinematic gender imbalance. This time, it's Catherine Hardwicke, who's revealed that she was blocked from pitching to direct 'The Fighter' because she's a woman.
Hardwicke told The Wrap last week: "I couldn't get an interview even though my last movie made $400 million. I was told it had to be directed by a man -- am I crazy? It's about action, it's about boxing, so a man has to direct it ... But they'll let a man direct 'Sex in the City' or any girly movie you've ever heard of."

It would be quite easy to immediately jump on that particular $400 million movie. 'Twilight' isn't the sort of fare that will give anyone a lot of clout at the bargaining tables outside of teen romance. The rabid fandom that led to the series' success, and the subject matter and treatment at hand are quite narrow in focus. It might seem like a stretch for the woman known for only tackling youth-based subjects to get a drama about an adult male boxer and his brother.

But to do so ignores two key points.

One: Hollywood has always made room for surprising choices.
Just as you can expect Brett Ratner to blow things up, you can expect Tinseltown to throw a talent curve ball, allowing filmmakers the chance to try out new genres and themes. The best modern example would probably be Spider-Man, who received massive new life from Sam Raimi (a man with horror and indie drama in his wheelhouse) not so long ago, before Spidey got a new reboot with a new director who had only helmed one modest film before. That would be Marc Webb and his indie romance '(500) Days of Summer.' Clearly, experience alone doesn't dictate hiring practices.

In direct comparison, David O. Russell was far from the logical choice for 'The Fighter.' His experience lay in comedy and action, and his previous two productions were indie quirk to the extreme -- 'Nailed' and 'I Heart Huckabees.' Nothing about his wheelhouse screamed dramatic Oscar potential. And furthermore, we cannot forget John Cameron Mitchell, who was given the mourning drama 'Rabbit Hole' after only two films -- a transsexual cult flick and another feature where he participated in an on-screen orgy.

Two: Hardwicke didn't say she was refused because of her past work.
As much as we'd like to blame the type of cinema she makes, Hardwicke was refused because "it had to be directed by a man." She didn't even get the chance to pitch.

We could even put up a third point, that maybe this is all very inaccurate hearsay. But to do so ignores that fact that this is one of many stories. We're not there for the private discussions and shocking bias, but we see the result: Hollywood doesn't hire female filmmakers and fresh female talent for high-profile films and blockbusters, and many women have spoken out about that. As a collective unit, they make a name for themselves with indies and long-established relationships, whether that be familial like Sofia Coppola, or fostered from experience and past interpersonal ties like Kathryn Bigelow.

When Hollywood takes risks every day, allowing the Raimis and Webbs to jump into the mainstream fray, but doesn't allow the many talented female filmmakers the same opportunity, it's more than just talent that's under consideration -- especially when bigwigs make very distinct and unfair gender-based statements. Remember the exec who told Nia Vardalos that women don't go to movies? Once again, they weren't railing against her experience, but against her sex.

But let's not focus only on Hardwicke and Vardalos, whose experience lay in very distinct wheelhouses with very distinct fandoms that don't really translate to moviegoers as a whole. Last year, Bigelow won the Oscar for the gritty war drama 'The Hurt Locker,' suggesting that it's possible for women to direct anything, and be considered for the biggest prize in American film. But what of this year's directorial race? It's five men.

The only female director to get any noticeable buzz -- and still not nearly as much as the rest of the herd -- is Lisa Cholodenko for 'The Kids Are All Right.' She was the lone female voice at The Hollywood Reporter's directorial roundtable last year, but in the case of both the Globes and the Oscars, she and the film earned Writing and Best Movie nominations, not to mention acting nods, but nothing for directing. Furthermore, part of her moderate buzz is certainly due to having two very high profile stars in Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.

Strip away that notoriety and you get Debra Granik and her beautifully gripping second feature, 'Winter's Bone.' Again, here's a film that earned writing, actor and Best Movie nominations by the Academy, but no directorial affirmation. It earned rave reviews (94 percent fresh) in and out of Sundance 2010, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. It features a young woman so strong and dynamic that she could rival our beloved toughies like Ripley and Sarah Connor. It offers a heroine and story we don't often see -- especially told in such a raw and revealing manner. Yet Granik is virtually invisible as the film's director.

With all this mulling about in our minds, it's no surprise that this year's study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film (details in previous Wrap link) reports that over the last ten years, women working on major films (as director, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor) has declined a percent since 1998. And as you might surmise, all of the numbers are abysmal. Women made up seven percent of the directors who made major films in 2010, which is down two percent from 1998. Women made up two percent of the cinematographers, 10 percent of writers, 15 percent of executive producers, 18 percent of editors and 24 percent of all producers.

But the perspective that really hits home comes from the LA Times. "A woman is more likely to hold a seat on a Fortune 500 company board (15%), serve as a member of the clergy (15%) or work as an aerospace engineer (10%) than she is to direct a Hollywood movie (7%)." Let's repeat that:

A woman is more likely to serve as a member of the clergy than direct a Hollywood movie.

When women can break through a male-dominated arena lasting centuries and millennia, one traditionally steeped in misogyny and bias, but not have as much success with a system that's only one century old, something's wrong with this picture.

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categories Oscars, Columns, Cinematical