Why are women losing out in Hollywood? Or, to put it another way, why are the great majority of the latest, most popular movies so male-oriented?

Sharon Waxman of The New York Times provides multiple reasons — from women leaving top executive jobs at the studios to a generation of A-list actresses no longer having the impact they use to have.

In any case, women’s voices are not being heard in the film-making process:

Martha Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State University, found that the number of women working as directors, writers, producers and editors declined in 2006 from the year before, to 15 percent from 16 percent. And she estimated that the number of female executives in the studios is only slightly higher, perhaps 20 percent. “We’re at same place we would have been in 1999,” she said.

Lauzen is well known for her documentation of the film industry, and you can read the full Celluloid Ceiling 2006 study here.

Although no one has proven a direct correlation between the decline of female film-makers and the number of quality roles for women, it’s hard not to see a relationship. This devaluing of women is also reflected in the latest Forbes survey of the best-paid actors and actresses in the world. Well-known actresses are essentially making at most half of what men make.

Melissa Silverstein of the Women’s Media Center has a simple suggestion, though, for finding alternatives to movies that mostly target teens: look beyond the multiplex to independent cinema, where some of the most interesting roles for women reside. (And where there are good roles, you’re also more likely to find women writers and directors.)

Silverstein suggests “Waitress,” “Away From Her” and “Stephanie Daley” as three films that “illustrate the richness of women’s contributions to independent cinema.” Finding them may not be as easy as buying a ticket for “Spiderman 3,” but it’s worth going the extra mile — or asking your local cinema to look into booking these films.

“Other movies to  look for this summer — featuring women’s stories but not directed by  women — include: Georgia Rule, Gracie, La  Vie En Rose, Evening, A Mighty Heart, Broken English, Fay Grim, No  Reservations, Becoming Jane and Bordertown,” adds Silverstein. “As long as it remains difficult for women to get financing to make their films, and doubly so when those films focus on women’s issues, filmgoers need to seek out these movies that reflect their interests and sensibilities.”

Judith Drake of In The Trenches Productions, a development and production company made up of female writers, producers and actresses over age 40, also suggests “Away From Her” and “Georgia Rule” at her blog and notes two other films that deserve our attention: “Snow Cake” starring Sigourney Weaver and “Jindabyne” starring Laura Linney.

Speaking of “Georgia Rule,” which stars Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan, the New York premiere is tonight and it’s a benefit for the Women’s Media Center, which Fonda co-founded.

Plus: Films42.com, a film recommendation site, also sponsors the very informal but highly dedicated “Women In The Audience Supporting Women Artists Now” (or WITASWAN; akward, sure, but there’s a story behind it). This is the deal:

“WITASWAN members have all made a commitment to see at least one film every month either directed by &/or written by a woman, either in a theater or on DVD/VHS. No one measures us. No one checks up on us. This is a VOLUNTARY commitment made on the honor system. Does it matter? YES!”

Pass the popcorn.


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