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Show Me the Women: the Debates & the Movies

August 14, 2008

Like a rubber band snapping back to its original shape, the upcoming presidential debates remind us of the stagnant condition of network news: all three moderators will be white men of a certain (older) age: Bob Schieffer of CBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC, and Jim Lehrer of PBS.

One doesn't argue with the credentials of these three anchors, of course. Only with the bankruptcy of the networks' imagination in hiring, grooming -- and using -- of women and people of color in the highest ranks. Gwen Ifill of PBS will host the vice-presidential debate. But clearly she is capable of asking presidential candidates probing questions. The relegation of her to this secondary role is insulting and an example of how much work we still have to do. The prospect that the most important vetting of our presidential candidates will be an all male, constant exhibition of ego is, quite frankly, depressing.

Michel Martin of NPR sums it up best in her audio commentary. The host of her own daily take on the world, "Tell Me More," Martin tackles the subject brilliantly here. Let us know your thoughts about this issue by posting on our blog, Majority Post, and join the WMC's campaign to add women to the debates.

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I finally got to see Mamma Mia. After absorbing the sometimes vitriolic reviews, I was a little worried. But, it turns out I had a grand time -- so did my fellow 42nd Street movie fans. I know, because I kept checking their faces for reactions. The response world-wide has been lucrative, too: Mamma Mia is approaching a $300 million dollar take -- and had the best domestic opening of a musical ever -- at 27.6 million. I tell you this because not many other people will-the news-breaking elements of this woman-written (Catherine Johnson), produced (Judy Craymor), directed  (Phyllida Lloyd), and headlined (Meryl Streep) film got buried in the bluster of the male-laden Dark Knight mega success.

So, let's say hooray! -- and hope that this breakthrough success, on the heels of Sex and the City's, will convince Hollywood (mostly male) brokers that  women have the power to drive films to profitability. WMC Honorary Advisory Council member Dr. Martha Lauzen has done the impressive work on women in Hollywood in her Celluloid Ceiling reports: last year women were only 15 % of the workforce on the top 250 films -- a decline of 4% from 2001. They directed only 6 % of the films, a decline of 1% from last year. Dr. Lauzen has most recently tackled the issue of women reviewers -- and you can see that on the website of the American Women Film Journalists, on whose Advisory Board I am pleased to serve. For the latest, savvy feminist take on women and film, be sure to also check out WMC Advisory Council member Melissa Silverstein's blog Women and Hollywood.  You'll find there the latest dust-up over Variety's Women's Impact Report '08.

The WMC is working to make women in Hollywood visible and powerful as well. Under the guidance of Friends producer Marta Kauffman, we have brought women filmmakers together in LA and New York to plot for progress. We'll keep you informed, and in the meantime we hope you will help us continue our work.
With warmest wishes,

Carol Jenkins
WMC President

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