According to the website womenandhollywood.com, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, less than half (34 percent) of all 2017 speaking roles went to female actors. Those numbers get worse once race is factored — 68 percent of those roles went to white actresses — and much worse when you look behind the camera: Women only account for 18 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on the 250 top-grossing films.
The numbers only get worse as you expand the sample size, but there is a sense something might be changing. Granted, #MeToo and #TimesUp refer primarily to the abuse and exploitation happening behind closed doors. But they also signal a larger and much more disheartening reality: the contributions of women in cinema have been systemically undervalued.
That is beginning to change, as Britta Erickson, festival director for Women+Film, points out. Since 2011, Women+Film has celebrated women both in front and behind the camera, and this year’s festival is back to ring the bell. From the opening night documentary, RBG, about the famed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to the ethereal closing night film, The Sounding, and everything in between, Women+Film is an essential festival for Centennial state moviegoers.
Take Night Comes On (April 13, 7:30 p.m.), the directorial feature debut from Jordana Spiro. Recently released from prison, Angel (Dominique Fishback in a star-making role) seeks revenge for her mother’s death while trying to look after her younger sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall). Night Comes On is a little bit like Taxi Driver, but the streets are a hell of a lot meaner for a young black woman than they were for a disturbed white man. The film is a profound piece of work and thanks to the Boulder-based distribution company, Superlative Films, it won’t slip into obscurity.
Neither will The Rape of Recy Taylor (April 14, 7 p.m.), a haunting documentary from director Nancy Buirski about the 24-year-old wife and mother who was gang-raped by six white boys, one as young as 14, while walking home from church on September 3, 1944. Taylor took her assailants to court, and when justice was not served, a young NAACP investigator, Rosa Parks, got involved and made sure Taylor’s story did not evaporate into the wind.
Understanding how we got here is as vital as realizing where we are. Recy Taylor helps uncover that bitter history, as does the much-too-short film, Yours Sincerely, Lois Weber (part of the shorts package, April 14, 1:30 p.m.).
Simply put, Lois Weber might be the most important name in the history of cinematic development; working from 1908 to 1934 — a time when movies were generally disdained — Weber was prolific, creative and inventive, and established the very building blocks of cinematic language. But, when the movies became a major market for commerce and propaganda, they also became a boys club and the door was shut on Weber and her legacy.
Thankfully, neither Taylor nor Weber’s stories have been lost; they still persist and they still inspire. Hollywood may still be a man’s world, but Women+Film looks to change that.
On the Bill: Women+Film Festival. April 10–15, Sie Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 720-381-0813, denverfilm.org/women-plus-film-festival