Women In Hollywood - Are The Numbers Changing?

07/12/2010 01:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On March 7 of this year, Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for Best Director for her remarkable helming of The Hurt Locker. The well-deserved honor marked the first time a woman director had taken home the award, and now, the doors to the Hollywood Boys Club have been thrown wide open and gender inequity in the entertainment industry is a thing of the past.

Well, not exactly.

Dr. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University has been compiling a yearly report for over a decade now, called The Celluloid Ceiling. The study tracks women's representation in creative and executive roles within the film industry, and unfortunately, the stats aren't great. In 2008, women accounted for only 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of the year. Twenty-two percent of the films released in 2008 employed no women at all in those previously mentioned key roles.

But as the dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), I'm in a unique position to feel very positive about the future of women in the entertainment industry. In fact, were a parent of a prospective female student to ask me, "Should my daughter go to school to study the cinematic arts?", I would unequivocally, and atop the Hollywood sign if necessary, say "Yes!"

In making my case to a parent or a young woman, I can point to our remarkable list of female alumni who are shaping the industry, including Ann Biderman (Southland), Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy), Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight), Kellee Santiago (thatgamecompany), Stacey Sher (Erin Brockovich), and Laura Ziskin (Spiderman).

I can also highlight our extraordinary faculty, including Midge Costin, the Academy Award-nominated sound editor for Crimson Tide and Armageddon; Tracy Fullerton, award-winning game designer, entrepreneur and author, whose textbook, Game Design Workshop, is in use in game programs around the world; Mary Sweeney, producer/director/writer/editor, with credits including The Straight Story, Mulholland Drive, and Baraboo, as well as her current writing project, Two Knives, directed by Wong Kar-Wai; and a host of other passionate and engaged educators, all of whom remain actively involved in their own creative endeavors outside the classroom.

One of these deeply involved educators is Judy Irola, award-winning director of photography and head of our cinematography track, whose work has taken her around the world from Brazil to Poland to Mozambique. Deeply committed to supporting her students, just one example of the success of Irola's mentorship is SCA alum Alice Brooks, who recently wrapped shooting on season two of The LXD (The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers), directed by fellow alum Jon M. Chu, and is prepping a 3D horror movie called The Need.

And the ground is fertile for more success stories like this one: I'm happy to say that SCA has a 50/50 ratio of women to men for our fall admissions. Despite the disappointing numbers in the Lauzen study, progress has been made, and is continuing to be made. Each year, SCA trains more and more women who will join those already entrenched in the industry, and work to tell stories that resonate with audiences everywhere. Just as importantly, we will be training them to be fluent in a new language: that of visual storytelling, which complements and informs traditional literacies, and promises to become more and more integrated into practically every profession, as each industry realizes the growing potential for using these techniques.

The Best Director Oscar that Kathryn Bigelow won stands as the first win for a woman, but it won't be the last. If you know a young woman who is contemplating going to school to study film, television or interactive media, encourage her wholeheartedly. It will open up limitless career opportunities, and contribute to a richer and more diverse entertainment industry.

It also saves me a trip up to the Hollywood sign.