‘Half the Picture’: A Rigged System Behind the Screen

Posted June 7, 2018 7:09 p.m. EDT

In the documentary “Half the Picture,” director Amy Adrion endeavors to expose film-industry sexism that usually remains offscreen. The movie is pegged to a continuing investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission into the sexist practices of major Hollywood film studios, an inquiry that began when the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to state and federal agencies in 2015, asking them to examine hiring at studios, networks and talent agencies.

In “Half the Picture,” Adrion surveys the scene by interviewing dozens of movie-industry professionals, from directors to government officials. All of Adrion’s subjects are women, and each one agrees that the film industry operates as a system of gendered inequality, where women — especially women of color — are not afforded the same opportunities as men behind the camera.

Some interviewees, like Ava DuVernay or Lena Dunham, might be able to fund projects based on their reputations. But the majority of the filmmakers included here are directors for hire whose careers depend on agents and executives considering them for open jobs in television and movies. In talking-head interviews, these women recount their frustrations — meetings with condescending executives who hire to fulfill diversity quotas, insulting confrontations with male crew members and instances of sexual harassment.

The stories Adrion elicits may be infuriatingly recognizable to women who work in many fields. But if there is a missing element in her analysis, it is the effect that sexism has on these women’s artistry, not only their livelihoods. Although she has assembled a cohort of distinctive artists from Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) to Miranda July (“Me and You and Everyone We Know”), and though each subject professes a desire to make personal films, Adrion only sparingly asks about their style, subject matter, passions and influences.

As a result, “Half the Picture” becomes an unwitting example of the impossible bind facing female filmmakers. Whether female artists submit to a rigged system or fight against it, the energy they expend on the struggle tugs them away from dreaming and creating. They’re pushed to contend with discrimination and demographics even as the sounds, colors, lights, stories and private politics that drive their cinematic visions go unacknowledged — asked to justify the value of an artistic perspective they are not allowed to fully embody.

Additional Information:

“Half the Picture”

This film is not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.