Meryl Streep discusses the underrepresentation of women in Hollywood… (Kevin Winter / Getty Images )
Fourteen years ago, the gender breakdown for behind-the-scenes employment in the top 250 films was 83% men and 17% women. By last year, women had improved their representation -- ever so slightly.
In 2011, the division of labor in the same number of movies was 82% men and 18% women, according to a San Diego State University study looking at directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers.
"The shocking underrepresentation of women in our business" is how Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep described the "dreadful" statistics Tuesday night during Women in Film's 2012 Crystal and Lucy Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton hotel.
Hollywood's heavy tilt toward men in the executive suites, and among those selecting which films get made, was lamented frequently during the star-studded gala that honored performer Viola Davis and NBCUniversal executive Bonnie Hammer, among others.
During the last five years, "five little movies aimed at women have brought in over $1.6 billion in worldwide box office," Streep told the ballroom crowded with women.
Streep starred in three of those five films -- "Mamma Mia," "The Devil Wears Prada" and"The Iron Lady," for which she won a best actress Oscar this year for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The other two successes she mentioned were"The Help" and"Bridesmaids."
Those films "cost a fraction of what the big tent-pole failures cost," Streep said, not mentioning by name movies geared toward men that turned out to be spectacular disappointments at the box office. Walt Disney Co. took a $200-million write-down on its bomb "John Carter,"and Universal Pictures' underperforming "Battleship" left top executives at the studio and its parent company,Comcast Corp., more than a little seasick.
"The Iron Lady" cost $14 million to make, Streep said, and generated $114 million in global ticket sales. "Pure profit," Streep said, noting that despite the strong showing, studios continue to make few movies specifically targeted at women.
"Why? Why? Why? Don't they want the money?" Streep asked the crowd, who broke into laughter.
Davis, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "The Help" (but lost to Streep's "Iron Lady" performance) was honored by Women in Film for achievement and contributions to the industry, including breaking through Hollywood's gender and color barriers.
Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, who is in charge of such cable networks as USA, Syfy, E! and G-4, received the group's Lucy award. The award is named for Lucille Ball, a pioneer on the business side of television as well as onscreen.
The group bestowed its humanitarian award on Christina Applegate ("Up All Night"), and 15-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz received the Max Mara Face of the Future award. Anette Haellmigk, the lead director for three years on HBO's "Big Love," was honored with the Kodak vision award.
Five Fox movie executives -- Nancy Utley, president of Fox Searchlight Pictures; Emma Watts, president of production for 20th Century Fox; Elizabeth Gabler, president of production for Fox 2000 Pictures; Claudia Lewis, president of production at Fox Searchlight; and Vanessa Morrison Murchison, president of Fox Animation, were recognized for professional excellence.