Quick. Name a female film composer. Right… a woman.
Who? Fanny… Mendelssohn? No sorry, she was Felix’ sister and pre-dated the cinema industry by about two generations.
The fact is, you may not know any by name. Because while women in the entertainment industry have made historic gains in representation both on and off camera, the percentage of film composers who are women has remained dismal. According to a study published Wednesday by USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative, female composers worked on just 1.4% of the 100 top-grossing films for each of the last 12 years. And the last woman to win an Oscar for a movie score was Anne Dudley for 1997’s “The Full Monty” — more than two decades ago.
It’s a sad statistic for any industry, let alone one that prides itself on diversity.
On September 20, more than a dozen female composers will join journalists and activists in Orchestra Moderne NYC’s concert “Women Warriors: The Voices of Change” at Lincoln Center in New York City. Supported by Music Resonates, Inc., a nonprofit that supports women and minority composers, Women Warriors will challenge the mindset of the industry by presenting the cream of the crop of women who tell stories in music.
Amy Andersson, conductor, creator and producer of the social-justice-themed concert, recognized the importance of tapping female composers like multiple-Emmy nominee Lolita Ritmanis (“Batman: The Brave and the Bold”), Starr Parodi (“The Division) and Miriam Cutler (“RBG”) to celebrate the lives of forgotten women of history with new compositions. “This production is staffed and created by women and presents 17 world premieres that honor the lives of female activists,” she said.
Women Warriors has inspired much-needed cultural diversity by encouraging female composers to push themselves beyond their own cultures in their subject matter. Four-time Emmy nominee Sharon Farber, an Israeli-born Berklee alumna who’s just landed a position on the Executive Committee of the music branch of the Motion Picture Academy, will perform a work called “Say Their Names,” about the pain and heartache of women in the Black Lives Matter movement who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I have always been drawn to human stories,” Farber said, “those that are more significant than any imaginary ones, and those stories must be told.” Farber’s discography includes compositions for “The Young and the Restless,” the animated “Batman and Superman” series as well as numerous films. As a concert composer, Farber’s work for the Daniel Pearl Foundation and on behalf of Holocaust survivors brings a dramatic and rich tapestry of sound to important issues that impact women.
But how effective will this concert be in leveling the playing field for female composers in Hollywood?
By the time that the Riga Cathedral Girl’s Choir TIARA premieres Amy Andersson and Lolita Ritmanis’ composition “We Rise,” the totality of Women Warrior’s effectiveness as a call to action, bundled in an evening of dynamic entertainment, should be evident.
As Farber explained, “Hans Christian Andersen eloquently wrote, ‘When words fail, music speaks.’ I am a true believer in this universal statement and honored to be a part of this historical and important concert.”