What do these films have in common?
Big, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Waynes World, Sleepless in Seattle, American Psycho, Little Miss Sunshine, Boys Don’t Cry, The Notorious Bettie Page, Jumpin Jack Flash and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. They were all directed by women.
An article on the Telegraph website last week read: Number of major female film directors has fallen over 17 years, study finds It’s an interesting read if you’re not already familiar with the industry standard when it comes to women in film.
Female directors were there at the birth of cinema. La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy – 1896) is one of the earliest narrative fiction films ever made and it was made by a woman, Alice Guy Blaché and yet when Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker in 2009, she became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. Isn’t that mad? In 135 years of film and 80 years of the Oscars and not ONE woman had won before and only 4 female directors have been nominated in those same 80 years.
Going back to silent film, Lois Weber is considered the first genuine auteur and “one of the most important and prolific film directors in the era of silent films”. Women were involved with script writing, editing, writing and more so what changed?
During the silent film boom more and more banks had gained control of Hollywood production companies and began to standardise the film industry later becoming the Hay’s Code – If you’ve never seen the code before, give it a look. It makes for very interesting reading. At the time banks were not in the habit of lending money to women, especially in what many thought was ‘no job for a woman’.
Bigelow’s win at the Oscars highlighted female directors but more importantly the lack of female filmmakers which I talked about in another blog.
Women make up 50% of all film school graduates but only 5% of these women are what you’d call ‘working Hollywood directors’. Why?
Aside from a lack of representation, women in Hollywood came up against sexism.
Hollywood is one big boys club so if you’re a woman in the filmmaking business you have to work twice as hard as the men to get your voice heard. Good old fashioned sexism is responsible for things like this:
‘Martha Coolidge, director, co-founder of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers and the IFP, and the first woman president of the Director’s Guild of America, tells the story of the female president of a major studio who said:
— no woman over 40 could possibly have the stamina to direct a feature film. I’ve heard people say that the kind of films they want to make are too big, too tough for a female director. The worst was when my agent sent another woman director in for an interview, and afterwards the guy called up and said, ‘Never send anyone again who I wouldn’t want to fuck.’
Wayne’s World director Penelope Spheeris described a meeting between her and a male executive at the Beverly Hills Hotel at the beginning of her career:
– the guy was pretty drunk, and he ripped some of my clothes trying to take them off me, and when I got up and started screaming he said, ‘Did you want to make this music video or not?’ You say sexist, I say felony.
Let that sink in for a while. It’s pretty fucking horrible isn’t it?
Being all too aware of these issues it’s no wonder women aren’t falling over themselves to be a part of this side of the industry.
A lot of people suggest that women are flourishing in the independent film scene but according to the BFI: “of the independent UK films released between 2010 and 2012, just 16% of the writers and 11% of the directors were women. However, for the top 20 UK independent films over the same period, women represented 37% of the writers and 18% of the directors. And for profitable UK independent films, 30% of the writers were women.” That’s what? 3 out of 20 directors? I don’t call that flourishing, it’s not even encouraging.
Sooner or later things are going to change, they have to. These statistics cannot be ignored. The perception of women behind the camera is changing, there are more and more discussions being highlighted about gender bias in the film industry.
“The British Film Institute, which helps the industry, handing out £27m a year, said it was trying to tackle the diversity issues; new funding quotas were being introduced in September which would stipulate that films, to be eligible for BFI funding, should have a certain percentage of actors and crew who were female, gay, disabled and from ethnic minorities.”
I firmly believe that by fighting sexism head on and more visibility for female directors will encourage more women to get stuck in.