The recent X-Men: Apocalypse has been given credit for prominently featuring females which, for a summer superhero blockbuster, is an important move towards inclusivity in one of the more male- dominated areas of film. But, it then equally caused uproar has it featured Apocalypse (male lead) strangling Mystique (female lead) on massive billboards, the snapshot could have been perceived as promoting violence towards women and a campaign was spearheaded by people such as Rose McGowan to remove this kind of advertising. It leads to the question, why is the equality of females and in fact all races, sexualities, disabilities etc… not given the same respect, opportunities and funding as men?
We explore very briefly; the role this is having on female filmmaking industry. Research shows, there still seems to be a startling lack of representation behind it- something pointed out by the filmmakers’ society Direct UK when a study discovered that only 13.6% of film directors in the UK are women. This seems a startling minority, something which must be damaging for the film industry.
There are no easy solutions for remedying this. It’s not as simple as encouraging more females to study the art- females have traditionally outnumbered males by a noticeable margin in most arts subjects. However, it is worth examining the milestones female filmmakers must overcome, in order to see if a solution can be found.
Lack of Role Models
Role models are what encourages young people to learn and work. Be it Marlon Brando encouraging actors, Stephen Spielberg inspiring filmmakers, Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks, Tarantino’s scripts or any other famous figure creating masterpieces, new talent comes from old. As you may have noticed, those figures listed are all male.
There is a noticeable lack of famous female filmmakers. A woman has only won a directing Oscar once- Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, and they are rarely given the opportunity to direct big budget films. Between 2000 and 2010, of the 241 films that grossed over $100 million, only seven were directed by women. And due to this tiny fraction studios are too fearful to invest money in directors, assuming that success is dependent on the gender of the director instead of any personal merits.
In other sectors of filmmaking, women are much more successful. Seven Oscars went out to women last year, for achievements such as Lisa Thompson’s Production Design on Mad Max: Fury Road, and it shows that in the supporting roles of filmmaking, women are fully respected. Yet this respect seems lacking in the commanding roles of a film, which is troubling.
Due to studios being very reluctant to invest in films, it seems likely that in order to have more women getting in to directing, we need to have a few more break out for studio executives to realise merit is not dependent on gender. It would be much better for Hollywood to get over its gender bias and hire equally, but that seems extraordinarily unlikely.
If having your gender ignored in the film industry wasn’t enough, there are also examples of outright hostility from the film industry toward female figures- even nowadays. It is understandable how these could put a female filmmaker off pursuing an interest in the industry.
Case in point is costume designer Jenny Beavan, who last year won several awards for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road. However, when she went to collect her BAFTA, host Stephen Fry jokingly compared her appearance to a ‘bag lady’. At the Oscars, on the way to collect her award, a video caught her walking past a contingent of seated male stars. None of them applaud- not director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, nor actor Tom Hardy. This video has been viewed over 60 million times.
The lack of respect and public derision shown by these stars towards the women that are essential in creating these films is unfathomable, and likely a deterrent for those who would otherwise be interested in going in to film. Who would want to slave away creating art, only to be shunned by the star that your film made famous?
Lack of Funding
The disparity in male and female directors in the UK has already been mentioned, and this huge difference in numbers is often put down to a lack of funds given to the film. This isn’t just from major studios- even public funding groups such as the BFI or Creative England have been accused of gender bias.
An enforced equal split between both genders with regards to film financing has been suggested, and several groups such as Creative England are already taking steps to rise to this figure. It would make sense, since the number of male and female film students are roughly even, and this could be a good gauge of the interest of both genders.
Funding is arguably the most important hurdle for a female filmmaker to overcome. Hostility and derision are troubling barriers, however a lack of funding very literally stops any project in its tracks. Yet it’s also the easiest to dismantle- simply by introducing the equal split between genders for distribution of funds, any project worthwhile will have a fair chance at being made.
Looks, Not Talent
It’s a tale told time and time again- a budding new female filmmaker goes for a meeting with a producer or executive, who then bases his judgement of her and her suitability on her appearance. Or worse, he makes advances on her. It’s often a clichéd tale of big evil businessman preying on the innocent young filmmaker, yet in reality this happens again and again. From Penelope Spheeris, director of Wayne’s World, to Antonia Bird, director of Priest, stories are rife of the objectification that happens not only in front of the camera, but also in the boardroom and meeting rooms.
This is probably the hardest issue to remedy- real life isn’t a film, and people aren’t so easy to change. Yet women are becoming more and more successful in the film industry, and it will be increasingly challenging for higher-ups to selectively ignore all those that aren’t aesthetically pleasing to them.
This is not a list of improvements to help remedy the film industry’s gender bias- there is no one easy way to do that. This is simply a list of areas of weakness that we need to focus on to help include all in the joys of filmmaking. After all, a more films made based on merit instead of gender can only improve the quality of films we see.
By Tom Bedford