2020: The Year of Women in Film?

Hollywood Women in Film Sign
Are women finally making a comeback of power in the film industry? (Source: Ravi Vora via. Wikimedia Commons)

By Molly Govus | Head of Comment 

We are a lucky society.

As time goes on, many aspects of our society are changing. Some for the worst, but some for the best. For example, the film industry is one of those facets of our global culture that is adapting and moulding to the people within it. As we become more liberal and more diverse in our views, it is only right that industries follow suit. With film having such a huge part in making an impact onto our culture, it is only right, in this day in age, that women get to make an input like never seen before.

Albeit there is still a long way to go in regard to female representation of power within the industry. It is disheartening to remember that we have only come so far in the last 90 years, since the Academy Awards have been running. For instance, in that time, only five women have ever been nominated for best director Oscar, and only one has ever won (Kathryn Bigelow, 2010, for The Hurt Locker).

Do not feel disheartened when you hear these facts – this is by no fault due to a lack of talented women within the industry. ‘The Wedding Party’, directed by Kemi Adetiba, was Nigeria’s highest-grossing movie of 2016. In China, women directed three out of the top ten grossing movies of 2018. It doesn’t take a lot of research to see that there is an upward trend in the world of women directors in film. Only one question remains: why is it taking so much time for women to be heard in a position of directive power in film?

Time’s Up UK is a group that was founded in 2018 by Hollywood’s most prolific actresses o the #MeToo movement. Chair of the group, Dame Heather Rabbatts, gives brilliant reason behind this disappointing fact. Rabbats stated that ‘people tend to recruit in their own image’, and where the majority of directors in film have been male, it is arguably in their image, and nature, to hire men. Adding to this, she states that directing ‘has not been a role where women have seen many other women role models’.

As you can see, a vicious cycle starts to form where directing has been a solely male preserve. It is only now that other women are starting to see that there is a space for them within the industry. This could be seen as a snowball effect going forward in the age of film – as more women brave the societal jump into directive power, it is only a natural progression for others to follow in their footsteps.

So, where is the evidence of this? Streaming platforms gain a lot of credit in the rising opportunities for female filmmakers in the world. Netflix could very well be the turning point which will give women a new platform to make their mark on.

Whilst there is still more to undoubtedly be done to raise the importance of women in film, there are now multiple worldwide initiatives to increase the number of female directors, writers, producers, and cinematographers.  One solution, launched by director Alma Har’el in October 2019, served as a significant tipping point. Har’el stated that ‘we’re going to do for film what we did for commercials’, which is a hard pill to swallow, knowing that there is still so much more that needs to be done. We have seen a huge increase in the amount of of diversity within modern advertising; why is it not the same for the film industry?

Nevertheless, incentives, tactics and education on the topic have provided a starting point. Har’el’s initiative had enormous success, increasing the number of women directors at some agencies by a turnaround of 400%.

Dr Martha M Lauzen is a Professor and Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University and author of The Celluloid Ceiling. Her work calls into question that stereotypes surrounding women’s skills and ambition are a powerful barrier to their entry to the film industry. Supporting this, lobbying is also another tactic used to boost inspiration and the need for change. In 2019, Time’s Up and The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative launched the 4% Challenge. This is in response to the harrowing statistic that women directed just 4% of the top films in the past decade. The challenge asks producers and actors to commit to a project with a woman at the helm within 18 months of signing the pledge in an attempt to boost statistics. Major studios such as Universal and Working Title have signed the pledge, which is encouraging. There appears to be a more positive and upward trend, which supports Rabbatts in saying that recognition of women in film ‘won’t change overnight sadly, but we all feel that the industry is responding positively’.

As aforementioned, the lack of adequate recognition towards women in media is not due to a lack of talent. Within the UK, one of the most iconic female directors is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is also writer and producer of the BBC hit ‘Fleabag’ and executive producer of the first series of ‘Killing Eve’. Avid TV watchers will be aware that her directing style stole our hearts, whether that be through tears or the love for the characters she created. One of the things I believe is that female directors have an edge that is hard to replicate elsewhere.

The emotion and integrity is almost untouchable, and it creates a rapport in film between the characters and the audience that is unlike anything else. For example, Waller-Bridge used the breaking of the fourth wall. In simple acting terms, her character speaks to the camera as though the audience are in the room with her, and this creates an intimacy unlike no other. It is the most intense connection that can be constructed through a screen, which is ultimately remarkable.

It isn’t enough to say that there is so much more to do, but we have been blessed with the time and resources to make a change in the way women are heard in the film industry. I wish it were enough to just sing the praises of female directors that have flourished, but there is more action needed.

Whilst 2020 has been a year like no other, there are still incentives and brilliant motivations in place for female directors and producers alike to rise to the top. I can only hope that this continues and that there will continue to be an upward trend in the statistic in years to come.

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