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Saturday 22 May 2010

Women, Men & The Film Industry.

"The statistics of women in film are rubbish across the industry apart from hair and make-up, production assistants, and cinema cleaners! Perhaps one reason why few women move into directing films is that they don't see as many films from a female's perspective or female directors as role models."
-Rachel Millward

Our industry favors men more than women. This is indisputable. In Hollywood, 94% of films are directed by men. At Cannes this year, out of the twenty Palm D'or nominees, none of them are women. This is one element of the problem.

Here's something else. Nearly all actresses I know have had an experience where they've turned up at an audition, only to find out it's in some guy's apartment, and as it turns out; the scene she has to read is a little more sexual than expected. That's one example. There are many that are far worse. Of all the male actors I know, none have been presented with this problem. I have talked about this before, in my article 'Something All Young Actresses Should Be Aware Of'. "There is one magic way to meet women. And not just any women, but the most beautiful women you could find. It's a very simple sentence, "I'm casting a movie."" Absolutely anyone can hold auditions for a film. Anyone can register on, Casting Call Pro or Talent Circle - and there are people who abuse this.

Immediate thoughts come to mind such as 'This is a problem with society, not with the film industry' or 'I am a good guy, I don't do anything wrong.' This is a very convenient position to take and one that I, as a male in the film business, have often taken. When a newspaper reports that women are not getting their films funded, or that there are no meaty acting roles for them, I use my privilege as a man to disregard the matter; to not see it as my concern. By using this privilege, by not being accountable for it, I am becoming part of the problem. I'm being a bystander; ignoring a very real and very pressing problem in our industry.

Bringing awareness to this topic is new to me, and there is so much to be looked at, discussed, and processed. A good way to start would be to hear more. In what ways is the film industry unfair/prejudice? (i.e. acting roles, directors, etc), and in what ways are women potentially manipulated and put in danger? (i.e. unprofessional auditions, nude scenes, etc). I'm sure there are many, many things that I am not aware of -- and that's exactly why I'd encourage you to share them with the readers here.

I'd really like to hear from you all - men and women, on this topic. By hearing more around your concerns and issues, we can then go deeper into them. This is a discussion that needs to happen more in our industry, but generally doesn't. So let's start.


  1. Hey Kid,

    I remember reading an article about this in Elle magazine in 2007. You can download a pdf here:

    It's a roundtable discussion of some of the most successful female producers, screenwriters and directors. It's an interesting insight and it seems like women are fighting a battle that they can never win. As long as everything is divided into 'directors' and 'female directors' etc, then inequality will continue to reign.

    In regards to actresses- in my very limited experience, show business is one of the few remaining industries that can get away with judging women as objects. I'm happier now that I'm focussing on writing than I ever was when I studied acting- because I know my work gets judged for it's quality. Of course, talent is important in acting, but how many unattractive, gifted young actresses are out there hitting the big time?

  2. I'm a chick, and I want to be a director. Yeah, there really are no female role models, but I kind of want to make movies like Tarantino or Jarmusch or Godard, or even Rian Johnson. Don't really need someone else to break into the industry before I do, do I?

    Anyways, I always figure, if I was going to cast a movie, I'd put an add that empahasized no nudity, somethine like that. I'd probably end up with a lot more audtions.

    Excellent piece, then.

  3. Good point that men also need to look at the issue, rather than taking a passive stance. I see Manda's point about directors v female directors. Like with 'Hurt Locker'. Everyone made a big thing about it because it was directed by a woman. But I think it's a good thing, not a bad thing. Amelia Earhart-started out with it being about her being a female pilot. Eventually, once it happens enough, it'll phase itself out.

    Women have just as much blame as men. Yes, it stinks that men play on young actresses desire to be in something and are creepy. There are things like that in every job, every profession. It's just acting is a HUGE field. And gets more attention. Jodie Foster, Sophia Coppola--these are strong women. I think the industry is going to need some strong women to shake up Hollywood and Cannes and say, "Hey. Look at this." And try to not make it about gender issues. Make it about quality of work, of what women have to say.

    It could stem from childhood, even. Women see magazines and movies and think--my beauty needs to be seen. That doesn't inspire too many to get BEHIND the camera. So, maybe it is a society thing. Because men don't value their beauty, they value their insight. Their mind. tangent not sure where it's going.

  4. Interesting post. Quite honestly, I think those who have the passion for what they do will be successful - it is their passion that will keep them going despite the obstacles, despite the odds. Those who do not have the passion, will not and will quit easily. Insightful post, thanks for sharing!

  5. Simon - I've read your comment again and again, and I really don't quite know what you're saying. Perhaps you could rephrase, or add some more detail - because I'm not really understanding it. Sorry!

    Wild Celtic - You say this big sweeping statement, 'Women have just as much blame as men,' without really going further into it. In a profession that is dominated at the top by males, where women struggle to get the opportunities, I find it hard to blame women as much. Also, you say for things to change, women need to be strong, and shake things up-- and that in itself may only be the case because of the prejudice's of the industry. Why should a creative, talented writer, for example, need to be bold and 'strong' - just to be even with the men of the industry? -- Wild Celtic, you raise some fascinating points, and I've nothing against you going off on a tangeant, every point is interesting-- but perhaps you could come back at add some more points!

    Film Gurl - I hope you're right. I know many people, male and female - who are passionate and you're right, it's a very important factor. However, passionate or not, the factors I've mentioned still play their role, I feel, and therein lies prejudices that we all seem more happy ignoring, than facing.

    A BIG thing I mentioned was how so many women have such horrible experiences with 'creepy' directors trying to take advantage of them. This aspect of the conversation doesn't seem to be talked about here in the comments, and that's a concern, I think. It's a GIANT problem, I even encountered a story about this TODAY from an actress, the story made me sick.

  6. Rambling, mostly...I don't really like how you assume a girl won't want to be a director unless someone else does it first.

  7. Sorry Simon, I think we may have got mixed up somewhere in the conversation. I don't assume or mean to imply that at all. My point simply has been based on the facts that it's harder for women to achieve or get the right opportunities, based on bias in our industry. There is a giant voice in screenwriting and directing that is MISSING, and it's the voice of women.

  8. Well, I think, maybe, women wouldn't be that different from men...I mean, for a while, I always thought of directing--in most cases, at least--as a generally asexual position. If only people could use fake names for directing, like with books, the gender probably wouldn't matter at all.

    There are plenty of women in screenwriting. They just never get credit.

    I think women are cut from the profession (if I may ramble a bit longer) is because the movies that draw in box office--predominately crap horror movies and romcoms--are unbearably sexist. Therefore, as a lady-type person, I vow to make the most reverse-sexist horror movie ever made!

    Or something.

  9. Excellent post, Kid! As an actress who wanted to be Luke Skywalker growing up, I am always dismayed to see gratuitous nudity in films, hear about my fellow actors' fears of working with a "chick director" on set, or hear about auditions where the girls were asked to talk about sexual situations when the script had nothing to do with that. I don't know why people are still threatened by females in powerful positions and I'm hoping that "The Hurt Locker" winning best film and best director might change that up a bit.

    Interestingly enough, even women writers and directors objectify women. It's not always men doing all of it - Joss Whedon is one of the biggest feminists in Hollywood right now. :)

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Very insightful.

  10. This post is now carried on in a new topic..

  11. Blimey - this is an eye opener!!! I've just finished a Screenwriting course - taught by two men - I am a woman - my mission statement has always been to write from a womans point of view - the first script assignment that I submitted on the course had a female protagonist and guess what??? I was told to make the protagonist a man.................. ughhhhhhh. Does anyone else feel like they're pissing into the wind and all that they've got is a wet leg?

  12. Trish - Thanks so much for your comment. I'm really sorry the people teaching you told you that. I've been on both sides of this, if I'm honest. I've always felt that I prefer films led by men, than women. Similarly, with all things relating to comedy, I have always found men funnier on screen and on stage. What I am realizing more and more is that, this is largely down to the very prejudices we are talking about. I've grown up watching men doing these things, because women have not always had that chance.

    That your teachers told you to write men is really disappointing. With films like PRECIOUS and JUNO in recent years - there can be no doubt that films with female leads can work, and do work, very well.

    It may feel like you're pissing in the wind. But if you write an amazing screenplay with female protagonists, there's room for it. And if there isn't, we can make it. The worrying thing is, people like your course teachers, and many other people in the industry, would not only not want to make your script, but also, in effect, they're stopping you from writing it in the first place.

    I'd really encourage you to write it regardless of your fears that 'nobody will want it'. You're oppressing yourself before the industry has a chance too. So please write it. We can deal with the rest afterwards :)

  13. The tricky thing I've found is that a lot of sexism in the industry is unconscious. Executives are simply more likely to risk a million bucks on a young male director, than on a woman the same age. They aren't aware of this being a gender biased choice. They just like Tom's pitch better than Mandy's. A curious thing happens when a woman clears 40. At last we can be taken seriously. Andrea Arnold won Camera D'or with Red Road in Cannes 2006 or 2007 - aged 42.

    Let's not forget to celebrate and learn about the women who've done it.
    Someone else's list - and I can't recall now whose - of the 21 best films directed by women. I've saved it because I've only seen half of them and aim to remedy that.
    Meek’s Cutoff (2011) Kelly Reichardt
    Father of My Children (2009) Mia Hansen-Løve
    Oxhide (2005) and Oxhide II (2009) Liu Jiayin
    The Way We Are (2008) Ann Hui
    Mukhsin (2006) Yasmin Ahmad
    Sharasojyu (2003) Naomi Kawase
    La Cienega (2001) Lucrecia Martel
    Fat Girl (2001) Catherine Breillat
    Beau Travail (1999) Claire Denis
    Ratcatcher (1999) Lynne Ramsay
    The Piano (1993) Jane Campion
    Hearts of Darkness (1991) Eleanor Coppola
    An Autumn’s Tale (1987) Mabel Cheung
    Born in Flames (1983) Lizzie Borden
    Variety (1983) Bette Gordon
    Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) Chantal Akerman
    Destroy, She Said (1969) Marguerite Duras
    The Connection (1962) Shirley Clark
    Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) Agnès Varda
    Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) Maya Deren
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) Lotte Reiniger