Cut out of the picture

Another entry for the “to the surprise of no one” file – very few British films are written or directed by women.

A report commissioned by Directors UK found that between 2005 and 2014 just 13.6% of British films were directed by women and only 14.6% of those had a female screenwriter, as a result of “unconscious, systemic bias”.

The damning report concluded that the problem of gender inequality had remained almost unchanged in those 10 years, revealing that in 2005, 11.5% of UK films had a female director, which only increased to 11.9% in 2014.

We know. How do we know? We see the movies, and the advertising for the movies, and the reviews of the movies.

Beryl Richards, the chair of Directors UK, emphasised how the “problematic” lack of progress – and in some areas even a regression – meant that a radical move was needed to force the industry to become more less inherently sexist.

Richards believes introducing a 50-50 gender parity target for films funded by bodies such as the BFI, Creative England, Creative Scotland, Northern Ireland Screen, Ffilm Cymru Wales and Film London – which collectively finance a fifth of British films – is a “the only way we will break the vicious cycle, where public money is going to a narrow, privileged few”.

Public funding of movies isn’t a thing in the US. We belong – voluntarily or not – to the Church of The Market Is Never Wrong, so we let the market decide whether or not the bosses think men will pay money to see movies written and directed by women. The market has decided that the bosses think men will never ever do that, and that there’s no need to count women because they go to the movies as the guest of a man so they don’t get to pick what to see.

The report, titled Cut Out of the Picture, illustrated that despite an equal split of men and women studying film, and subsequently entering the film industry, women dropped off at every level, particularly as budgets got higher.

The data reveals that 27% of short films – a starting point for most film-makers – were directed by women, but as budgets rose nearer £500,000, this fell to 16%, and when they rose to between £1m and £10m, just 12% had women at the helm. When it came to blockbusters with £30m-plus budgets, only 3.3% had been directed by women since 2005.

But wait. That’s not because the bosses refuse to hire them, is it? Surely it’s because they’re not good enough, or because they want to have many babies instead? Isn’t it?

Sarah Gavron, director of Suffragette and Brick Lane, said she had been waiting for things to change since she left film school in 2000, but in vain. “It was only when I started seeing films directed by women that I felt I could dare to try to direct,” said Gavron. “Role models are key to developing and encouraging the next generation of film makers.

“Film of course influences our culture which is why it is vital to have diversity and more gender equality both in front of and behind the camera. We need to work to shift this imbalance, and it seems the only way to do this is to be radical, rather than waiting for something to change.”

We’ve been waiting for several generations now, and still film continues to influence our culture in such a way that most people seem to think women are a tiny insignificant minority who can be safely ignored. If life is like the movies, then women just aren’t around, so why pay attention to them?

The report revealed how the “systemic” difficulty in climbing the directorial ladder also meant female directors direct fewer films in their career and are less likely to receive a second, third or fourth directing job.

“Collectively, these findings paint a picture of an industry where female directors are limited in their ability to become directors and their career progression once they do. They are limited in the number of films they can direct as well as the budget and genre of the films they do,” concluded the report.

It’s self-perpetuating. They can’t direct a first film, so then they don’t have a track record so they go on being unable to direct a first film. Career over.

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