They say that a wise man knows what he knows and knows what he doesn’t know, and by “they” I mean Tywin Lannister whose quote I just paraphrased the shizz out of. Most of the time I consider it important to relegate my views if I am aware that my knowledge of a certain subject is limited. What do I think of the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee? I don’t know, I’m not a Native American and I know little of their culture or history (Though if I was a Native American I’m fairly-confident my tribal name would be Tickles with Badgers). I know I’m not a woman, therefore I try and avoid gender politics like the plague. Do I have an opinion about women’s rights to an abortion? Yes, but it’s about as integral as a koala’s opinions about scuba diving. It’s flattering you’ve taken an interest in my view, but how does the perspective of anyone who doesn’t have a uterus really factor into this? However, something has been bothering me for a few years now and if you read the title of the article then I imagine you are already ahead of me on this, so well played. Women’s role in cinema, or the lack of it. If art reflects life, then the underrepresentation of women in critical roles within the film industry is worrying, right? It’s not just me?
The majority of producers, screenwriters, cinematographers and composers who work within film are men. Whereas the most worrying lack of female representation may be in the director’s chair, something which isn’t acceptable. If there is a symbol of creative power within film it is with that of the director. Their vision and interpretation is usually the most important, well at least in principal photography. So, you can imagine how supremely puzzled I am by the frankly alarming minority of female filmmakers in cinema. It’s a well-known piece of film trivia that Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009) is the only woman to ever win an Oscar for best director, but I’m frankly more worried that only four women have ever been nominated for the prize period. Forty years ago Lina Wertmuller became the first female to be nominated in the category, and since then we have seen an average of one woman nominated per decade. It’s not just the Oscars that fail to nominate women, the Palme D’or a symbol of filmmaking that considers itself a supporter of the artist, of being a purer representation of cinematic brilliance than the more politically motivated Academy Awards, is guilty of falling short in honouring female directors. Only Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993) has won the prize. To put it in perspective Ken Loach (the winner of the Palme D’or, 2016) has won the award twice. On the dippy French award ceremony scoreboard it currently reads Ken Loach 2 – Women 1, and it’s not Ken Loach’s fault (He’s a lovely guy). Should we dismiss the Academy Awards as a frivolous exercise of film politics? Well, yes. But this award ceremony represents the face of mainstream western cinema and the lack of female recognition (and African-American for that matter, but that’s another issue to get really angry about in another article) is a symptom of cinema as a whole. If there are no female directors, then how do you nominate them?
To grasp how truly one sided the spectrum is I set myself the task of naming as many male directors as I could in fifteen minutes without the aid of the internet, and then replicated the task with female directors. My memory with names if pretty good and I have what I would consider to be a better than average knowledge of filmmakers. The result was a staggering 200 – 13 landslide victory to the guys, and frankly I struggled for 13. To get to that I had to include Madonna and Leni Riefenstahl on the list, meaning 15% of my female directors consisted of Madonna and Nazis. If anyone out there can perform the same task and get a more equal result to prove me wrong then please do so. Seriously, if you can name 100 female directors, in fact even 50, without the aid of the internet in 15 minutes then have a pint on me, you’ve earned it.
So how do we solve this problem? I haven’t got a definitive answer, and all I can say is that we support our filmmakers with pride. For all the depressing as balls statistics I’ve been throwing down there is still a phenomenal talent pool of great and aspiring female directors (Who aren’t Madonna, or a Nazi) and with their every success the likelihood of more women being given the opportunity to express themselves through cinema increases. In Britain we have the likes of Sam Taylor-Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) and Amma Asante (Belle), across the Atlantic there are Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Ava DuVernay (Selma) and the Wachowski’s (The Matrix). Jennifer Kent scared me silly with her debut feature The Babadook, whilst in animation women like Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3) and Jennifer lee (Frozen) have been given the opportunity to make their mark on cinema history and have done so by making some damn good movies. Actors such as Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) have taken their experience from working in front of the camera and have started to experiment as film-makers, hopefully more will join them. These are just a handful of the names out there, there are more but not as many as there should be.
What I wanted to highlight with all this was the current blight on the state of film, without coming off condescending. These filmmakers I’ve listed above have achieved amazing things and I don’t want to patronise their accomplishments, they don’t need me to tell them how fantastic they are. But I can’t ignore this problem and I don’t want others to do so either. Cinema has too long been a male enforced medium, catering to a male audience, which is extra stupid if you live in a country that has more women than men (Like I do), and it’s time for that to end. There clearly needs to be more opportunities for women to get behind the camera and show us what they can do because I am more than certain that the talent and the will to use it is there, and we need to create an environment that can allow them the chance to thrive. In the age of Trump, May and Brexit (No matter what your political affiliations may be) we can still be more diverse than in the past, we can still make progress, we can still change for the better. Now I’m off to watch Kung Fu Panda 2, A. Because it’s topical and B. Because it’s a damn fun movie.
This Wasn’t written, it was scribbled with style by Alexander Halsall