14th February 2014

When I walked onto my first feature film set in 1998, I was one of a handful of females.  I was also young and the assumption was that I was either an actress, or part of make-up and hair.  Then, as now, the majority of film crews and HODs (heads of department) are men.  Although things are gradually changing. film has always felt very much like an all boys club.  This recent bit of research from the New York Film Academy into women in film (click HERE for the full article) bears this out.  One of the more interesting statistics, is that in 2012 only 9% of Hollywood feature films were directed by women. I remember reading this same statistic back in 1989 when I was considering switching from my fine arts major to film.  It’s shocking to me that this figure has not shifted in over 20 years.  Of course, it doesn’t surprise me that actresses are far more sexualized then actors, as this is born out in our wider culture.  What does surprise me, is that females occupy far fewer positions of power in film than in other industries, and that there is an even greater pay disparity.  Perhaps part of the problem is that the industry’s structure is not conducive to a supposed ‘work life’ balance.  And, since women are still expected to shoulder the responsibilities of child care and the home, this tends to affect them more. The hours are long, and free-lance contracts are the norm.  Still, plenty of other industries have the same challenges, so this is perhaps a small piece of the puzzle.

There must be something else going on that discourages women from either joining or remaining in the film industry.  A strong showing in Oscar nominations (relative to the number of women in creative roles) shows that women are as capable creatively, and are lauded by their peers, so what gives?  I suppose there can be a militaristic ‘hierarchal’ atmosphere on set that can discourage cooperation and one in which crew members are treated as expendable.  But why this would effect women more than men is not clear.

The article also shows that women rarely become cinematographers (1%), Directors (9% of Hollywood Films) or Screen Writers (15%).  The remainder of the statistics are similar to other industries, but those three are a mystery to me.  The camera department handles a lot of heavy equipment but the I’ve rarely seen the actual DP carting around a bunch of gear.  Similarly, Directors and Writers do not have particularly arduous roles.  Of course, this is only relevant if women are shown to shy away from physically demanding jobs. If so, perhaps this is because there is a macho culture of pushing oneself physically that is more dominant for men.

The fact remains that women are woefully under-represented in film.  What needs to happen now is further research into the reasons why.  In addition, if a small number of films are written by women, it is unsurprising that there are few complex and varied roles for actresses, or that the dominant cultural discourse of film is male driven.

Now, as with anything, there are huge variations within the industry and it isn’t entirely fair to paint every production with the same brush. Some companies hire more women than others, some care about the well being of their crews more than others, and a tiny minority actually believe that the industry can and should change.  In my view, as long as film continues to operate within an old 20th century, militarized (and arguably ‘male’) industrial model, change is unlikely.  The old hierarchies and social pressures will continue to manifest themselves in new generations.