I am a female director and I am rare. My big question for everyone is, “why?”
This rarity sparked me to start X-Factor Filmmakers, a company that raises money for female filmmakers. I have done some research and I have my own theories. Despite the reasons why, I want to find solutions and build a community around the idea that both sexes create great films but they are just not represented equally at the movies in America and around the world.
We have begun to help and our latest endeavor it at www.xfactorfilm.com where MEN and WOMEN filmmakers can enter our Short Film Contest held on Vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/groups/xfactorfilmcontest. Net proceeds from the contest and selling X-Factor t-shirts go to the X-Factor Film Fund for female filmmakers.
What are your theories as to why women are rare? Some include:
The film industry is only a little over a century old and it has taken time for women to break in as it was ruled by men for a long time.
Some would argue that many women want families and that’s hard to do while making films.
I am curious about solutions, if you think any are necessary. Kathryn Bigelow winning Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker this year created a wave of awareness about the lack of women directors. But this is only the beginning and change only happens with action.
I welcome everyone’s input, controversial, factual or anything in between.
I wish I was more knowledgeable on the subject matter. damndamndamn!
That’s ok, not many people are very knowledgeable about this because there isn’t much research out there. The thing is, I want to see what everyone is thinking. Not the experts, if there are any. I just need to know how people perceive women directors, good, bad whatever. Any thoughts?
Many years ago (circa 1979) I worked for one of the first female department heads in the newsroom of The Tampa Tribune. Judy was sharp, tough and talented. Not everyone appreciated having a woman for a boss, particularly the “old school” journalists. (For them, it was the first time in their lives they had a female boss.) But there were also several women who were less than pleased, as well. (And they were vocal in their displeasure.) Since that time, The Tribune has had many female leaders – including managing editor, executive editor and even publisher. But Judy was the pioneer. Every industry needs that special person who possesses a combination of talent and grit to break through the obstacles and the clutter that stand in the way of success. Once that path is made, others can follow. I have three daughters. Two are store managers. The other is an executive at a software firm. A generation ago, that would have been rare. I also have three granddaughters. If they so choose, I believe there will be even greater opportunities for them. Look at Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton – pioneers, all. Imagine how many paths have opened up because of women like them. Women succeed if they are given the opportunity. After my kids grew up and moved away from home, my wife took a part-time job in the health care industry. Now she is a regional director. Her rise took place in less than 10 years. (I always knew she had the talent.) Anyway, I believe the barrier to entry within the film industry is such that women will spectacularly succeed. And that’s good news for everyone, particularly for film-goers.
One of the main reasons I love film is you’re able to see through someone’s eyes for a few hours. There are some good women directors and there needs to be more. The female perspective is not represented enough in cinema.
As to why there are less, other than the obvious boys club that is filmmaking circles? I hope to not come off as sexist, but I believe men are more visual than women in some aspects. That is not to say that it’s the case 100% of the time in the least, but even looking at sexuality, visuals are far more important for men in many cases than women. Think of how many men enjoy pornography on a purely visual level and how few women do. I know this doesn’t necessarily correlate to filmmaking, but I’ve never seen it brought up in any discussion on why there aren’t more women directors.
Jim thanks for your experience. That bit about certain women not being happy about having the female boss, whether they outright said that or not. I have come across women who seem jealous or skeptical about another woman leading in film, as if it’s, “Why her and not me?” Of course I am speculating, but that is what we are here to do. Make a conversation.
Kathryn Bigelow is a talented director (even though I thought Hurt Locker wasn’t all that good) but it’s sad that she seem to focus on male stories and male characters. We’ve already seen these sort of characters before, I’d like to see a more female perspective on war and action movies. But if she can put some light on the lack of female filmmakers then that’s great.
Re: M I – two posts up…
You are clearly not sexist. I think it is an interesting point. However as a woman, and I may be biased as I am very visual, I would say that many woman are very visually sexual but, they may just hide this better than men. They may want to keep up some expected “lady-like” qualities.
That brings me to another point. The confidence to speak up, or in this case, film something and showcase your inner self to the world, may not be easy for many women. As with Kathryn Bigelow. She makes movies with a lot of violence, gore or both and she says, “I don’t like violence. I am very interested, however, in truth. And violence is a fact of our lives, a part of the social context in which we live.”
Some women might not want to expose this violence on film for fear of being pegged as someone who condones it.
I think you are right to an extent to want a strong female character in a masculine setting but Bigelow had to start somewhere. For her, she is not a man, she doesn’t act like her main characters. She is studying them and trying to figure out why. Some woman filmmaker will get to the female character with as much recognition as The Hurt Locker got but it’s too soon. It almost happened with Lee Daniels’ Precious.
Men and women have different aspirations and personalities.
Making a film is more technical than it is artistic and requires lots of knowledge about equipment or computers that creative women don’t always have because in some cases they find technology boring and find that it slows your creativity down (as opposed to writing, photography, drawing…)
So, a few of the women I’ve met don’t like being in the dark for hours so much, they’d rather be free and have fun doing creative activities like painting outside, or dancing, sometimes they don’t even care about technology. Women usually like to stay healthy and avoid staring at computer screens getting headaches all day. It’s something i admire in women personality, not necessarily wanting to get into the hellish stages related to preparing or directing a film.
And another reason which broadens the debate to people who are creative but not interested in directing would be the old words versus images debate.
We have more and more female directors everyday in my country (france), it seems that little by little we are moving towards gender equality, which is extremely good because a feminine approach to storytelling, especially in film, is something rare and fascinating. The production company i work for is producing its first feature film, which is directed by a woman.
I’m not sure I really agree with this, but I’ll just throw it out there for the sake of discussion.
As a general rule of thumb, it has been accepted that sexually men are aroused more visually and women are more oriented to touch and aural sensations. If we extrapolate this very huge generalization over into other areas involving sensory experience (and the arts are sensory), we might conclude that women typically respond to other, non-visual forms more than they do to cinema. For instance, there have been dozens of amazing female writers over the past 100 years (aural, verbal) compared to the relatively few female filmmakers.
Look, I know that this is a major, major generalization, and I’m also aware that there are a host of other possible factors involved (socio-economic factors, the already mentioned desire for motherhood and family…), but I don’t think we should exclude the possibility that general psychological makeup plays a role in this, even if only a minor one.
A generation or two ago, I would concur with all that’s been said about the rarity of female directors. However, in this day in age, I’d venture to say that women have the same opportunity to gain prominence in the film industry as men do. If I was a studio executive, I’d be more than willing to give a woman with talent her own gig. But I wouldn’t give a woman her shot at the big time simply because she’s a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, white, black, yellow, or purple; nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. You have to prove your worth.
Hollywood is extremely conservative, and, as such, is very reluctant to support anything that hasn’t proven itself able to bring big return on investment or Academy Awards (preferably both). On this subject of women in Hollywood filmmaking, I’d recommend that anyone interested look into the research done by Martha Lauzen at San Diego State University.
follow the money…
Lauren Tracy speculated:
“The film industry is only a little over a century old and it has taken time for women to break in as it was ruled by men for a long time”
I don’t buy this excuse: not in film, television, music, literature, politics, you name it. Women have been directing films for decades and they’ve had plenty of time to catch up.
Lauren, where I live (Melbourne’s eastern suburbs), a group of politically involved women have formed an advocacy group to encourage more women to run for local government The result? In the 2008 elections, only ONE of the EIGHT candidates in my Ward was female. The fact is in terms of getting elected, women do just as well as men. However, few stand in the first place. Generally, relatively few women have interest in running for office, it’s just that simple.
Same for films. If you don’t believe me, look at how many women study film and pursue it, or are film buffs (at least where I live, in Australia; it might be different where you live).
Yet even with seemingly few women taking an interest in cinema making, Australia has plenty of women behind the camera yelling “action!”
Looking at Australia and New Zealand, we have produced or “adopted” Nadia Tass, Jane Campion, Rachel Perkins, Niki Caro and Ana Kokkinos, all of whom have been treated EXTREMELY well by the industry and critics.
Sarah Watt: A.F.I. Award Winner, Best Director, “Look Both Ways” (2005)
Niki Caro: New Zealand Film and TV Awards Winner, Best Director and Best Screenplay, “Whale Rider” (2003)
Rachel Perkins: A.F.I. Award Nominee, Best Director, “Radiance” (1998)
…and her latest release “Brand Nue Dae” was one of the two “Gala Screening” Australian films at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2009 (the other was “Balibo”).
Ana Kokkinos: A.F.I. Award Nominee, Best Director, “Head On” (1998)
Jane Campion: A.F.I. Award Winner, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, “The Piano”
Oscar Winner, Best Original Screenplay, Oscar Nominee, Best Director, “The Piano” (1993)
Nadia Tass: A.F.I. Award Winner, Best Director, “Malcolm” (1986, she was only 30 years old, too!)
Gillian Armstrong: A.F.I. Award Winner, Best Documentary, “Not Fourteen Again” (1996)
A.F.I. Award Nominee, Best Director, “The Last Days of Chez Nous” (1992)
A.F.I. Award Nominee, Best Director, “High Tide” (1987)
A.F.I. Award Winner, Best Director, “My Brilliant Career” (1979, she was only 29 when she won this award, too! Who says 1970s Australia was chauvinistic?)
Don’t even get me started on Jane Scott, who has been allowed to produce some of Australia’s biggest film for almost 40 years…ranging from wonderful (“Goodbye Paradise”—and there was talk she actually hampered this film and should have exercised less control—and “Mao’s Last Dancer” by Bruce Beresford) to dreadful (“Head On”).
It is no exaggeration to say, film critics AND the film industry AND film buffs in Oz who’ve seen their work regard Campion and Armstrong in the same class as Peter Weir, Phil Noyce, Bruce Beresford and Rolf de Heer.
End result: even with all these examples for them, relatively few Australian women are encouraged to pick up a camera, director’s megaphone and riding crop.
How many Americans regard Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola in the same class as James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola? (I’m not saying that they necessarily should be or who’s better, who’s not, I’m just noting the general PUBLIC RECOGNITION and PERCEPTION in North America).
Australia is decades ahead of the United States and countless other countries in terms of giving female filmmakers a fair go. And given the recent examples of Rachel Perkins and Warwick Thornton, we treat our Indigenous (Aboriginal) filmmakers well, too.
In fact, someone brought up the so-called “lack of respected Australian female directors” at a Film Q&A I attended a few years ago. Film critic Peter Krausz responded by rattling off a laundry list of Australian female film directors to contradict this unenlightened belief.
“But I wouldn’t give a woman her shot at the big time simply because she’s a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, white, black, yellow, or purple; nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. You have to prove your worth.”
Exactly right, Crews!
Try the gender blondfold test: watch a film or read a book without knowing who directed or wrote it. I bet if you like the work in question, you won’t care if it was done by a lad or lady. And it’s not true to say men always “create” a certain way: some men are very androgynously minded, ditto some women.
“I hope to not come off as sexist, but I believe men are more visual than women in some aspects.”
No, it’s not sexist, it’s generally true. So many times I’ve seen some dashing young man walk past a flock a femmes, and the women don’t notice. Whereas a gaggle of guys will never fail to stop what they’re doing and pay some mind to a magnificent mamacita.
I was just thinking about this the other day in relation to cinema! Men generally definitely have a more voyeuristic eye (NOT a bad thing, and essentially ALL film fanatics are voyeurs!).
Short answer to your problems, Lauren: leave L.A. for Down Under! It worked for Mick Dundee and his girl!
Speaking of female directors, who can forget this legendary auteur from “The Electric Company”?
And just take a look at the Oscar winner-to-be who is manning the clapper!
While it may not be a sexist statement, it’s rather doubtful that it’s true. How does one go about validating such a claim? If it’s only based on the generalization (one in which is probably true) that men are more “voyeuristic” than women, then from what is such a basis derived? Are you saying that all (or most) women are NOT voyeuristic? If so, what are these suppositions based on?
Personally, I don’t think that this is the reason why there are more male filmmakers than female. To me it just seems that it’s a profession that caters to a predominantly male audience. Since money is the ONLY thing driving the Hollywood system today, there’s no reason (from their standpoint) to risk the possibility of a female director veering off into “uncommercial” territory.
Overall though, perhaps a rallying call is needed. If Hollywood was met with such a vibrant force of female filmmakers making successful (financially and artistically) films, it’d have no choice but to open the flood gates and broadening it’s perspective. So, aspiring female filmmakers really need to be encouraged because it is new territory that’s gradually being covered here. Hopefully in the future, a female filmmaker such as Bigelow won’t only receive an award because she played the male-driven Hollywood game, but instead, become recognized based on her individualism and integrity.
“Women usually like to stay healthy and avoid staring at computer screens getting headaches all day. It’s something i admire in women personality, not necessarily wanting to get into the hellish stages related to preparing or directing a film.”
Who says Kathryn Bigelow DIDN’T get the award based upon her integrity and individuality?
To say she got the Oscar just because she “played the game” is ludicrous. Not to mention entirely demeaning to Ms. Bigelow to suggest; you’re basically saying it was a “token” or “pity” award.
And women are free to become filmmakers, they don’t need to be poked or prodded.
I don’t see anybody “encouraging” more men into taking jobs traditionally dominated by women, jobs that might be able to use a “male perspective.”
As I said, take the “gender blindfold” test when watching a film.
I bet if you watched 100 films, you’d be lucky to guess “which gender” directed and/or wrote them.
How many people would guess the Australia classic “Malcolm” (see picture above) is directed by a woman, given it’s a movie full of car chases, a bank robbery and “gallows humour”? Things not normally associated with women…but there are plenty of women who enjoy these things…and wanna put ’em in the flicks!
How many people would say, WITHOUT knowing, that Amy Heckerling directed “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”, given the extraordinary amount of naked female torsos? ESPECIALLY the scene in the Amsterdam burlesque show.
The whole idea of cinema “needing a female perspective” just to balance number and explore new territory is a crock because some people, (PARTICULARLY artists, whether they be painters, sculpturers, moviemakers, writers, etc) are androgynous of mind.
Even the daintiest female ballet dancer requires “manlike” strength for her art…as the men do indeed require “feminine” grace for their role in ballet. Truth is, ballet is neither feminine nor masculine, it’s an androgynous artform. As is all art.
Hey, I’ve seen the Trockaderos twice, don’t try tellin’ me otherwise!
M.I. has a good point, Deckard, and it’s not the sole reason, but certainly one reason of many. It’s a contributing factor, and even though M.I. was speaking generally, it still carries some weight.
But yes, there are voyeuristic women, too. Maybe it’s a social thing: ladies are taught “not to look”? As much as anything else it could be social indoctrination. But at the end of the day, show me a great film, The gender of the director doesn’t matter like the sheer magic of the work. There are some exciting female filmmakers out there, but we shouldn’t be looking to appease some sort of pseudo P.C. quota. Even if 99 percent of films were made by women, I wouldn’t care. Just show me great cinema.
Hi FABULOUSRICE, I am actually working with a French woman director here in Los Angeles. She is wonderful, hard-working and has such a vision. Being the editor on her project The ROOM, which will be on The Garage soon The ROOM, I am more technical than her. However, I don’t know why she is less technically interested. The question is also, are women just naturally less interested in technology or is it learned? Is it because of the way they are brought up, either directly and on purpose or indirectly? This matters in terms of why women may be less attracted to the role of directing.
Haha Mark – nice. I should go to Australia! I think I would love it. But my company would be pointless… I think you guys are ahead of us in terms of recognizing women filmmakers and I commend you for that.
Anyway, you have many interesting thoughts. On that note… Yes, X-Factor will award a woman financing because she is a woman, so long as she is deserving in our eyes, but with the intension of influencing the greater ideal of having filmmaking accurately represent our culture. I believe in this larger goal but I have always been conflicted in terms of giving someone an opportunity over another for the good of the greater masses. It is almost contradicting.
“Who says Kathryn Bigelow DIDN’T get the award based upon her integrity and individuality?”
Uh, I do, that’s what’s known as an opinion. My comment wasn’t meant to be demeaning to Bigelow, but to whoever hands out such awards – it’s THEIR motives that are suspect. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of Bigelow and felt that the Hurt Locker wasn’t a very solid film, but despite my dislike for Bigelow style and inclinations, I respect her as a filmmaker (male, female, what difference does it make? in my mind, there is no distinction). But getting back to what I was saying, I felt that Bigelow happened to make a film (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that just fit the mold of what such award ceremonies are looking for, and that mold is formed from an inherently male perspective. But yeah, I’m happy for Bigelow that she got an award, but hopefully in the future conditions will be different.
“I bet if you watched 100 films, you’d be lucky to guess “which gender” directed and/or wrote them.”
Once again, it doesn’t interest me in the slightest “which gender” the filmmaker happens to fall under. We’re all humans, all dealing with the same issues (on a grand scale at least), and we should support each other no matter what gender or race or religion, etc., etc. And going beyond that, if an artist (he/she) is talented I’m going to support them in some small way if I can.
“And women are free to become filmmakers, they don’t need to be poked or prodded.”
Who said anything about prodding? Encouragement is required because of the nature of the current Hollywood system (a system which has endured for many decades). It’s intimidating. Perhaps its difficult for a male to understand that, but I’m male and I find it easy to comprehend. It’s not saying anything less about women or their ability, but entering a male-dominated field is intimidating, there’s just no arguing that. Therefore, as males (i.e. those who don’t really have any obstacles obstructing our path other than the usual artistic/inspirational/etc. ones), what would it hurt to encourage women filmmakers to get their foot in the door?
“I don’t see anybody “encouraging” more men into taking jobs traditionally dominated by women, jobs that might be able to use a “male perspective.” "
You’re right, because there’s no intimidation involved, there’s no unknown factor, every environment is (more of less) a comfortable/familiar one.. We’re (males) not entering some foreign field outnumbered (and oftentimes, outranked) by those who think differently than us. Once again though, I’m not saying that women NEED any special consideration or pity, just an open mind that’s all.
-I felt that Bigelow happened to make a film (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that just fit the mold of what such award ceremonies are looking for-
That’s a fair statement. Though, in fairness to Bigelow, whatever one may think of the film, it’s consistent both thematically and stylistic with her earlier work, so it’s not like she altered the way she made films in order to compete for an Oscar.
The last five paragraphs (from Deckard and Matt) are fantastic… very open-minded, very true. You both are expressing something X-Factor Filmmakers is all about – this something is very difficult to express.
Lauren, it’s great that you’re putting your time and effort into something you believe in, but I wholeheartedly disagree with it. You are going to give a female an opportunity simply because she is a female. If this pertained to a matter of whether or not females were allowed to direct a film, I would entirely support your cause. But women nowadays are afforded the same opportunities as men, therefore you’re ruling out possibly very talented male filmmakers solely for the purpose of creating diversity within the film industry. I don’t agree with that.
Claudia Llosa was nominated for best foreign language movie with her movie “La teta asustada” this year. Maybe, the amount of female filmmakers is growing, but most of the time those who really appreciate their work are men. 98.7% of the girls I know are still watching movies like The notebook and A walk to remember just because they make them cry since they are so desperate about finding a perfect man. I have asked to some of my girlfriends if they enjoyed The Hurt Locker, they all said no.
it’s difficuilt for women to make a difference in film because they came in too late. the major innovations were done. the classics had already been made. That is not to say they have nothing of value to contribute, but it’s hard, esp in a male dominated industry.
MARK: agree and disagree about genre differences and perspective in film. What about the films of Breillat? Do you think a man would have directed those films in the exact same way? i’m not arguing with you necessarily, just throwing some ideas out there.
MATT: The Hurt Locker is consistent ‘stylistically’ with Strange Days and that lame submarine film? really? ;-) I get yout point though.
Instead of quoting, I’ll just quickly reference each paragraph.
1. If you see it this way, that’s a different story. I agree some women get pity awards, sad but true. Same with dead people, i.e. Heath Ledger: sorry, no way he deserved the Oscar. Very good performance, functional in the type of film it appeared, yet not Oscar worthy (Peter Finch was a different story because even before he died, people were noting his performance as a career best and potential Oscar grabber, plus Finchy DID deserve the recognition, but I digress).
So if you see K-Big (I INVENTED THAT NICKNAME FOR HER JUST THEN, IT’S MINE, SHE’LL BE OWING ME ROYALTIES!) as “pandering” to a male expectation, whatever that may be, then you point is valid.
2. I feel the same way as you about being gender blind which is why I mention the “gender blindfold” test. Works with blaxploitation films, too: I never knew so many “white folks” directed blaxploitation flicks back in the day.
3. Encouragement is one thing, prodding is another. I’ve seen it in politics and it’s annoying. In politics, what people should really be doing is encouraging independent candidates to run, regardless of gender, which would be more likely to encourage women to run so they don’t have to go through the whole party B.S. which they might THINK is an old boys’ club (although many political meetings I’ve attended are actually old women’s clubs, but I digress).
Better support for films made outside “The System” might “open the door” (if you don’t feel it’s open already) for more females, but again (and this is just where I live) relatively few women are interested in filmmaking and screenwriting. But that doesn’t mean Australia hasn’t treated its directresses ultra-well (and sometimes too well: Ana Kokkinos was hailed as a trailblazing genius for making that empty headed smut “Head On”, and I dare say if a man made it, he’d be a cheap pornographer).
4. Not true. Ever tried being the only male in an all female aerobics class? It’s like being a Marxist at an Ayn Rand reading.
I wish it were fun like it was for John Ritter in “Skin Deep”…I guess it would’ve been more fun if I’d been balled by Raye Hollitt the night before and she were the instructor…that’s how I pictured it, but ’twasn’t the reality.
Please don’t complain about this, ’cause I just posted Dolph Lundgren on another thread.
(Note to Lauren, if you ever do a documentary on female bodybuilders, I’m there as executive producer)
And how many men do you see working as kindergarten teachers? They aren’t encouraged by the “old women’s club” who run the child care centres and you know exactly what I’m driving at without saying it. D.C.
Even the name of the certificate one must acquire to be a kindergarten teacher (“Mothercraft”) is gynocentric.
And I think, Deckard, it’s also because a lot of male dominated jobs (sanitary workers, firefighters, etc.) are unglamorous. And when women do become firefighters, the physical standards are lowered. I think if women raise themselves up to the level of, say, Raye Hollitt, they can rescue me from a burning building anytime. However, dropping standards at work to accommodate women demeans everyone.
I agree with what you say. I understand why Lauren might feel the need to do what she does, but really, raising money and then giving the grant to a talented woman, just because she’s a talented woman…what if there’s a man who’s more deserving. It’s the Affirmative Action thing gone awry. This is why I feel their should be grants for Indie Moviemakers, regardless of gender. Then you will smash through any barriers erected by “The System” anyway.
I was hoping to avoid mentioning Catherine Souffle. Just got through a couple of her films, please don’t get me started. Another pseudo-intellectual who can’t write to save herself. Seemingly can’t finish a film either. I’d like to see “An Old Mistress” for Asia Argento, but if that isn’t really special (not just good, but special, to compensate for C.B.‘s other disasters), it’s three strike and yer out for Catherine The Not So Great.
Catherine is a homophobic, misandric woman who expresses her misandry the same way certain men express misogyny and sapphophobia through fanciful, (exclusively) hetero-friendly depictions of lesbianism. Her dialogue is rubbish and her visuals overall do not match those of a genuinely skilled eroticist like Borowczyk. Also, W.B. has a wicked sense of humour, C.B. does not. From what I’ve seen, she’s the Ed Wood of Erotica: unintentionally funny.
Finally, let me just say, C.B. proves my gender blind theory. It shows women can make films just as crappy and demeaning about male homosexuals as men.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” on the other hand, was directed by a man (John Schlesinger), yet written by a woman (Penelope Gilliat), and I don’t think many would guess the latter.
-MATT: The Hurt Locker is consistent ‘stylistically’ with Strange Days and that lame submarine film? really?-
^^can you explain how? Beyond them all being kinds of action films? One thing that stuck me about Hurt Locker was the lack of gloss relative to her other work.