While in the music world, 2016 has been the year of the women with both Adele and Rihanna breaking British music records, in the film world, we have been reminded of the great inequalities that exist between the sexes.
Earlier this week, it was announced that two of Hollywood’s biggest studios – 20th Century Fox and Paramount – are to release no films directed by female directors from now until 2018. However, as no films have been announced beyond this, there is no telling when either company will next employ a female director.
What is more deeply disturbing is the fact that Fox have not released a film directed by a woman since Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum’s Ramona and Beezus in 2010. In fact, in 2014, only 7% of the year’s top 250 Hollywood films were directed by women.
These figures come despite the fact that 44% of film school graduates are women, according to the report ‘Where are the Women Directors’ conducted by the University of London.
The report goes on to state ‘the vast majority of funding resources (namely 84%) go into films that are not directed by women […] Women are seen as ‘high risk’, particularly for higher budget productions, and there is felt to be a bias towards certain narratives such as action drama, and male-led storylines.’
Indeed, when the directors are the people behind the camera rather than in front of it, it’s easy to forget the inequalities that exist within the industry when we typically judge a film on what is presented to us visually – i.e., its cast. Daniel Radcliffe this week commented on the unequal pay that still exists between male and female actors, stating ‘I had just fucking naively thought this was not an issue any more. Because how can this still be happening?’, and it is important that we, too, do not fall into this trap.
Just because we live in a society that presents itself to us as liberal, we must continue to question these dominant social beliefs. Just because issues like pay and under-representation behind the camera are not issues that jump out at us when we are crunching on our popcorn at our local cinema, this does not mean that these issues cease to exist. By not demanding more from our cinema, we only perpetuate these issues.
The idea that female-directed productions are seen as ‘high-risk’ and fail to get funding shows the ingrained, misogynistic beliefs that women are the less significant, less valued sex, which is seen as less exciting in comparison to their male counterparts, is deeply disturbing.
After photos of the new Ghostbusters film were released earlier this year (which features four women in the leading roles), the so-called ‘meninists’ came out in force to criticise the casting, with one male-rights’ advocate even stating on Twitter: ‘this is what it comes down to… some things just aren’t made for women… like you would never go back and remake Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as girls’.
Only by casting women in strong leading roles that present womanhood from the female gaze and reclaim what it means to be a ‘woman’ can we hope to banish such rigid gender roles. Who’s stopping women from being teenage mutant ninja turtles? Who’s stopping women from being the knights in shining armour who are needed to save the day? Until we promote the idea that we can be these things, we will never be these things.
Feminist critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar once claimed ‘if the Queen’s looking glass speaks with the King’s voice, how do its perpetual kingly critiques affect the Queen’s own voice?’ thus summarising how, when women are misrepresented at large by a society that is ignorant about their existence, this misrepresentation comes to be perpetuated and affect women’s own views of themselves.
In music this week, we have seen Beyonce redefine what it means to be a woman. And not only a woman, but a woman within the music industry. When women have been so direly represented as sex objects, groupies and lust-possessed fangirls, her latest visual album ‘Lemonade’ has been a reclaiming of the female voice. She has created a bold statement of what it is to be a black female singer, from the perspective of a black female singer.
To be a woman is currently to be what society tells us is ‘womanhood’. Only by demanding more inclusive film crews and a greater proportion of films that challenge tradition’s gender expectations can we hope to reclaim the female voice and have a more empowering cinema.
Words by Juliette Rowsell