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Guest Post: Let's Change the Conversation About Women Directors

Women and Hollywood By Elhum Shakerifar | Women and Hollywood September 26, 2013 at 12:00PM

A few weeks ago, as Jane Campion's TV series Top Of The Lake drew to a close, Marie Claire UK wrote an article entitled '11 facts about the director that will blow your mind' where the second most interesting fact was her marital status.
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Birds

A few weeks ago, as Jane Campion's TV series Top Of The Lake drew to a close, Marie Claire UK wrote an article entitled '11 facts about the director that will blow your mind' where the second most interesting fact was her marital status.

This time I wasn't surprised. A few weeks earlier, around the time of Wadjda's UK release, I was shocked to find that when I Googled Haifaa Al Mansour, the first word to pop up after her name was 'husband'. It's the same scenario with Belle director Amma Asante.

Even worse, when Googling for Palestinian actress and director Hiam Abbas, the three top options are 'hot', 'married' and only then 'imdb'

This blows my mind.

These search engine results reflect the 'random facts' that people most often search for. From a women's magazine, to random Google search, from veteran filmmaker, Jane Campion, to new-coming trailblazer Haifaa Al Mansour – it's disappointing that a female directors' marital status is even a reference when describing their work.

A recent study by the Annenberg School of Communications looked at characters in 500 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2012, drawing worrying conclusions in relation to gender portrayal.

Female characters were grossly under-represented on screen in 2012 -- out of 4,475 speaking characters, only 28.4% were female.

Only 6% of top-grossing films featured a balanced cast, or women in 45 -- 54.9% of speaking roles.

Moreover, in 31.6% of roles, women were shown in tight or alluring 'sexy' attire or partially naked (in contrast with 7% for men).

When the majority of film content depicts women in such light, perhaps it's less surprising to realise how women behind the camera are likely to be conceived of. It's no less unacceptable.

The Annenberg study concludes in its last set of analyses that a filmmaker's gender impacts on how stories are told. "Looking across the 5-year sample, films with female helmers are populated with more girls/women on screen and with less female sexualization. At least one avenue to diversifying cinematic content or reducing the risk of some negative effects (i.e., objectification) may be to hire more women behind the camera."

The BFI Stats book released in August this year actually recorded a decline in female directors from the previous year. We have some way to go.

Why is this important?

I recently spent a morning with a group of mothers and daughters at a secondary school in London, to talk about my work as Program Manager for Birds Eye View. I asked them when they'd last seen a film at the cinema that they felt represented them. Someone who could be you, or your daughter? Or perhaps your mother, or sister? There was a long silence.

Finally one woman suggested the main character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Scripted by Nia Vardalos and brought to the screen by Joel Zwick (yes! A man! Proof that balanced teams are collaboration at its most fruitful?), made a decade ago.

I'm often asked why Birds Eye View needs to exist. Isn't it a form of positive discrimination to focus only on women directors? Perhaps it is, but it's a necessary one. Representation is the reason why women should take an equal stage to men in the creation and telling of stories.

We'd love for you to forget that the films are made by women at all and focus on their content. We want to see women we recognise when we go to the cinema. Not enough has changed in the past ten years around this debate -- but one thing is clear: we don't want to be having this conversation in a decade's time.

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Elhum Shakerifar is the Program Director for Bird's Eye View film festival in London. You can follow her on Twitter here.

This article is related to: Women Directors, Film Festivals, Birds Eye View, Sexism, Statistics


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