A frustrating yet unsurprising hashtag suddenly appeared on my Twitter timeline the other day: #thingsonlywomendirectorshear. Now it should be no bombshell that female directors face an ever oppressive glass ceiling which spurns from seemingly all corners of the testosterone-fuelled film industry. Whether it be a multi-million dollar franchise or a minimalist indie feature, there is a noticeably startling lack of visible female auteurs.
Discrimination against women is prevalent in nearly every professional industry and yet absolutely nothing seems to have changed in the film making business. We hear similar news stories each year reporting how Kathryn Bigelow is the only female to have ever won Best Director (come Oscar season) alongside mouth-dropping studies which show that the number of female directors making films is actually on the decline in Hollywood. Just this year the annual report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that in 2016 just 7% of the top 250 films were directed by women, which is a fall of 2% from 2015. It’s a maddening state of affairs.
Now let’s say through sheer hard graft, determination and talent you finally manage to land an elusive directorial role on a much dreamed about project. It must all be plain sailing from here, surely?
Well sadly this is not the case, whilst scrolling through the #thingsonlywomendirectorshear hashtag (set up by the good folks over at @cinesisters) it became increasingly obvious that female directors are regularly subjected to anything ranging from uncalled for insensitive remarks to blatant sexist bias. It made for wholly uncomfortable and at times cringeworthy reading.
Writer and director Emma Sullivan (@akiraacer) kickstarted the conversation with this infuriating account: “Female producer: I never hire women directors: they’re needy & want to be your friend. Men just get on with it.”
Sullivan then recounted a second incident this time with a male producer who was ironically the same age as her: “Your problem is you’re too old and you need to start again”. The final piece de resistance came from a male commissioning executive who actually said this corker out loud: “Let me explain why your film works to you.” Unfortunately this is only the start of numerous chauvinistic encounters.
Isabelle Sieb (@IsabelleSieb) reported how a commercials production company casually told her “I’m afraid we already have a female director on our roster at the moment.” The level of outright and unabashed sexism is honestly shocking and downright demoralising, you would hope that this sort of behaviour would be banished to decades past but bigotry is still thriving – alive and well in 2017.
There are lots more examples.
Caris Rianne (@carisrianne) flagged up several bones of contention including how male producers refer to her as ‘Honey’, ‘Sweetie’, ‘Darling’ and ‘Love’ in emails. Another brazen and shameless comment received by Caris was the wildly inappropriate “I guess you’ll be doing this until you start a family then.” It’s remarkably unsettling how one gender can be subjected to a constant barrage of derogatory dealings when they are equally if not more talented than their male counterparts. This level of openly backwards thinking is scarily rife.
Alethea Jones (@AletheaJones) revealed how a cinematographer (DP) once introduced her to the crew by declaring “Meet our director, boys. Don’t try any moves on her, she’s taken.” It’s a statement that blatantly wouldn’t have been uttered in the present of a male director, so why does courtesy, manners and professionalism seem to evaporate whenever a female director is on set?
Chloe Thomas (@chloejocasta) highlighted two separate occasions where she was asked “Are you the set nurse?” and “Are you the AD?” (Assistant director). Many of us are automatically predisposed to unconsciously biased thoughts (like assuming the doctor you see will be male), however it’s an outdated pattern of internalised misogyny that needs urgently addressing.
It doesn’t all come from men. Kate Cheeseman (@kmcheeseman) shared her encounter with some female producers in the BAFTA bar who stated “it’s a sexuality thing we just like working with men!”
That said, Kate was also offered a farcical work proposal from a male producer (who had specifically called her in) by revealing that “I’d love you to direct an episode, but we’ll have to wait until we have a family theme.”
Cheeseman’s final revelation was the most toe curling to date; this saw an editor unashamedly proclaim “I’m a bit sexist really, I believe a woman’s place is in bed!”. Fortunately Kate had a witty comeback in which she retorted “You won’t mind if I’m late in then.” The film industry seems to be in a very sorry state of affairs if production personnel think this is publicly acceptable behaviour.
The Cinesisters added some more indignant encounters into the pot, these included being asked “Do you have anything appropriate to wear on set?” Male producers telling a female director their own age: “We’re worried you’ll be too nervous because you’re young.” Plus another gem from a female producer who disparagingly commented that “men are naturally more suited to be directors because they’re more assertive.” Given this rampant surge of gender discrimination, it’s an outright miracle that we have any female directors left.
According to womenandhollywood.com, women make up 50% of the classes in almost every film school in the U.S, so why does the playing field invert so heavily upon graduation? The answer, sadly, appears simple: the film industry is still rigged against female crew members who try to get any sort of foot up on the career ladder, and in 100 years of cinema barely a thing has changed. There are countless arguments suggesting talent should be the key discerning factor when choosing a director for a project. However, if there isn’t a fair representative balance in the first place, how can progress ever truly be made?
Although this fiery Twitter hashtag is just in its infancy, be sure to check back periodically as the tip of this controversial iceberg is only just being revealed. Hopefully, if the whole exercise is repeated in a few years, the stories will be a lot rarer, ideally non-existent. Right now, though, that feels like a very, very long shot…