As someone who constantly talks, dreams and thinks about movies it should come as no surprise that I’d be engaged in film discourse. From finding deeper philosophical meanings in absurd films to ranking movies based on year, director, genre. I’m into it all. I come across a lot of strange things in the world of film enthousiasts. From men having banners with Polanski’s face on them to men who will vilify you if you call movies or directors they love ‘immoral.’ It should then come as no surprise that these same men will attack you for opening the discourse on female film directors. And precisely this question is one I want to tackle. These seemingly liberal men ‘we should not pick our movies based on the sex of the director’ are precisely the problem which will haunt female directors for a lifetime to come. If we do not differentiate based on sex, we cannot address the inequality within the film industry. So yes, I will argue that prior to anything we should differentiate based on sex.
Based on the Top 100 domestic grossing films of 1980, only 1% of directors were women. This is only 28 years ago. In 2015, 4% of directors were women. For 2017, this has been reported to be 8%. In 27 years we have made progress of 7 percent point (source.) But for 8% of directors to be women is still a sad statistic that must ring some alarm for everyone. Two questions arise: how did this happen? (though I’d say that most people know the answer to this.) And how can we fix this? I wish I knew the definite answer to that one, but I will try to show how we can at least nudge this statistic in the right direction.
One of the most respected top film lists, They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They features 1,000 films as the greatest films of all time. Out these 1000 movies, a spectacular 32 are (co-)directed by women.
why we shouldn’t be gender-blind
This morning I realized that usually when I search for new (feminist) movies to watch, I google for ‘women-led movies’ or ‘movies featuring a strong female character.’ I rarely search for ‘films directed by women.’ I do often check the TSPDT list because it is a highly respected list and features movies that are often lost through generations or have never gained much popularity in the first place. I have found movies that I otherwise would have never stumbled upon so I am eternally grateful to the people that have compiled the list full of gems for people like me to take inspiration from. The same goes for the BFI Sight & Sound list that is compiled by film critics. Though today as I was going through the list again, my eyes fell upon the director tab and I was curious to find out how many were women. I did not want to count them, so I asked around on movieforums. I got a list which led me to include the statistic in the above paragraph. Though I got more than I bargained for. Someone also said that I should not watch movies just because they are directed by a woman – it should be about quality. Of course we should watch movies for its quality, but we cannot know if a movie is qualitatively spectacular if we haven’t watched it.
But his stance got me thinking because I do think we should watch a movie just because it is directed by a woman if we look at the gap between male and female directors. I guess I can safely assume that people would like to see those amounts more close to each other and the percentages less scary. People believe in equality – we should treat men and women alike which is a noble way of thinking and there is nothing wrong with that. Though in order to include women in film we need to show that we do accept them. There are some really respected female directors such as Sofia Coppola (though she’s the daughter of a highly respected director so we should assume how known she had been if she wasn’t), Chantal Akerman and Agnes Varda. But look at any top 10 list of movies of people around you and count the amount of movies directed by a woman. If you’re reading this, consider the same for yourself. I’m even disappointed in myself – 2 movies directed by women. I would like to change that. Is it because I haven’t given enough movies directed by women a chance? It is not like I was selecting movies based on sex before. I just googled vague terms like ‘existential movies’ and saved movies that seemed interesting. I’m sure many people do the same. They google ‘best horror movies’ rather than ‘best movies directed by men/women.’ What if there’s an awesome horror movie out there directed by a woman that doesn’t make the mainstream movies that appear when you search that? I constantly think about that. Precisely because there are so little movies directed by women, we should allow those the spotlight. Movie enthousiasts constantly try to pull great movies out of the darkness and bring them into the mainstream – essentially every cult film.
So I suggest we give movies directed by women the cult treatment. How you do that is by watching a movie directed by a woman that isn’t one of the most obvious ones. If it’s a great movie – pass on that knowledge. If it sucks, then that’s too bad. I don’t think we should give bad movies the spotlight, not at all. I just think there are plenty movies directed by woman that are great but no one as seen them. I also think there are many movies directed by men who are ignored, possibly neglected, way more in numbers as there are just more movies directed by men. But why is it that in 2018 I still see so many lists featuring Polanski movies? Get that man out of there and watch Lost In Translation instead.
By stating that we should not watch a movie only because it is directed by a woman you miss the fact that there is this whole tragic (film)history that was essentially devoid of women. You seem to think that we are on equal footing when that is not true. Men have the advantage in the film world and while we will never close the gap and have 50/50 representation before and behind the camera, we can try to let some forgotten women shine in order to make it seem less to tragic. There are still quite some woman-directed films out there. Remember the 8% applies to the top 100 domestic grossing movies in the USA. Most movies directed by women will not feature in any top list and are found abroad too. Women are most prominent in indie movies and are never really part of film discourse. We can still love Bergman, Godard and Tarkovsky. I just hope that you can add a female director to your list someday – possibly one you haven’t even heard of yet before because history has taught us that this world likes to overshadow the achievement of women.