The Time Is Up For Female Directors To Go Unnoticed

Top 10 Films takes a look at the gender imbalance in the film industry and why, despite the #MeToo and “Time’s Up” movements, female directors were under-represented at this year’s major awards events including the 91st Academy Awards.
I Am Not a Witch (directed by Rungano Nyoni)

I Am Not a Witch (directed by Rungano Nyoni)

The male gaze has long been a part of cinema. In modern times however, there is still an imbalance within the genders in the film industry: why are there not more women directors? Or perhaps, more so, why are women directors not gaining the same recognition as men?

With 2018’s “Time’s Up” movement came an array of women in full force, ready to tackle a multitude of obstacles and prepared to take on virtually anything! This included some of Hollywood’s most prominent ladies turning the red carpet black, and rightly feeling empowered to protest sexual assault, misconduct and inequalities, not only in Hollywood, but in the wider world beyond stardom.

Many people had begun to believe that after the mammoth power of women last year, a dramatic cultural shift could very well come forth, that would see female filmmakers taking centre stage.

The #MeToo movement was not the only thing to thank for this, but it did have immense impact in the decline, and even downfall, of powerful male celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.

Regardless of good intention, and talk in Hollywood surrounding a new ear of women in the industry – once again no women were nominated for the Best Director prizes at any major award shows. A saddening blow for cinema, although not one that came unexpectedly.

With so many powerful women in the industry, why are female directors not stealing the show?

The Kindergarten Teacher (directed by Sara Colangelo)

The Kindergarten Teacher (directed by Sara Colangelo)

Well there a few reasons that seem to be holding women back, and the stubbornness of tradition is of course, one of them. Nithya Raman, Director of Time’s Up Entertainment expressed: “The industry is a slow moving one, a conservative one that resists change.” Raman does believe however there is a shift that is moving us towards something better, and the reality is that the atmosphere of Hollywood is changing.

The town is bustling with stories about studios and agencies that are backing female driven projects. This is fantastic news for the future of females in film. The Academy has also invited nearly 1,000 new members to diversify its predominantly older, white male voting bloc.

This could explain why the Oscars Best Picture race was more diverse this year. From Roma, to Green Book, to Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman. It was somewhat of a new era for the Oscars, particularly in its decision to put a film that would historically only have a chance in the foreign language category alongside the Best Picture nominees which included three films boasting strong black casts and themes inspired by African-Americans.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, and perhaps Hollywood does just need that extra change in perspective to truly capture the sense of the new world on the big screen.

Out of the top 100 most popular films of 2018, only four were directed by women (according to a University of Southern California Study), which is much less than what many were expecting, and a figure that hopefully will increase over the course of the next 12 months.

Barry Jenkins, whose film Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar in 2016 expressed to the BBC on the red carpet at the Golden Globes: “When I was here before you didn’t have three black films in the same category as you do now.”

The shift in relation to colour is already happening, and not a moment too soon. In relation to women, the shift seems to have been predominant through independent films, which is again a positive move towards a better future, but is now something that needs to transcend to the bigger motion pictures.

Leah Meyerhoff, founder of Film Fatales – a group of female directors who support one another’s work, and advocate for gender equity in show business, said: “There are a lot more opportunities for women directors, but I would say that progress is a lot slower than you might have expected. Hollywood is a giant ship and is slow to turn.”

At a recent Film Fatales meeting, it was noted that women are receiving more interviews and are invited to voice their opinion more than ever before, however they are not always getting hired for positions or having their opinions taking seriously into account.

“At least we’re getting on the lists, getting in the room,” said director Elissa Down.

Down laughed at the questions of backlash over complaints that less experienced women are gaining more opportunities than experienced men by saying: “We have been celebrating male mediocrity for years. We know we’ve made it if we celebrate female mediocracy and people of colour mediocrity – so yay!”

Times Up and many of Hollywood’s most powerful are committed to working with female directors over the next 18 months to see gender improvement across the board. The plan is called the 4% challenge, as out of the top 1,200 studio films produced over the course of the last decade, a mere 4% had a female director.

Armie Hammer, actor and advocate of the “4% challenge” initiative, expressed: “I know a change is due and for example I have been making movies for 15 years and this is the first movie (On The Basis of Sex), I have made with a female director (Mimi Leder).”

Hammer has expressed working with Leder to be no different than working with any other talented director, regardless of gender – which is exactly as it should be.

Positively, Time’s Up is starting a mentorship programme with a legal defence fund that has so far raised over $20m.

Raman says she thinks the number of women working in film will be significantly higher next year. “I think a lot of people thought this was a flash in the pan, that this would disappear after a few months. But we haven’t. We’re still here. We’re still fighting.”

As a final note, television seems to be triumphing over the film industry in terms of equality with women directing 25% of all TV episodes last season, as reported by the Directors Guild of America; a rise from 21%.

The time is up for female directors to go unrecognised, and 2019 promises to bring exciting things, in both Hollywood and across the wider world of cinema.

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About the Author
Leah is a former student of film, media and culture studies and English literature at the University of Huddersfield. When not in uni or writing for magazines she is pulling pints in the local pub, drinking an excessive amount of tea or reading up on the latest philosophical theories.

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