Why are so few women directing blockbusters?

Hollywood Hills – Flickr/Shinya Suzuki

How many female directors can you name?

Don’t feel self conscious about the answer, when I asked myself the question I was lost after three. Google helped me to realise that I had seen films and television shows from a few more than that, but very few of them have ever been given the two-hundred million dollar budget of the modern blockbuster.

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism recently carried out a study to explore the lack of female directors of big budget cinema in Hollywood, and last month The Guardian compiled stories from nine women working across the film industry regarding their experiences with sexism.

A number of interesting things were revealed by these two pieces, first, women directors predominantly find success in low budget cinema, such as short fiction and documentaries. But very few are able to get bigger budget projects off the ground, the reason seeming to be that executives do not trust women with big budgets.

There are a number of possible reasons for this, but the most interesting is the fear by executives that if they vouch for a female director on a project and then they mess up, it will reflect badly on the executive.

This rationale is used to explain how women executives, who are invariably outnumbered by men in their job, can also cave to a peer pressure that breeds this institutional inequality.

One female Director and former karate master, Lexi Alexander, has a rather telling story about a driver who refused to believe that she was a director and so refused to drive her.

Sexism in the industry seems to show itself in subtle ways, though sometimes it’s outright obvious. One unnamed action movie star apparently threw out the possibility of a female director on an unnamed project because he “refuses to be directed by a woman.”

An Endemic Issue in the Industry

These problems are of course faced by more than just directors, The Guardian article speaks to women with experience in every area of production – from screenwriters and costume designers, to cinematographers and editors.

The one area it does not focus on however, is the actors, who by no means have it easier. There seem to be just as many accounts of sexual advances from movie bosses today, under the guises of an audition, as there ever have been. And as female actors get older their casting opportunities become less and less varied.

Liv Tyler, who you’ll know from Armageddon and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has said that at 38 she’s only being offered parts as either The Wife or The Girlfriend, which is understandably frustrating after playing a badass like Arwen.

An even bigger issue for female actors however is the disparity in their pay when compared to their male co-stars. Last years Sony hack revealed that Jennifer Lawrence’s pay for the film American Hustle was less than her male co-stars’, despite her arguably being the films biggest box office draw.

On the subject of disparities in her own pay compared to her co-stars in the Iron Man movies, Gwyneth Paltrow had this to say: “It can be painful. Your salary is a way to quantify what you’re worth. If men are being paid a lot more for doing the same thing, it feels shitty.”

Again, the issue seems to be the same as with women directors; executives do not seem to be comfortable giving the women they employ large amounts of money, be it in budgets or pay.

Finding Success Elsewhere

To escape the problems of budgetary issues, many female writers and directors in recent years have been finding work and recognition in television.

Arguably the best example of this being Michelle Maclaren who has directed episodes for The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad – the latter of which she has won two Prime Time Emmy’s for as an executive producer.

In writing (and this may come as a surprise to some) Mad Men’s writing staff at one point was composed nearly entirely of women, seven of the nine writers, and throughout its run had a significant number of its departments composed of and run by women.

So we come to the question again, why is it so difficult for aspiring Directors like these to make it into cinema?

Ultimately, it comes down to just plain old boring prejudice, there is no real justification for it, it’s just a status quo that’s been perpetuated for too long that nobody is quite certain how to fix. Some suggest introducing diversity quotas, others believe that the solution will only come as more women reach positions of control in studios and the system becomes less dominated by men.

The landscape seems to be changing little by little, we are at least talking about it in mainstream publications and studying it openly. The upcoming movie adaptation of Wonder Woman is being directed by the aforementioned Michelle Maclaren, I wish I could believe that other female directors will land big budget projects as a consequence – but only time will tell.

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Respect for Women Should Have no #BLURREDLINES

Connie Basnett gives us a personal and saddening account of how sexism affects women from a young age.

Many of you will have seen recent articles and news reports on student rape culture, catcalling on the streets and the lack of female representatives in politics. These are just the latest topics in an on-going problem that discusses the current issue of modern sexism. If you are a woman I’m sure you will have experienced these problems yourself.

What is less commented on is the embedded sexist nature in people’s minds that results in language that is inappropriate and patronising, which many people just pass off. Having experienced these problems myself I considered them to be minor and simply forgot about them, but as I got older and read up more on different types of sexism I started to realise the problems I had were all related to one thing – I was a young woman.

I started working during college when I had just turned sixteen; of course I had been to high school where I had been at the mercy of teenage boys and their catcalling and ‘banter’. But I was not prepared to receive this from grown men or men older than me who should know better. I was subjected to colleagues continuously asking if  I was a virgin, how many people I had been with and even more horrifying, being told that I would be ripped in two.  There were many instances where I was shouted at and sworn at by other male members of staff and when I told a manager, I was suggested to simply stay away from them.

Unfortunately, these kinds of sexual remarks towards young women are the norm in the workplace. What was worse for me was the patronising manner in which I was spoken to by colleagues, apparently ‘I didn’t look like the type to do politics’  having informed them that I do a history and politics degree. I was only further mocked and laughed at after expressing that I wanted a career in the civil service. This was due to their perception of me on my general appearance as being ‘dizzy’ and I later found that this was a perception of many other younger female colleagues.

I frequently asked myself, “if I was an older male colleague would I be subject to such inappropriate questioning and patronising language?” Of course supervisors and managers either join in with the jokes or more commonly they think you are overreacting and cannot take a joke. This type of ridicule can stem from sexual jokes or comments on women’s clothing, which left me feeling embarrassed and humiliated.

This behaviour towards women and young girls doesn’t just start in the workplace. It can be traced back to school at a much younger age with young girls being intimidated by large groups of boys and constantly made fun of because of their general appearance. I dated a boy in college and it ended badly, I was then subjected to being called a ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ every time I walked past him on campus for the next year. I requested that the tutor did not put me in the same class with him again, two weeks later we were in the same class and my tutor took no notice.

This negative, hostile behaviour towards girls at work and in school is an everyday occurrence for many which is rarely acknowledged or publicised, but this is a much larger problem which we drastically need to address. These comments are often passed off as normal, acceptable and merely presented as humour, but we should all be aware of the true derogative meaning behind this behaviour and language.

 

By Connie Basnett


[Image Credit: Earls37a]

Are politics, music and motorcycles really just “Men’s Interests?”

According to Morrisons yes. A few weeks ago I visited my local Morrisons looking for the latest copy of Private Eye, but when I reached the magazine aisle I was left feeling more than a little disgruntled. I was greeted with a sign telling me that perhaps I shouldn’t be buying such magazines; apparently they are not in my interest – why? Because I am female. A giant header labelled “Men’s Interests” loomed over the magazine racks filled with motorsport, politics, history, science, technology and music. Meanwhile celeb gossip magazines, crafts and home décor were all on the other side of the aisle. Maybe Morrisons is trying to hint that I should be limited to purchasing from that side of the aisle instead.

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I took to twitter to tell Morrisons about my distaste for their segregationist attitude towards their labelling and this was their response.

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I continued…

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With assurances that they are “reviewing it as we speak” I was interested to see whether other major supermarkets and magazine retailers had similar gender explicit categorising systems. I visited the big four supermarkets as well as my local One Stop store in the hope that Morrisons was just an anomaly. Here is what I found. My local One Stop Store:

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Unfortunately, very similar to Morrisons, apparently cars, music and sport are “Men’s Lifestyle” magazines only. Asda:

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Hurray! Clearly and accurately labelled such as “motoring,” “sport” and leisure” no female exclusion here, thanks Asda. Tesco:

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Again, thumbs up for Tesco. History, Science and Technology magazines were labelled as “Leisure,” “News” and “Science.” This all seemed great until I looked on the other side of the aisle. photo (14)

“Women’s lifestyle,” featured magazines on knitting, cooking and babies, because apparently parenting isn’t also a male interest. Also note the conveniently placed chocolate bars, because we’re all aware of the universal fact that women look to buy knitting magazines and a chocolate bar in one hit. Sainsbury’s:

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Sainsbury’s was by far the best out of the big four. Not only did they have clear gender neutral labelling for the “motoring and motorcycling” section, but the rest of the aisle was also a happy sight. photo 2

Along the row the other sections were categorised as “craft” and “tea break” not just “women’s lifestyle.” Thanks Sainsbury’s! Overall, Morrisons and One Stop are still clearly lagging behind their counterparts, with Tesco still needing some improvements.

While efforts are continually being made to get young women interested in STEM subjects, especially encouraging them to pursue it as a degree choice, it seems that their local supermarket is telling them “sorry but this isn’t for you girls.” And despite Cameron’s latest cabinet reshuffle, the British parliament is still falling behind countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of female representation in Westminster; it seems politics isn’t in the female interest either.

I tweeted Morrisons again a few weeks after my original inquiry to find out if they have improved their signage. They’re yet to respond.

By Lizzie Roberts


[Image Credit: Jim Parkinson]