Published on: 04 May 2016 in Campaigns
Cut Out of the Picture: what directors think about gender inequality
Reading time: 34 minutes and 38 seconds
Directors UK has today released a new study, Cut Out of the Picture, which shows that the figures for women film directors have not improved in ten years, with women making up just 13.6% of working film directors.
The report explores the factors that have led to these figures, such as career progression, budgets, genres, critics, audiences and public funding, and discovered how the industry culture leads to vastly different outcomes for men and women.
We spoke to a number of directors, including Sarah Gavron, Susanna White, Oliver Parker, Beeban Kidron, Kim Longinotto, Debbie Isitt and Mat Whitecross, and asked them for their views on the study and the impact of gender inequality within the industry.
Beryl Richards, Chair of Directors UK and the Directors UK Gender Equality Group
Director of Firework, Recession, Perfect World, Secret Life of Boys, Leonardo, Wild at Heart, My Life as a Popat, All about Me, Girls in Love and Linda Green.
I first started directing professionally at the age of 22. At the time I loved the films of Jane Campion, yet she was one of very few women directors I could look to for inspiration. Throughout my career - and I hesitate to call it that, as there isn’t much career structure for directors - I have tracked what other women directors are doing. Their experience can be considered a useful steer for those starting on their way, as there are so few of us to help each other out. I thought by now there would be more women coming through, but at Directors UK the feeling is that we are becoming a species nearing extinction.
The poor representation of women directors in the film industry has been the subject of much debate over recent years, and the virtual absence of women directors at major awards and festivals each year confirms this shocking truth. As Chair of Directors UK and Chair of Directors UK Gender Equality Group, I’ve heard first hand from female members that have expressed their frustration at the lack of opportunities; from not getting that first break, not being considered for genre filmmaking (eg action adventure), finding it more difficult to direct their second, third or fourth film. But being frustrated about it isn’t enough; we want to be able to do something to change it.
The first step is to gain a better understanding of exactly what is going on. Of course you need enormous determination to succeed in making a feature film whoever you are, but how much more difficult is it for women? Just how great is the gender imbalance? Are women really more or less likely to direct particular genres – or does it just seem that way? And at what point in a female director’s career do they face these barriers and why does this happen? Only by better understanding the real picture for women directors can we begin this transition.
This comprehensive piece of research commissioned by Directors UK and carried out by Stephen Follows has provided us with a deeper insight and understanding of the industry’s gender inequality. And the figures speak for themselves. It cannot be acceptable that in 2016 any industry with this level of inequality continues to go unchecked, not least the film industry that plays such an influential role in our economy, our society and our culture. Please take a look at the report and add your support to our campaign recommendations.
The UK Film industry has the potential to change and become an industry that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender but to make this change happen, every part of the industry and every person in the industry needs to recognise their role in making equality a reality.
Iain Softley, Chair of the Directors UK Film Committee
Director of Hackers, K-Pax, Wings of the Dove and The Outcast.
Tackling the continually low number of films directed by women is a problem the UK film industry has yet to get to grips with. The study commissioned by Directors UK confirms the stark reality of how the film industry puts women directors at a fundamental disadvantage in comparison to their male counterparts.
The fact that only 11.5% of UK films over the last decade were directed exclusively by women demonstrates the urgent need for practical solutions that will put a stop to gender biased practices and support greater equality in filmmaking. As the Chair of Directors UK’s Film Committee, I and the Film Committee welcome this new insight and understanding on the issue of gender equality and support the industry-wide recommendations to make a real difference.
From ensuring that the public funding of film continues to improve the numbers of women directors getting the chance to make a feature film to lobbying government to include diversity within the tax relief system, we want to usher in a new era of fairness and balance. Most importantly we have to continue to keep the issue on the industry’s agenda and raise awareness, so that each part of the industry is doing its bit to change the practices and processes that disadvantage women.
Opportunity isn’t just about the young aspiring filmmakers, it’s about those already in the industry and ultimately making sure that the audience it’s serving have the greater choice that comes from a more diverse pool of talent.
Director of Suffragette, Brick Lane and This Little Life.
This is really useful research. It is shocking and startling to see these figures. I left film school in 2000 and every year I have expected the figures (of women directors) to increase, but they are not getting better. The research shows how important it is to find ways to support women filmmakers after they graduate from film school, or after to making their short films, to go on to make their first, second and third feature films - in order to counter the drop off that happens. It was only when I started seeing films directed by women that I felt I could dare to try to direct. Role models are key to developing and encouraging the next generation of film makers.
Film of course influences our culture which is why it is vital to have diversity and more gender equality both in front of and behind the camera. We need to work to shift this imbalance, and it seems the only way to do this is to be radical, rather than waiting for something to change.
The progress made in Sweden is worth looking at - in which the Swedish film institute pushed for equal (50:50) gender funding on all the productions with which they are involved and they achieved it in two years.
Highlighting the issue and generating publicity around it is effective. The recommendations from Directors UK are really valuable and I believe these will help move the industry forward. The National Film and Television School is looking at ways to support women filmmakers. We need to tackle it on many levels to encourage change.
Television and film director, Nanny McPhee Returns, Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle, Lie with Me, Bleak House, Jane Eyre, Generation Kill, Parade’s End, Boardwalk Empire, Tell Me the Truth About Love and Masters of Sex.
This report provides hard evidence for a trend that a lot of us have known to be the case for a long time. In the past people have argued that the shortage of female directors was a choice by women either not wanting to direct or choosing not to work the hours. Here we see hard statistics that show that the proportion of women entering film school wanting to be directors is 50% but over the last ten years only 13.6% of working film directors have been women. The report shows the reasons why this happens - women meeting barriers to entry in many of the jobs that are the ladder to being a film director, from 1st Assistant Directing to cinematography and editing. The stats reveal that even those women who manage to make a first film are less likely to make a second third or fourth film than their male contemporaries. It is shocking to see the extent of this relentless bias laid out in black and white. And why this study is so important is because it offers clear recommendations as to how we can start redressing the balance.
Director of An Ideal Husband, Johnny English Reborn, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dad’s Army, St. Trinian’s, St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold and Dorian Gray.
I was astonished by the findings of the report. I’ve been directing films for 20 years and when I started there was clearly a shortage of women directors. I’ve been under the impression that things were changing, that the film business would be inching towards equality, clearly not. It seems as though the crash reversed any minor progress that was taking place. The world became risk averse and the film business resorted to ‘safe’ choices. This is frankly embarrassing.
Film in the UK is at best a sketchy business, volatile and hand-to-mouth. To compete with TV and to compete internationally we need to keep upping our game; so, aside even from issues of equality, it seems a shameful waste of resources not to encourage the best to rise.
I am completely in favour of the Directors UK recommendations. They represent a strong and significant message, that things have to change. The first challenge is to identify the problem, which the report nails in stark terms. Raising awareness is key, then taking action. In the long term, the UK film industry needs to become more robust. It needs to be nurtured and valued as a national asset. Britain is at its best when it embraces diversity, when it encourages individuality. It’s plain dumb to exclude 50% of those individuals from something they’ve trained to do.
Director and writer of Confetti, Nativity! and Nasty Neighbours.
It would certainly appear from statistics and research studies that female directors are not given the same opportunities as male directors or that women quite quickly feel the need to give up on their dreams in this industry – possibly due to economic pressures or practical considerations or just because they don’t want to waste their time banging their heads against brick walls. Women are incredibly productive and if they think they’re on a ‘hiding to nothing’ many women will feel they have little choice but to jump ship to do something else – something more productive. Filmmaking is not the only industry where women feel blocked from progressing or feel as if they are easily dismissed, overlooked or not taken seriously but it is an incredibly powerful and important industry and therefore it would seem essential that we think seriously about the impact having so few women at the helm of film projects may be having on the world.
I think it is incredibly important that we have a diverse filmmaking community in the UK (and indeed globally) because we all bring different perspectives from our lives onto the big screen and directing for cinema (or in any other medium for that matter) is above all about offering one’s own unique perspective.
Making films is about personal experience, about sharing one’s ideas and about sharing one’s life – it is about empowering others both by being a role model and by offering up role models in the content of ones work. How can we offer (for example) our young women films that empower, uplift and encourage them if no one is making films about them or for them? It doesn’t mean that women have to work in any particular genre. Women can make action films, spy films, superhero films, rom coms, family films or intense psychological thrillers – given the opportunity women can even create new genres of filmmaking. Women make up 50% of the population and we are a passionate, communicative, hardworking, interesting, complex, humorous, honest and fascinating 50% of that population – at the very least we are an essential part. It is vital that we are fairly represented in an industry that is so influential, particularly on the young. If films really can (as I believe) inspire people and change lives, educate and empower then women need to be a meaningful part of that process. It’s not rocket science – it’s not frightening either – open the door and let women in – the rewards will be there for all to indulge in and benefit from.
Director and editor of The Road to Guantanamo, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and Spike Island.
The statistics showing the drop off in the number of female students who then go on to make feature films is pretty alarming.
I think creating targets and imposing positive discrimination often gets bad press; people can feel they’re being pushed out to make way for others who aren’t right for the job; who’ve only been chosen as a token gesture or to tick a box.
But something needs to be done - the statistics clearly show that women, who make up almost half of film students, are being prevented by the system from following their dreams. It looks like they’re hitting a brick wall at every stage of their career.
The recommendations will be unpopular I’m sure, as is always the case with campaigns calling for radical change. But only something as drastic as this can help turn the tide - it’s not something that will happen by itself. I hate the idea that my two daughters would be unable to have the same opportunities as me just because of who they are. The film industry is tough for anyone, and full of barriers. But for women, there seem to be so many more.
With radical changes like these, you never really know if they’ll work until you try; but if the 50:50 equal funding can work in Sweden, there’s no reason it can’t work here as well. Hopefully in five or ten years, the industry will have changed to the point where initiatives like this are no longer necessary, and it isn’t even something we need to discuss anymore.
The idea that something as culturally influential as film and television, is entrusted to only one half of the population is crazy. Urgent action is required to encourage the next generation of filmmakers, whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation.
Writer and director of Blessed, Days That Shook the World, Mummy Autopsy, Rameses: Wrath of God or Man, Danny Loves Angela and Breath of Angels.
I’m not great on numbers, but, like most people, I do understand fairness; it isn’t fair that 85% of films are directed by men. It isn’t fair that 80% of films are written by men, or that 78% of films are edited by men and 92% are shot by male cinematographers. It isn’t fair that women are directing less than 10% of the top films released every year.
Yet, women make up more than half of the cinema-going audience. Without women supporting film in theatres, it’s arguably the case that cinema would be in a state of severe decline. So, one might say that it is simply a matter of fairness that women should be afforded the same opportunities to create films and connect with a diverse audience.
But, that isn’t an argument for ‘positive discrimination’. The fact is that creativity, imagination, technical insight and audience awareness are not gender specific. Men cannot lay claim to a greater concentration of ‘filmmaking’ genes. The somewhat unpalatable truth is that women have been denied opportunities to express themselves through the medium of film and television, simply because they are women.
The prejudice and exclusion may not be malevolent or even conscious, but this does not dismiss the fact that the prejudice exists.
Ultimately, in the same way that great cinema should make us forget we are sitting in a theatre, so great film should make us blind to the gender of the filmmaker. As important as it is to share in stories which benefit from women's perspectives, it is also vital that women have equal opportunity to tell great stories which need to be told and which require the expertise of great film-makers, irrespective of gender.
We are undoubtedly missing out on seeing brilliant mainstream films from women who are and would be great, hugely successful and inspirational mainstream film-makers.
That is more than a shame. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the filmmakers being denied the opportunity and it isn’t fair to us - the audience.
Director of The Age of Stupid, McLibel, Drowned Out and Baked Alaska.
After many unsuccessful attempts to win commissions from broadcasters at the beginning of my career, 20 years ago, my options were to either give up the idea of being a filmmaker or to forge my own path. I chose the latter and became an independent filmmaker - pioneering the use of crowd-funding to raise finance independently and then developing our Indie Screenings software to harness people power to get our films seen. I’d always assumed that my failure to win commissions was because the films I was proposing were too political for mainstream commissioner taste, but on reading this new report, it’s impossible not to conclude that it was also because I’m female.
Now we know how many voices have been lost by the system funneling out female filmmakers - funneling out half the ideas, half the experience, half the perspective - is it any surprise that multiplexes have become such a wasteland?
I hope that Directors UK will now repeat the research to find out whether the same thing is happening to ethnic minority filmmakers.
Director of Lunch Date, Four Eyes and French Exchange.
When I arrived on set on the first day of a job some years ago, a runner pointed me in the direction of hair and make-up. People still imagine the director as a middle-aged man in a baseball cap. But I feel that bit by bit this is changing. There are a host of exciting female directors coming onto the scene. The audience don’t care about the gender of the director. They want to immerse themselves in a great film, and be swept away by the story. I’m part of Film Fatales, a network of women filmmakers, who provide peer mentoring and support. It’s a tough path to take, there’s no doubt about that, and it requires a lot of determination. It took three years to raise the finance for my first feature film, Love Type D, which is currently in post-production. But I did it. Seeing the statistics from the Directors UK report makes me even more determined to succeed, and to never give up. I thoroughly support the recommendations by Directors UK to increase diversity in the industry.
Director of Dispatches, Tribal Wives, Mammoth Back from the Dead, The Return of the Clouded Leopards, Don’t Tell the Bride, BBC Inside Out and Too Fat for Fifteen.
I am both shocked and saddened at the statistics coming from the recent research conducted on behalf of Directors UK. I believe that while under a diversity headline, this issue is more about equality than diversity. We make up an equal number of the population – in the wider sense, as well as those entering into the profession.
It is hard to comprehend that, in 2016, despite making up more than 50% of the population, women are still so poorly represented in the film industry, and despite 50% emerging as directors from film schools, only 13% of women make it through to directing films - with a staggeringly low 3.3% of these going on to make high budget features.
As a nation, we take pride in our equality legislation and opportunities – but these statistics are a failure in employment terms, but also in providing a voice for more than half the population. Film and television are the most powerful of today’s influencing media, and denying this voice to half of the population is simply unacceptable.
The need for redressing the imbalance goes without saying however, in terms of diversity and equality, some serious questions need to be answered to why only 22% of female directors are awarded funding from public bodies – and I applaud the campaign by Directors UK to campaign for greater diversity and drive for 50% of public body funding.
Director of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Murder, Storyville, InRealLife, Cinderella, Amy Foster and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.
The issue of women directors is really no different from the issue of women in leadership roles in any sector; girls lack role models; there are cultural and gender barriers to taking up what opportunities do exist; there is a lingering feeling that male forms of leadership are more successful; and the vast majority of male directors do not, at the height of their career, have primary responsibility for the care of their children.
The charity that I co-founded, IntoFilm, addresses this by making film watching and making available in every school, by deliberately encouraging girls to be storytellers and filmmakers and by taking female filmmakers into schools. Starting young is an imperative. I do think that we are seeing conscious efforts to ‘promote and support’ women in the industry, but frankly, unless men take on a more central role in bringing up their kids, and we dump the insidious idea that a woman at the helm is a wimp or a harridan, and a man is just being an artist - then we will never see the level of change necessary.
Documentary director, cinematographer and producer, Underage, Hidden Faces, Dream Girls, Divorce Iranian Style, Gaea Girls, Runaway, Sisters in Law, Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, Pink Saris, Salma and Love Is All: Boy, Girl, Love.
This is such a complex subject. I believe there are many issues and reasoning’s behind these figures.
I know many of my peers, who I went to film school with, who have left the industry, not because of the lack of opportunities but because of families. I think Families play a major part in a person’s careers.
Perhaps the industry is a little different in documentary making - I don’t necessarily believe that we need to work to get ‘more’ women in the industry, it’s not about that, it’s about creating stronger roles for them to play within the industry, perhaps if there were more of these types of women represented and seen around more often, then there wouldn’t be such a problem.
Settings quotas can be a very narrow way of thinking about the bigger picture, there are women directors around, such as Kathryn Bigelow who directed The Hurt Locker, but it needs to be more than that, an increased number of women directors doesn’t mean there are a better films out there. Lukas Moodysson (a male director) makes great films, with strong female characters and that is more of what we need to encourage.
It’s very easy to generalise, but we need to look at the real reasons as to why women are not getting their films funded, perhaps contributing factors are lack of a good script, or good people attached or production company? To generalise is a disservice to all, as there are other contributing factors. If we keep perpetuating these negative views, we could ultimately be discouraging others who had the intention of becoming a director.
Director and writer of Home, Donkeys and I Am Breathing.
There is a distinct lack of female voices and perspectives in the film industry. We need to have an urgent debate about how this has happened and why? What this means is that women are not being represented back to themselves in the world. This needs to change. We need to start the debate. We need to make the change.
Director of En Vogue, Seed and Jump.
The numbers published in this report are scary. Not just for women directors like myself who are in the now of this crisis but for those who aspire to be where we are, those coming up next. They lack hope, ambition and foresight.
The fact that as women we go from being in a majority position: 50.1% of students in UK film schools to only 27.2% of us making short films and then only 16.1% of us actually going on to make small budget films then finally and painfully only 3.3% getting the opportunity to make big budget films shows and as this report confirms, we are not receiving the support of our industry equal to our male counterparts. This is then worsened by the fact that public funding support for women filmmakers has fallen in the last 7 years going from 32.9% to just 17%.
The fact that our industry is failing women directors like myself who are able, ready and eager is disappointing.
The measure of a civilisation is in how it treats its women. As I noted late last year when the BAME report was published, if we do not create an industry which is an inclusive representation of society we will continue to lead ourselves down the wrong side of history. In this case, we are failing the majority - women. We account for 50.7% of our population in the UK yet we struggle to create content by and/or for women that comes anywhere close to this figure. This is not right.
At this point, I believe the only way change will only come about is if we put in place strict guidelines and rules that the industry must abide by to narrow this gap. The suggestions and recommendations made by Directors UK namely to amend the tax relief system as well as for 50% of UK public funding to go to films directed by women are all necessary steps in the right direction.
Director and writer, Supraman and the School of Necessity, We Are All Rwandans and Africa United.
I don’t believe there’s a conscious decision in the industry to purposefully exclude women from directing films. The problem is that it’s a high risk, instinct driven business - and the instinctive perception of what ‘a director’ is tends not to be a woman in her late 30s. Regardless of the fact I delivered a multi-million pound film which was well-received critically (if not financially) when I was 32. Regardless of the work I’ve done and wisdom gained since then. We’re steeped in the narratives we tell in this business, and in the stories we tell, the heroes and leaders are nearly always male. The comeback stories are male. The mentoring stories are male. So I think, because of that, there is a subconscious perception issue about female directors, and directors of colour. Added to which, I think it means if your first film wasn’t an all-round success, you’re judged more harshly as well. I don’t it’s totally bleak, not by any means - there are great people working, and lots to learn through knock backs - but it does mean you have to work that much harder and be that much luckier to get a break.
Trying to get a second film off the ground - and also to get hired in TV - has been tough. It’s frustrating because I’ve made award-winning shorts, and I directed a multi-million pound feature, which made a lot of noise and went down well with audiences although it was less successful than hoped at the box office. And I want to use that experience, build on it, keep making films. I’m a better filmmaker now than before I made my first film - I’ve gained all of this wonderful experience, but so far have had precious few opportunities to build on it.
I don’t feel like a ‘female director’. I feel like a ‘director’ - I have a human response to stories, and I direct films and write scripts, that’s what I do. But when people look at you they see this ‘female suit’, that can’t be taken off. The industry is hard enough as it is, without having this ‘suit’ - which makes you automatically seem more risky as a prospect. But more and more women are breaking through, wearing their suits, putting their work where their mouth is. So it may take longer, be harder on the wallet to keep going, but what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, right? And older and wiser… So we’ve just got to keep on fighting and working in these female suits until the perception changes.
Director, Let’s Dance: Bowie Down Under, Nadine Kadaan: A Syrian Children’s Author and White Riot: London.
The reality of how low the numbers are is very shocking. It’s disappointing to see how sharply the figures fall - but it’s also a huge wake-up call. It’s incredibly important that more women stick at directing - the more voices in the world of storytelling, the better - and that includes authors, directors, screenwriters and so on. Audiences are diversifying, so why can’t the film industry?
Personally, the low numbers make me want to succeed even more - and prove to men and the wider film industry that women can tell stories and make films just as well as men. It seems ridiculous to have to make this kind of statement in 2016.
Support in the industry - amongst your peers - is absolutely vital. Be brazen, take a chance and find that support, because it will not find you. As Mark Duplass once famously said: the cavalry ain’t coming.
Director of Devil’s Playground, Blindsight, Waste Land, Countdown to Zero, The Crash Reel, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, The Lion’s Mouth Opens and Blue’s Clues.
Heartbreakingly, these figures show that women are investing in themselves as filmmakers at the same rate as men, but that the return on their investment is drastically compromised, and that the further one looks in a female filmmaker’s career progression the more compromised that return is. An equality of desire, training, investment, ambition, and commitment turns into a severe inequality of professional employment.
The more likely a film is to be seen the less likely it is to be directed by a woman. This is devastating for female filmmakers, but also for filmgoers, and ultimately the world, which is lacking - well, I would say the world is lacking diversity but it’s more specific than that. The world is systematically being deprived of 50% of its population’s voices, visions, stories and perspectives. And women are suffering in their careers. I fully support the ACLU’s call to federal and state agencies to investigate Hollywood’s sexist hiring practices.
Kate Kinninmont MBE
Chief Executive, Women in Film & Television UK.
Directors UK and Stephen Follows deserve all our thanks. They provide incontrovertible evidence of the truly shameful levels of gender inequality in our industry and blaze a path towards the only possible remedy: a fairer deal for women at every level. Public funding bodies must sit up and take notice. Change is possible - but we will all have to fight for it.
Francine H. Raveney
Executive director of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network.
We are pleased to participate in the debate on women in film and in finding solutions to address gender imbalance alongside Directors UK as this is an urgent matter. The European Women’s Audiovisual Network has just completed a pan-European report on this subject, Where Are The Women Directors in European Films, which looks at gender inequality in the film industry in seven countries: Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK, and we were astounded to see that men receive 84% of funding for films across those countries, despite women film school graduates representing a 44% share. Working women directors active in the industry are only present at a level of 24%, showing us that so much more needs to be done to sustain the careers of women directors, as this is unacceptable. The workforce is present and strategies need to be put in place to change the status quo.
Chief Executive of the Swedish Film Institute.
Once again Directors UK has compiled proof showing what an injustice the film funding system is producing. It’s sad to realise how much quality goes down the same drain as the female directors. And it should be a wakeup call for all decision makers, to start to make change.
Founder and editor of Women and Hollywood.
I wish I was surprised by the dismal numbers in the new Directors UK comprehensive analysis of women directors. What this research shows is that even though in the last two years the conversation about the lack of opportunities has continued to grow and go ‘mainstream’, there are still no improvements in the opportunities for women directors. Just like in the US, the pipeline is leaking at every level and women continue to fall out. It is up to the people who have the purse strings and who are the decision makers to say that this will change. Without proactive intervention we will continue to lose another generation of women’s voices and visions. This is a cultural crisis and needs a comprehensive plan to create more opportunities for women directors as they enter the industry all the way to the top.