Dialogue about the lack of females at the helm of big-budget films has been bouncing around for years.
Despite the apparent change of dynamics in television, the film industry seems to have a remarkable ability to resist the equal inclusion of women.
Plenty of females within the industry have voiced annoyance at the bizarre male centric reality of the film business. The shared winner of the 1993 Palme d’Or, Jane Campion, is in the headlines this week as a positive figurehead for women in film as the Jury President at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. At a news conference on the Croisette last week, Campion stressed the necessity for female inclusion within the ‘inherently sexist industry.’ She joked that, ‘the guys are eating all the cake.’
Thankfully, there are plenty of females judging beside her this year including Sofia Coppola, who knows a thing or two about eating cake after directing the story of Cake Queen herself, Marie Antoinette. Coppola has enjoyed unusual visibility as a female director in a typically male biased industry having also been one of the rare Oscar-nominated female directors.
The equal presence of males and females on this year’s panel cannot hide the blaring lack of female directors in the main competition. Naomi Kawase’s romance film, Futatsume No Mado (Still the Water), and Alice Rohrwacher’s drama, Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), are the two lonely films directed by women.
As Brown suggests, ‘Measuring gender equity is by no means straightforward.’ Brown mentions several publications and surveys that investigate the inequality. A survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at the San Diego State University, “found that women accounted for a mere 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.”
Brown works to dispel the myth by shining a light on data that nullifies popular opinion, ‘(FiveThirtyEight) looked at 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 and concluded that the median budget of films that passed the Bechdel test was 35 percent lower than those that failed. The study found that those same films enjoyed a 37% higher return on investment in the US – and their ROI in international markets was comparable to male-centric films. So much for industry wisdom about which projects ‘travel.’
Why then is the industry so rigid in its belief that women are incapable directing big-budget features? Perhaps, film studios would rather invest in established male directors to helm their epic money makers. Interestingly, as Brown comments, Gareth Edwards is the director of the recent “Godzilla” epic having previously been in command of the modestly budgeted “Monsters”, ‘for which he acted as writer, director, cinematographer and visual effects artist using just off-the-shelf equipment.’ So it would seem that Hollywood is taking risks, just not on females.
Cate Blanchett shared her grievances on the lack of female-centric films at the Academy Awards earlier this year. She graced the stage with one of the nights less egocentric speeches. Despite having her obvious gratitude, she nominated the awards season as being ‘random and subjective,’ gushed over her fellow nominees and, in her greatest moment shamed those who did not back females in the industry, ‘those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they make money.’
Optimistically, the industry cannot remain rigid forever. Next year’s release of Sam Taylor-Wood’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” will presumably thrust a female director in prime position for a while and, as a result, perhaps female directors with be deemed bankable.
In the words of Cate Blanchett, ‘the world is round, people.’
In the meantime, be comforted by this video staring the lovely Michael Bay explaining his ability to take people on an ’emotional ride.’
For further reading try Celluloid Ceiling, edited by Gabrielle Kelly & Cheryl Robson.