I’ve always been interested in the world of film, but lately (now that there is a light at the end of my PhD thesis tunnel) I’ve been dedicating more time to watching “the classics“. However doing some research into the essentials of cinema has brought home a sad fact: very few of the “great” directors are women. On top of this, look at any list of must-watch films and you’ll notice that there is a lot of gendered genre-bias too. Basically: if you’re looking to become a film buff, you’re going to run into a gender problem.
The lack of women directors in cinema has not gone unnoticed. Just last week it was reported that since the 1970s only 15% of Australian films have been made by women, a trend that continues today despite female film graduates making up 50% of the cohort. The Tumblr site “Sh*t People Say to Women Directors” also went viral this year, shining a light on the rampant sexism experienced by women in the industry. Actress Kristen Stewart recently commented, “Hollywood is disgustingly sexist. It’s crazy. It’s so offensive it’s crazy”.
But let’s imagine we put aside the sexism involved in producing many of the cultural products we consume, for a second. What we find is that what counts as film cannon is overtly biased toward stereotypically “male” genre films. Searching for “films every film buff must see” reveals lists like this:
These lists are overwhelmingly dominated by films about male gangsters, men in power, male killers, men beating each other up, and so on. Admittedly there is one romantic drama in this particular list, but in many, romantic comedy and fantasy adventure is basically left out. Such films daren’t been seen tainting such lists (even though we can all admit that The Princess Bride is an *absolute* classic, but never features in any top 100 lists).
And, even if we decide that the Godfather: Part 3 is actually deserving of a top spot, applying the Bechdel test to these films reveals very few lead female characters, let alone ones that talk to each other about topics other than men (The Godfather: Part 2 passes).
However, abstaining from watching films created by men, or that fit into a “male” genre, or that predominately feature men isn’t going to do much. Certainly boycotting male directors in favour of female ones would achieve little more than just missing out on some actually awesome films. I’ve long been a fan-girl of several auteurs (directors who are visionaries imagining a distinctive world) who are men, such as Lars von Trier, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, David Lynch and Pedro Almodóvar. If we ran with a top films list from these guys, it would look something like this:
– Dancer in the Dark
– The Life Aquatic
– Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
– Mullholland Drive
– Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Pretty great. I don’t recommend missing them.
But, film is an incredibly important tool for philosophising about the state of the world, humanity and existence. One can assume that the greater the diversity of people from different life experiences musing on this, the better. So I wonder what we are missing when we leave women out, both as characters within films and as the creatives behind the scenes.
Seeking out female directors, films of different genres, and films that feature strong women might be a good idea. If nothing else, this can act to provoke mindfulness about the gendered aspects of film-loving. So, just incase you’re googling “films every film buff must see”, here are some alternative lists to consider (according to me).
Awesomest films (by female directors):
Best ever films (that happen to be romantic):
Favourite films (that feature amazing female leads):
No, our watching practices aren’t going to defeat sexism in film. But being mindful of our viewing habits can’t hurt…especially when it comes to determining what “counts” in the land of the film buff.