No Girls Allowed: The Gender Problem in Film

directors

The considered greats of directing are almost always all male

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.

KStew <3

KStew ❤

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:

Not saying the Godfather isn't good though

Not saying The Godfather isn’t good though

1. The Godfather: Part 1
2. The Godfather: Part 2
3. The Godfather: Part 3 (srly?)
4. Citizen Kane
5. Vertigo
6. Casablanca
7. Psycho
8. Raging Bull
9. Notorious
10. Taxi Driver

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).

bechdel-test

Bechdel test explained

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).

Dancer in the Dark is SO GOOD and SO DEPRESSING

Dancer in the Dark is SO GOOD and SO DEPRESSING

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.

Film is a way of framing the world

Making films involves framing and reflecting on the world

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).

Sophia Coppola directing (also starred in Godfather: part 3...)

Sophia Coppola directing (also starred in Godfather: part 3…)

Awesomest films (by female directors):

The Virgin Suicides (Sophia Coppola)
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair)
An Education (Lone Sherfig)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July)
Clueless (Amy Heckerling)

True fact: Four Weddings was nominated for an Oscar for best picture (and lost to Forrest Gump)

True fact: Four Weddings was nominated for an Oscar for best picture (and lost to Forrest Gump)

Best ever films (that happen to be romantic):

– Four Weddings and a Funeral
West Side Story
Calamity Jane
– Annie Hall
Amélie

Favourite films (that feature amazing female leads):

Million Dollar Baby
All About Eve
Black Swan
Ghost World
The Wizard of Oz

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.