There was plenty of fury at the usual lack of female representation at the Oscars and Baftas this year, but how does that translate into positive change and diversity on screen? Steve Martin and Chris Rock bemoaned the lack of “vaginas” among the nominees for best director during the Academy Awards ceremony. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman had the names of overlooked female directors embroidered by Dior in gold on her ceremonial cape, only to be rewarded by Rose McGowan’s unceremonious response that “Portman’s type of activism is deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work.” But women directed only 12% of the top-grossing 100 films last year. So how do we move from activism – in whatever form – to lights, camera and action? Here are five ways to encourage more women directors.
This sounds simple, but while men often make a single leap from a debut independent film to a studio blockbuster – such as Colin Trevorrow, who moved from Sundance favourite Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World – women are generally employed for their experience, not their potential. Until this year, when Chloé Zhao of the indie feature The Rider will debut big time with The Eternals from Marvel Studios. Cate Shortland has directed the forthcoming Black Widow, and Patty Jenkins – proving that female box-office money talks – will be back with Wonder Woman 1984.
Subscribe to diversity standards
Public film funders like the BFI have a flexible set of standards which encourage inclusion on and behind the screen, as well as access and audience development. The BFI is encouraging the mainstream film industry to voluntarily adopt the standards by 2022. The “inclusion rider” suggested by Frances McDormand when she won her Three Billboards Oscar is similar, encouraging actors to insist cast and crew meet diversity standards.
Make productions parent-friendly
The commitment and travel required in film production means many women disappear mid-career. A recent UK Film and TV Charity survey shows that mental health is at a low in the film industry, with 90% experiencing issues on the job, as one in eight crew members work more than 60 hours a week, and 78% struggle with work-life balance. Raising Films campaigns for better conditions for parents and carers in the workplace. Long hours are not always better: the Coen brothers are famed for always stopping at a decent time on set.
Cross the actor-director divide
While the Clint Eastwoods of this world are equally confident behind and in front of the camera, women are only just starting to cross the directorial Rubicon. Of course, Ida Lupino and Barbra Streisand were early starters on this, and Greta Gerwig and Portman followed. Olivia Wilde’s debut Booksmart just won a Spirit award, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is up next in the director’s chair.
Watch films by women
Another no-brainer, but men failed to turn up at awards screenings of Gerwig’s Little Women. Wider audience support of a small film can lead to great rewards for the director on the next. In the UK, Birds’ Eye View runs Reclaim the Frame, which supports the screening and distribution of female-led films, often with audience events and debates around the country. Next up? Perhaps Reclaim the Canon, rescuing great female-directed films from obscurity.
• Kate Muir is on the board of Birds’ Eye View and is a campaigner for Time’s Up.