Embroidered capes aside, here's how to support female film-makers

Natalie Portman had some snubbed names stitched into her red carpet outfit; here are five more ways to try and enable women directors to get a fairer shake

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.

Hire women

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.

Kate Muir

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Caped crusader: who is the real target of Natalie Portman's reply to Rose McGowan? | Catherine Shoard
Under fire for ‘tassel campaigning’ at the Oscars, Portman showed restraint and defiance in her riposte – plus mindful respect for women colleagues

Catherine Shoard

14, Feb, 2020 @2:45 PM

Article image
Rose McGowan says she regrets Natalie Portman Oscars dress comments
McGowan tweets that she ‘lost sight of the bigger picture’ after calling fellow actor a ‘fraud’

Andrew Pulver

18, Feb, 2020 @11:24 AM

Article image
Rose McGowan: Natalie Portman's Oscars dress protest 'deeply offensive'
McGowan strongly criticizes Portman, who responds by saying ‘I agree with Ms McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me brave’

Andrew Pulver

12, Feb, 2020 @10:13 PM

Article image
A female director Oscar? Three ways to fix film awards season
From Netflix-only own ceremony to a big Baftas shakeup, here are three bold steps to right the wrongs highlighted by this year’s mistakes

David Cox

12, Feb, 2020 @12:08 PM

Article image
Prince William's Baftas tirade was insultingly misdirected – he should resign as its president | David Cox
Is the Duke of Cambridge sabotaging the voting system? Or simply saving face by attacking an acceptable – if innocent – party?

David Cox

06, Feb, 2020 @1:04 PM

Article image
Battle of the sexes: why this year's Oscars will be a gender war
From Little Women and Bombshell on one side and The Irishman and The Two Popes on the other, the Academy will have to tread a careful line picking this year’s nominations

Steve Rose

31, Oct, 2019 @4:44 PM

Article image
Capes, chainmail and kaftans … the first post-ballgown Oscars
Old Hollywood glamour – and the values its represented – gave way at this year’s Academy Awards to a new generation of fresh looks and powerful stances

Jess Cartner-Morley

10, Feb, 2020 @4:25 AM

Article image
How long can this nonsense of the Oscars failing to nominate female directors go on? | Ellen E Jones
This year’s Academy Awards show that diversity drives will only get us so far. Filmgoers and the industry must question what makes a film award-worthy

Ellen E Jones

14, Jan, 2020 @4:55 PM

Article image
How Brad Pitt's zen reinvention has paved the way for Oscar glory
As final votes are cast, the Hollywood heavyweight has been putting in a winning - and carefully calibrated – turn as a wise-cracking sage

Catherine Shoard

31, Jan, 2020 @3:28 PM

Article image
Hollywood's gender divide laid bare by analysis of this season's Oscar contenders
Exclusive: Data on this year’s awards contenders reveals three youngest best actor hopefuls have never made a film with a female director

Katherine Purvis and Catherine Shoard

15, Nov, 2019 @3:38 PM