Calling the Shots: New Women in Film Stats Revealed

10/05/2016 17:31 | Updated 10 May 2016


A new study of 2015's UK film - Calling The Shots - reveals just 20% of women in key production roles and even less for women of colour. Now what?

I entered the film world by happy accident. My company wanted to exploit my busybody self for schmoozing film distributors and seen as that came with red carpets and canapés I was all in.

I rarely thought about the lack of females working in film but as a seasoned feminist I started to take mental stock in my new career. Not so much the people working in distribution (Lionsgate, FilmFlex and Studiocanal in particular seemed to have plenty of women in senior roles), but in the titles they were flogging us the vision of a rugged white man on a steel blue poster was the norm. And as for the few female-directed films, they were usually denied the theatrical fanfare and shunted straight to VOD.

Thanks to the eclectic programming of film festivals, I was enlightened to the wealth of women making movies; they did exist and they were making great films, and given half the chance I would market the hell out of them because what I loved about my job was sharing great cinema you've probably never heard of.

With this frustration of underexposure, and witnessing the power of film festivals, I set up Bechdel Test Fest to bring audiences to female-led movies. It began as a year-long project, but as the year progressed I realised how naive I was in not recognising how dire the situation was for women in film, and if you're a woman of colour you're basically invisible.

Women make up around 50% of the film student population so women do want to make movies, however the release of the Calling The Shots report tells us that somewhere along the line we're getting shafted.

Women are under-represented across all six key production roles in the UK. We have 13% of directors, 20% of screenwriters, 27% of producers, 18% of exec-producers, 17% of editors, and only 7% of all cinematographers. More troubling is the results that across all six roles women of colour make up less than 2% in each category with a total 0 in the cinematography corner. Zero.

But what do we do? I now cringe at the question. Finding the answer is like building sandcastles in quicksand, but at a recent symposium to pour over the results that one in five European films have female director at Birkbeck Uni, we identified some possible solutions. These included placing female-led films on the curriculum to increase visibility to students, better exposure and celebration of completed films in the media and better understanding of how to market them to appropriate audiences. We also need more female film critics and feminist, not just women, in decision-making positions which brings us back to the start of educating women to get there in the first place.

So there is a lot of talking, but at last I feel we might well be doing something about it. Shelly Cobb, Ruth Williams and Natalie Wreyford's Calling The Shots report is crucial in presenting the facts so we don't have to make sweeping generalisations on the state of the affair and make change happen.

Stats are rarely sexy but they tell crucial stories which is why the simplicity of the Bechdel Test is appealing. Simply identifying if a film has two women, who talk to each other about something other than a man is a digestible test of gender bias and a crucial conversation starter but of course we need more depth. Kudos to Melissa Silverstein and Stephen Follows who dedicate time to tallying up the representations of women in film. Their work inspires change and has encouraged me to keep tabs on the female-led movie releases each month on Bechdel Test Fest's site.

Praise also goes to CEO of the Swedish Film Institute Anna Serner who has insisted that 50% of their funding pot for independent cinema goes to women. Not 30, not 40...half. And what's more is they're award-winning films as women now take home 69% of the prizes (40% internationally). 50/50 funding. How's that for an answer?

This week at the BFI, director Gurinder Chadha, producer Sarah Curtis, director Hope Dickson Leach, WFTV's Kate Kinninmont, BFI's Lizzie Francke and myself - founder of Bechdel Test Fest - will join the report's authors Dr. Shelley Cobb, Linda Ruth Williams and Natalie Wreyford to investigate the UK results that in 2015 only 20% of key production roles went to women. Here's to not just talking about it, now let's do something about it.

The Bechdel Test Fest is volunteer-run, ongoing celebration of films that pass the Bechdel Test and host events at various venues in London. Next event: May 29 - Nora Ephron's Last Supper: films, food and talks in celebration of the late Nora Ephron - Rio Cinema, Hackney.