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Why Movies Need X-Men and X-Women

12/08/2014 14:40 BST | Updated 08/10/2014 10:59 BST

Last time I posted here, I was talking about the lack of female creatives in the advertising industry. Only weeks later, I stumbled across the results of a survey that Stephen Follows (no relation) had conducted into the film industry. Obviously a fairly long-term and in-depth project, as he himself says on his blog, the results are shocking. He studied the 100 highest grossing films at the US Box Office for each year between 1994 and 2013 (a total of 2,000 films). And he found that:

  • Women make up only 23% of film crew members on the 2,000 highest grossing films.
  • In 2013, under 2% of Directors were female.
  • The only departments to have a majority of women are make-up, casting and costume

This seems to echo what we are seeing in the advertsising industry. The point I was making about that industry was that women are very well represented in 'production' roles but not in 'creative' roles, and I drawing the conclusion that women are given the job of making someone else's idea happen (a man's) where they can administrate, organise and produce it...but are not encouraged/often actually discouraged from seeking the opportunity to create, originate and envision their own idea in the first place.

Even more worrying is Stephen's finding that there is no visible sign of improvement in the situation for women in film. Three damning findings are:

  • There has been no improvement in the last 20 years. The percentage of female crew members has decreased between 1994 (22.7%) and 2013 (21.8%)
  • The three most significant creative roles (writer, producer, director) have all seen the percentage of women fall
  • The jobs performed by women have become more polarized. In jobs that are traditionally seen as more female (art, costume and make-up) the percentage of women has increased, whereas in the more technical fields (editing and visual effects) the percentage of women has fallen.

As he says, we don't know what the reason for this is, is it sexist hiring practices? Or just that women are not attracted to such roles? His study cannot say. But we all know that popular culture is full of industrious creative female writers, singers, musicians, actresses...so, why don't women make it in film? It seems to me that the advertising industry and the film industry (very closely associated in term of craft and skills) are both suffering from a lack of female role models; women who have made it in this creative industry, on their own terms, without having to sacrifice everything else, and also seem to be enjoying it. How many of those can we actually name? Little wonder then that these roles as careers hold little appeal to a young women starting out.

One of this country's most brilliant and acknowledged theatre directors is Jude Kelly OBE, director of the South Bank. At Gather, an all-female training day put on by WACL (The Women in Advertising & Communications London) in May, Jude Kelly spoke about the need to remind ourselves of our own history; that we need to seek out our own female role models. We can't wait for the media to do it. And we shouldn't just think that women are only now empowering themselves through creativity. It has been the case for years, it's just that the stories of such women have gone untold. She regaled the audience with stories of trailblazing women like Ethel Smyth, who as a suffragette in Holloway Prison, using only a toothbrush as a baton conducted music through her cell window. She introduced us to Lily Parr , a professional women's association football player from Preston. She played professionally in the Dick Kerr's Ladies team founded 1917, and is the only woman to have been made an inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum. Who knew?

And that's the point, who knew? We must find ways to identify and amplify the movies where women have been significant in their creative contribution. Jane Goldman springs to mind for me. She co-wrote the screenplays for X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Stardust and X-Men: Days of Future Past. She is also rumoured to be working on a screen adaptation of Nonplayer, the sci-fi comic book. But how many times do we see her or hear her talking about this in the media; what little girls would be able identify her as a role model in the film and creative industries? What is interesting about her is that she is counter-cultural. A girl writing fantasy and sci-fi. As we saw from Stephen Follows' survey, that is the single-most under-represented genre in film when it comes to females within film crews. It's not even about female viewers being attracted to female-made films, it is just about bringing women's creativity, perspectives, and ideas to the genres that we do have, so that the stories told are perennially interesting and original.

Not long ago, Marvel were rumoured to be making a standalone Black Widow movie. This news prompted the question to be asked on twitter: when would a standalone Black Widow film (with Scarlett Johansson) be in the works? Not any day soon, came the replies from those in the know, and the reason being that a female superhero as the lead rather than a support was not felt to be compelling for movie-goers.

Well, let's have some women (not just men) involved in the creation of it, and then let an audience decide! It's not until we start using and distributing some of the findings of Stephen's report, and others, that anyone will take any notice, and change the status quo. In the last few days, Sony have been said to be working on a Spiderman related female superhero movie, set for launch in 2017. I don't know if this is true, but if it is, the first thing I'll be checking out at IMDb is whether any of the writers, producers or directors are female; it goes without saying that costume and casting will be of course.