Why Aren't More Women Calling The Shots Behind Camera?

Natalie Portman focused attention on this year’s BAFTAs where once again there are no women shortlisted for directing
Mike Blake / Reuters

Natalie Portman caused quite a stir at the Golden Globes when she presented the award for Best Director and pointedly said “Here is the all-male shortlist.”

But why was anyone surprised? There were no women on the list last year. Or the year before that. In fact, I looked back at the Golden Globes lists as far as 1950 and found a total of FIVE women shortlisted in the past 67 years. My heart fluttered briefly when I saw the name Carol Reed – but, no, false alarm. Admittedly, Barbra Streisand and Kathryn Bigelow were shortlisted twice, so that’s all right then.

Portman’s remark has focused attention on this year’s Baftas where, again, there are no women shortlisted for directing. You have to go back to 2012 to find any woman director (Kathryn Bigelow again).

In truth, it’s difficult to blame the Awards juries/voters: there aren’t a whole ton of women to choose from. The American professor Martha Lauzen, who tracks such things, has found that women direct only 7–13% of movies in an average year – and vanishingly few big budget films. And, of course, Lauzen has pointed out that the male domination of the movie industry extends even to film critics. Men not only make the movies, they also tell you what to think about them.

But even when women break through these barriers it seems peculiarly difficult to be recognized as a director. This year the film Lady Bird has been cleaning up at awards ceremonies. It won two Golden Globes and an astonishing 54 other awards. It features on Baftas list too: Saoirse Ronan has been nominated as Best Actress and the writer Gerta Gerwig has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. The thing is, Greta Gerwig not only wrote the script – she directed the film. She must be responsible in very large part for its success. But no directing nomination for her.

When Peter Bradshaw, writing in the Guardian, bemoaned Greta’s absence, the response below the line was largely negative. One respondent pointed out that

“The film business is all about money, “ and argued that if more women made commercially successful films then more would be recognized.

I think so too. But it’s not that straightforward.

In 2003 Patty Jenkins wrote and directed her first feature film, Monster, starring Charlize Theron. It cost a pittance, made a fortune and won an avalanche of awards, including an Oscar for Theron. So what did Patty Jenkins do next? Well, she had to turn to directing episodic television and wait 14 years for another movie break. This was Wonder Woman, a worldwide blockbuster which, so far, has grossed over $820 million at the box office. Possibly, this is a bit too successful to ignore. We may hear more of Patty Jenkins.

But I’m pretty sure any man who directed a success like Monster would have been fast-tracked in Hollywood a little more speedily than Jenkins. Maybe there should be a special award given to women for bloody-minded perseverance.

Of course, the reason that’s there is a renewed focus on the male domination of the movie business is the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp. In other words, women have become fed up of being groped, abused and underpaid. They have asserted themselves in sufficient numbers to be heard and suddenly the whole industry is under scrutiny. So we start to notice things like the dearth of women directors – and the tardy recognition of even the best of them.

But that’s a symptom, not the cause. The whole industry has to change – and quickly. Time is up.

Kate Kinninmont MBE is CEO of Women in Film and Television (UK)


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