We’ve Broken The Fourth Wall, But Can We Break The Glass Ceiling? The Struggle Of Female Directors

Living Journalism

We’ve Broken The Fourth Wall, But Can We Break The Glass Ceiling? The Struggle Of Female Directors

A young-looking woman with curly, messy-looking blonde hair runs up three levels to the door marked with a golden "Emma Lecker" door plate. She searches for her keys first in a black leather bag, then in her jeans' pockets, and again in her bag. She arrives home a bit later than she expected. There is an email waiting for her to read. She finally finds the keys in her coat pocket, opens the door, and rushes to her desk, opening her laptop. The email she sees, however, wipes away her hopes and excitement at first glance: "Thank you for your application, however, we have decided to go with a different director."

Emma is not the only female director facing rejection daily. Speaking about numbers, an analysis known as “Inclusion in the director's chair” shows that between 2007 and 2019, the percentage of female directors working for the well-known streaming platform Netflix stands at 20%. Furthermore, when it comes to top-grossing movies like Avatar or Avengers, the percentage drops to a little less than 5%.As of 2021, following the coronavirus pandemic, the research report "The Celluloid Ceiling in a Pandemic Year: Employment of Women on the Top U.S. Films of 2021" shows that women who work behind the scenes in movies comprise 25% of the workforce on the top 250 grossing films. Moreover, when considering only women in the position of director, that number decreased in 2021. According to the same research, 17% of women directors worked on the top 250 films, while in the top 100, there were only 12%. After the pandemic hit, statistics showed no mercy towards women in the film industry. In addition, the research mentioned above shows that 94% of the top 250 films had no woman cinematographer and 82% had no woman director in 2021. Unfortunately, that year, 74% of films didn't even have a woman writer.

Women’s Voice

Emma sat at her desk, staring blankly at her laptop screen. She had just read another rejection email, the latest in a string of many that had flooded her inbox in recent months. The more she thought about it, the more she couldn't help but compare herself to her male colleagues and college classmates, many of whom had already landed prestigious jobs in the film industry. What was she doing wrong? She had always been confident in her ideas and abilities, but it seemed that wasn't enough. In a cutthroat industry where success often hinged on who you knew rather than what you knew, it felt like she was constantly hitting a glass ceiling.

Then, she stumbled across a study done at Cornell University that shed light on a common phenomenon. According to the research, while men often overestimate their abilities and performance, women tend to underestimate both. The study showed that despite men and women having the same level of skill and ability, men were more likely to view themselves as highly competent, while women were more likely to doubt their own abilities. The truth is that both men and women's ability quality rate is precisely the same.

Becoming more confident in your own abilities and overcoming the fear of expressing your voice is what a female french-iranian filmmaker Emily Atef advises to do: “Don’t be afraid to express your ideas even if you’re not sure of them — that’s something I have always seen done by our male colleagues, even if the ideas were just a hint of an idea, their voice it full of confidence. We must learn this too.”

Silent Protest

"Emma opens the laptop once more and clicks the Google page. 'Female in the movie industry,' she types into the search engine. She understands a bit more at once. All the articles and research prove that women are being excluded from the industry. Emma shakes her head unconsciously. She feels sad for all the women and their hard work being marginalized. She scrolls a bit through the finder and spots a link showing just numbers: 50/50. What is this about? She clicks the link.

The French-based movement known as Collectif 50/50 brings together more than 1500 professionals from the film, creative, and audio-visual industries. Their goal is to bring equality and diversity to the film and audio-visual industry through various actions, such as studies and research development, instigation of public authorities, or development of creative tools that help to implement the changes. Furthermore, 50/50 cooperates with various movie actors in order to accelerate the pace of changes.

The movement known as "Le Deuxième Regard" was originally founded in 2013. However, after the Weinstein case - which deals with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who was found guilty of rape and sexual assault of dozens of women in the film industry - the name was changed in 2018 to today's "Collectif 5050x2020", and along with the name change came the first action known as the "Silent Protest at Cannes Film Festival" in the same year.

Actors Cate Blanchett, Jane Fonda, and Kristen Stewart, as well as directors Salma Hayek and Patty Jenkins, were among the 82 women working in the film industry who took part in a silent protest on the Cannes red carpet in 2018 to draw attention to the lack of female directors at the film festival and in the industry in general. Emma reads about this in a Guardian article.

Emma digs deeper and finds a Youtube video of the protest. A group of women silently walks along the red carpet, stopping halfway up the steps in front of the entrance to the Palais des Festivals, symbolizing the obstacles that women face while trying to climb the social and professional ladder. Cate Blanchett reads a collective statement calling for safer working conditions and equal pay laws: “Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise.”​​​​​​​

The number of women silently protesting wasn’t a random pick. 82 stands for a total number of female filmmakers whose films have been presented at Cannes film festival during its 71-year long history. To add the contrast, at the same time, 1 645 male filmmakers have presented their movies on the Cannes movie screen so far. Jane Campion and Julia Ducournau – those are the only women filmmakers who have ever won the festival’s top prize.

Quotas for Women in Corporates

Even though there is still a significant disproportion between male and female directors in the field, the newer the article Emma finds, the stronger is the feeling that things are slowly changing in the industry. After 2019, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of women in the movie industry, and furthermore in the corporate industry in general. This might be a result of women’s hard work, the result of the work of several gender equality movements, or the result of the changing world in general.

According to the Gender quotas database, half of the countries in the world have some kind of electoral gender quota. "Is there a need for a similar quota in the movie industry? Is it even right to put by law how many women have to work in the industry or how many women are chosen to compete in the competition?" thinks Emma while trying to find her ground in this matter.

The issue of gender quotas is a contentious one, and there are several studies and articles that argue against their implementation. The most common argument is that quotas could lead to the selection of less qualified candidates, simply because they belong to a certain gender. This could, in turn, lead to more qualified candidates being overlooked in favour of less qualified individuals. Additionally, some women may feel uncomfortable with the knowledge that they were selected based on their gender, rather than their abilities. For these reasons, many women actually stand against gender quotas in general.

However, there is a different point of view on the quotas dilemma that draws attention to the fact that quotas for women do not discriminate, but rather compensate for actual barriers that women have to face while stepping into the industry. Implementing quotas ensures equal representation of ideas and worldviews. Furthermore, the pro-quota party argues that quotas do not have to be permanent, but only temporary, to make it easier for women to kick-start their careers and become more confident in a male-dominated industry.

As Emma sits at her small kitchen table, her blonde curly hair falls messily around her face. She lets out a deep sigh of frustration as she closes the lid of her laptop. Despite the fact that she may just be a mere face for showcasing the challenges that many female directors encounter, the difficulties that women face in the film industry are undeniably real. Emma contemplates the ongoing gender disparity in the field, wondering if the situation will ever improve.

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