Truly A New Era for Women in Film? A Look Back at 2017
Following the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017 and the more recent #TimesUp collective, it feels as though the time for women’s voices in the film and television industry is upon us. A new era seems to be blossoming from the powerful words of figures like Oprah Winfrey and Reece Witherspoon, Carrie Fisher and Meryl Streep. I feel like there was a burst of energy to fight, that this ‘me too’ wasn’t just a brief flash in the pan soon to be forgotten behind the next Trump story. Women are speaking up as a force across the working sector but particularly in the entertainment industry, in my industry. 2018 looks to be the year of the female film-maker.
And yet, what larger change has actually occurred? It is true some massive strides have been made in high-profile cases. Reed Morano swept into 2017 with the incredibly impactful ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, which not only stared in the ugly face of a purely patriarchal society but also served to earn Morano an Emmy for directing. This makes her the first woman in 22 years to win such a title. Joi McMillan was another case of success. McMillan became the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar in film editing for her work on ‘Moonlight’.
Large, mainstream shows began to pop up like ‘Big Little Lies’, ‘Fleabag’, and ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ which were not only led by women but also featured women creators, writers, and directors at the healm. In a turn for the books, such shows were widely critically acclaimed and recognised in all of the traditionally male circles and categories of awards. All in all, there was a feeling that our bit is being done. We sent out that tweet, we stood up for each other, we supported these shows and clearly the result is before us in all of these cases.
Well, perhaps not.
While certainly there have been many great achievements for women in the past year in the film and television industry, and the high-profile cases may make us feel a certain sense of comfort that progress is being made, the statistics regarding female industry workers slap a depressing and harsh reality before us. Dr. Martha M. Lauzen has completed a report this very January titled, ‘The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2017’.
This report reveals some shocking figures. Of the top grossing 250 films of 2017 only 18% of directors, writers, cinematographers, producers, and editors were women. This figure is ‘virtually even’ with the figures recorded in 1998. On top of this ‘only 1% of films employed 10 or more women in the above roles’. Here, in the UK, the BFI released its annual Statistical Yearbook for 2017 which provided similarly dismal figures. According to the BFI review of employment in 2016, women made up 13% of directors and 16% of screenwriters of British films released in the UK in that year, while in television, none of the women in the 2016-17 highest-paid talent list of the BBC got more than £500,000 according to their annual report. This is a gap of £1.7M from the highest-paid male talent.
Such numbers are frightening. Laura Mulvey said that in “1972 we expected that women would be making 50% of films around the turn of the century”. It is immeasurably sad that almost 50 years on, this is not the case. The UK film and television industry has a long way to go.
2017 might have been a harsher year than first assumed. As much as these figures are meant to shock us out of idleness, we must also avoid a sense of doomed apathy too. There’s still so much we can do. We must celebrate the progress we have seen in 2017 and simultaneously push for the furthering of rights of women in the industry, and particularly in our own industry in the UK. Time is up for big headline names plastering over wider inequalities, time is up for one-off campaigns, time is up for this inequality.
2018 can be the year of the female film-maker after all.
How You Can Help
If you would like to more actively support the cause now, please check out the following:
An organisation who support women across the creative industry and provide stepping stones in the form of mentorship for the promotion of equity in the industry.
Donate to the Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund
This will provide legal support for women experiencing harassment or issues of prejudice within the industry who may not be able to afford it.
Take time to donate to The Black Women Film Network
The Black Women Film Network (BWFN) was founded to increase the numbers of women of all cultures in the film industry and related areas.
by Elizabeth Clutterbuck