Posts Tagged ‘sexism’


The Role of The Female Director

August 10, 2013
This is Dorothy Arzner. Go look her up now.

This is Dorothy Arzner- one of the first successful female directors. Google her. Now.

After the last few posts, which have frankly all been me banging on about work (or the lack thereof), I thought it would be a good idea to write something more profound and less ranty. So I picked something political- which I don’t normally touch with someone else’s splintery barge pole- and something relevant to the world of the film director.

My friend and film critic Luke Owen recently wrote a post for Flickering Myth about the Bechdel Test and how it isn’t as sound as many people think. For those who don’t know or can’t be bothered to click the link and read the article, the Bechdel Test is a three point criteria to see if a movie has a fair creative treatment of female characters. It pretty much goes thus:

1) Does the film have at least two named female characters?
2) Do they actually talk to each other?
3) When they talk to each other, do they talk about something other than men?

As many self-identifying feminists will point out, it’s surprising how many films fail the test. As Luke pointed out in his article (just read it, I’ll wait…), it’s surprising which ones fail and which ones pass. For instance, “Alien 3” with its strong female lead fails the test because there are no other named female characters for her to interact with. Mysoginist shit like Michael Bay’s teenage boy spank-bank “Transformers” passes because Megan Fox’s character talks to another female character and they discuss how pretty she is.

Apparently, this is okay according to the Bechdel test.

Apparently, this is okay according to the Bechdel test.

While it’s obvious that the Bechdel Test has all the causal validity of an ontological argument (look it up- but if you’re religious, feel free to type your knee-jerk rebuttals somewhere else), the issue itself- the representation of women in film, both as characters and as creatives- is entirely valid.

While the 20th century has seen some amazing progress in civil rights, from race and religion to sexuality and gender, it’s fair to say that we still have some way to go on all counts. Even my generation, which grew up in a world where everyone was supposed to be treated equally, have those who hold poorly-formed prejudices. But certain industries are locked into antiquated elitism and the film and TV industry is arguably one of them. Most studio heads and executives are male. Most of their subordinates are male. For a woman to get into those hallowed ranks, not only would it be a case of dead-man’s-boots on the scale of a small natural disaster, but her contemporaries would have to let her stay and not black-ball her at the first opportunity.

As a result there are relatively few female producers. There are even fewer female directors and writers. There are fewer still female DoPs. Maybe it’s the same problem that female comedians have- that their male counterparts’ material is about anything and everything, but their own material is nearly always about being a woman.

I think the same thing happens with female directors. The female voice is so marginalised in film that when women do get the chance to direct or write, the stories they want/feel they have to tell are about that marginalisation- they’re about the role of women in the world. Whereas male directors have the luxury of audiences knowing man’s “role” in the world (thanks to our male-dominated history) and thus are free to squander their storytelling opportunity by indulging in explosions, pop-culture references and titties.


What we’re getting to here is the ultimate conundrum with equality as a concept. True equality is where gender just flat-out doesn’t matter. Characters in a fictional story could be male or female (or something in-between!) and it would make absolutely no difference to our understanding or expectations of said story either way. Sadly, as a culture we’re not there yet. And in all likelihood, never will be if you believe in biological pre-determinism. So instead, I think what we should aim for is equality of identity- where every identity is equally valued and equally represented. I’d like to think we’re staring to see progress in this regard but I suppose it’s hard for me to judge these things since I am a) male, b) white, c) English and d) upper-working class- everything that makes me part of the most media-privileged demographic on the planet. I’m like the largest demographic personified.

And that in itself can be a problem. The general consensus is that you have to be part of a demographic in order to create media about/for it. For instance, it would be frowned upon if I, an English white man, were to make a film about Afro-Carribbean culture in 80s Harlem (actually “frowned upon” might not be the right phrase, since “full-tilt confusion” would probably prevail). I couldn’t direct a movie about the women’s rights movement in the 60s or the Zionist ideal in Israel for much the same reasons. In all cases, it could be deemed inappropriate and borderline disrespectful for me to even try. These are stories that should be told from a viewpoint from within the issue (or as marketing types are more than willing to cynically accept, from someone who could have been within the issue) and as such are off-limits to someone like me.

No wonder it is that when these marginalised groups get a chance to tell a story on a large stage, they choose to tell these ones. Because these stories need to be told and society has deemed it that only they can tell it because of the colour of their skin, the God they believe in or the number of X chromosomes they have. And that’s totally fair because someone has to tell these stories and carry the flag. But what of the female director who just wants to make a big budget action flick? Hollywood probably won’t let her. They’ll be more than happy to let her direct a film about being a woman in a man’s world, but won’t let her helm a flick that has Tom Cruise shooting his way through a building.

Which I think is wrong. Stories are stories. Storytellers are storytellers. It shouldn’t matter where/who the story comes from if it’s done well and it sure as hell shouldn’t matter whether or not the director’s genitals can get caught in a zip.