The history of women is the film industry is an extremely interesting one. At one time, in any production the screenplay was likely to have been penned by a women, as was the continuity script. A female director may have guided the female star, who often worked for her own production company. Some women did it all. Lois Weber, the most famous female filmmaker of this period, was a screenwriter, actress, director, and producer, often on the same project. A women may have then edited the film, a female exchange owner may have distributed it, and a female manager might have exhibited it in her theater. When film was still a new medium, companies such as Universal embraced women directors, and in 1917, 8 out of 113 Universal directors were women.
This changed sooner than expected, with the invention of sound in 1928 as studios no longer wanted women directors, as they did not trust them with films that were not silent and were big business.
In the 1930s, unions and guilds were firmly established in Hollywood, with predominantly male membership. Women directors generally could not be found again until the 60s and 70s, and even then their films were usually alternative and outside the studio system. Only Dorothy Arzner survived the transition between silent film and sound films, and was the only women to sustain her career as a director for 30 years.
In the 70’s, although most female filmmakers made alternative, independent films, they took this role upon them and resisted dominant male cultures. This was after a battle starting in the 1940s to get female filmmakers in work again, with their initiatives to make personal experimental films outside the Hollywood system.
In the 1970s to 80s organisations such as Women Make Movies and Women in Film and TV UK were set up, and continue today as opportunities to network, have mentoring systems, and help with production and distribution. As well as this, the The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has since been set up to help with statistics on women currently in the industry, along with other initiatives such as the Celluloid Ceiling Report, and competitions such as “Females First”, funding work from the best female directors worldwide.
However, statistics show women directed just 4.7% of Hollywood studio films from 2009-2013. The independent film figures aren’t much better, showing they produced just 10% of films during that period. But why is it in 2013 that female directors have directed only 6% of films? Not only this but there has been no improvement in the last 20 years, with the percentage of female crew members having decreased between 1994 and 2013.
The UK and the rest of the world isn’t much better:
– Canada has found that just 6% of feature film funding has been allocated to female directors
– Only one in 98 Nordic films released in 2012 had a women working on them
– Of independent UK films released between 2010 and 2012, 11% of the directors were women.
Although some countries do have more positive statistics such as:
– 20% of Swedish films have been made by women
– In the Middle East, female filmmakers are getting more recognition as 42% of all grants since 2010 have been to women. It is thought that this is because “Women are challenging oppression, inequality and corruption – from this, stories are born”.
-West Berlin has emerged as a center for feminist film production and cinema studies. There in November 1973 the first German women’s film festival and workshop was held.
And back in the UK, help is at hand: