Famously, Kathryn Bigelow remains the only woman to have ever won an Oscar for Best Director for The Hurt Locker, an award that has had just four female nominees in its entire history. Men outnumber women five to one in the industry and take 91 percent of all directing jobs, which may account for the 90 percent of films that don't have an equal number of men and women in their cast. If you're a female director whose name isn't Kathryn Bigelow, your chances of getting hired and funded may be at an all-time low. Yet according to the MPAA, 51 percent of film audiences last year were women—so why the hell aren't we making half of the movies?One country has dared to demand just that: Sweden. In just two-and-a-half years, the country has accomplished the impossible—it's reached gender equality in their film funding, bankrolling and bringing an equal number of male and female directors to Swedish cinemas.
She found five arguments—ones that are held not just in Swedish filmmaking, but in Hollywood and the wider industry as a whole. First, that there aren't any competent female filmmakers. Serner quickly made a web platform to showcase women—tick. "The second one is that female directors don't get to do their second and third film, which is true," she said.Third, there are more boys that want to become directors. Serner passionately explains that this is "not true […] young women want to become directors but they don't expect that it'll ever be possible. They don't expect that because every time they tell the world that they want to become directors they get to hear Do you know how hard it is?' So they get pushed down, their self-esteem gets too low, while men get to hear 'Oh, you want to be a director? It's really hard but great, you're going to make it.'"Serner's solution was to get into schools and change attitudes through mentoring schemes, workshops, and training in "social structures and gender equality. [We need to] use our money to enhance, stimulate, and start gender awareness."
Quality is in the eye of the beholder. We dared to say that there is quality even though we are not used to seeing that quality.
But the greatest stumbling block is about business, because business is apparently uninterested in funding films made by women. While the SFI dictates public funding, private funding remains gendered. "Unfortunately for the private sector it shows that you need regulations," Serner said glumly. "When the private sector works without regulation they don't want to change. We happen to be a public funder, but what about if Warner Studios made the same decisions? They could do it anytime, but they don't."
What about if Warner Studios made the same decisions? They could do it anytime, but they don't.
The industry grande dame has made ten feature films between 1982 and 2015, but has been cockblocked for funding in the past. But her most recent feature received 16 million Swedish krona, nine million of which came from the SFI. The issue for her isn't just one of cash, though. "We need to build a new structure in the industry," she said. Women are interested in "other themes: Deeper emotional problems, childhood" which audiences aren't used to consuming yet—but it's also why women are making the most "interesting new films."The film magazine Sight & Sound recently published a Female Gaze issue, featuring 100 films overlooked by women. "It is censorship in a way, how you write film history," said Isabel Stevens, the magazine's production editor, but she thinks the times are changing. "Since the 70s, the rise of the women's movement, there have been people studying women filmmakers. At the moment, now, it seems to be really prominent in the public conscious, rather than a select academic interest, which is really good."
"It's not only an issue related to gender, though. Race comes into it as well [and] any minority group [finds it] hard to break through." We circle back to the same problem again and again, which is: It's not who you know, it's also who you look like. "When you have white men in power, a lot—not all—will hire people who are like them. The situation perpetuates itself." The SFI's influence may stretch beyond Swedish shores soon—funding in the UK will be getting a Serner-style shock to the system. "The [British Film Institute] has introduced a three-ticks diversity scheme. Which basically means you're not going to get public funding unless you satisfy a certain criteria."My first job after university was at a film production company: I was on reception booking cabs, couriers and filling neverending cafetières of coffee. One day I had a chat with the executive producer and told him that I'd love a chance to work with one of the directors. "Women normally start on reception and move into production," he said witheringly. "Boys start as runners and then become directors." It took eight years for me to finally dare call myself a director after that mentoring session. Women in film have to be on the team and not just in trad roles like costume and makeup. With people like Serner at the helm, it may be time for females to start calling the shots.
When you have white men in power, a lot—not all—will hire people who are like them. The situation perpetuates itself.