My chosen topic is women and film with a specific look at the treatment of women directors using a case study on Jane Campion. My findings in this topic came about as a direct result of the research process. I found out that the treatment of Women directors has long been debated. Looking at the difficulties surrounding them such as stereotypes, finance and recognition, my research revealed to me the changing views on women directors are more complicated then I anticipated. To begin with, I looked at the general treatment of women directors.
It has never been easy for women directors to break into the world of film. Sue Harper (Women in British cinema) explains ‘in the 1930’s, women experienced extreme difficulty breaking into the technical side of production, and also the union. Although the few that did found that they dare not be less then the best man’. This shows that in the past women had to work harder then male directors as a lot of pressure was on them to make their film a success, on behalf of their gender. However, the same can still be said today.
A comparison of women’s employment on the top 2001 films in 2001 with 1987 figures (Celluloid Ceiling Study) reveals that the percentage of women directors, writers and cinematographers has only increased 1 point. Debra Zimmerman (executive director of women make movies) says that ‘It is consistently more difficult for women from the beginning to end’. Hollywood remains a ‘boys club’ with studios unwilling to change the status quo. To find out the reasons behind this I looked at articles on www. guardian. co.
uk and www. bbc. co. uk. Mary Harran, director of American Psycho, shared her experiences, ‘Hollywood executives are keen to hire hip male directors, with women struggling to generate the same level of interest’. This is a remnant of the ‘boy wonder’ mythology of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Barratt’s (Ideology and cultural production) theory on stereotypes states that we favour those characteristics which we ourselves possess. This means these males executives are looking for a fantasy image of their younger selves.
After emailing Jane Cussons (Chief Executive of Women in Film and Television) I was given insight into how stereotypes due to gender can hinder women directors, ‘Directing is seen as an ego job. A good director needs to be strong in order to manage a cast and crew. Women are seen as too soft, vulnerable and emotional to be able to handle the pressure of a director’. This shows that prejudices due to stereotypes exist in all of us, but in the highly competitive world of film they are enhanced, disadvantaging women directors.
Due to the struggle of catching your big break, not many women are making films in Hollywood, but are working in the independent sector. Laurie Winer (Los Angeles Magazines explains why this is, ‘Within the independent sector, production turnover isn’t as fast, finance is slower in coming and distribution isn’t guaranteed’. This partly explains why women’s projects are so few and far between. Graham Roberts (Key Film texts) says ‘Even the small number of women working in mainstream Hollywood have found it hard to get regular work on major films.
Looking at secondary research studies on the internet backs this up. The proportion of total days worked by women under Directors Guild of America contract in 2001 has fallen to 7. 4% from 8. 5% the previous year. Woman still face a tough struggle gaining acceptance in the industry after the Celluloid Ceiling study revealed that only 7% of the top 100 grossing films in 2000 were directed by a woman, e. g. Loser-Amy Heckerling, The Virgin suicides-Sofia Coppola and Boys don’t Cry-Kimberley Pierce. The reason for this is that women directors such as Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow have huge gaps between filming.
These statistics show that discrimination is not a thing of the past. However these statistics cannot be viewed on their own as further investigation would be needed to back up these findings. Looking at case studies of female directors such as Nora Ephron and Jane Campion shows with the studios pigeonholing women directors into making ‘chick flicks’, many women directors today have to strive towards the production of ‘big budget films’ suitable for international audiences and very few make it to the top.
Jane Campion, who directed ‘The Piano’, ‘Portrait of a Lady’, ‘Holy Smoke’ and the newly released ‘In the Cut’ to name a few, is one of the most successful high profile women film makers. Jane Campion was the first woman to win the Palme D’or at the Cannes film festival for ‘The Piano’. She was also one of two women to ever to nominate for the Best Director Oscar, in a 75 year history. However no woman has ever won the best director Oscar, so it seems that as soon as women reach a certain level the ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ gets raised again.
The range of research articles I came across on the internet confirmed many women directors encounter problems early on after breaking into the male dominated industry, in gaining recognition and financial backing. According to Gwendolyn Audrey Foster (Women film directors), ‘Female figures in the lives of male directors, such as Kathryn Bigelow wife of James Cameron, and women who have already gained superstar status as actors, such as Jodie Foster and Barbara Streisand, are more likely to have their directorial aspirations realised and credited’.