The ratio of male to female directors is dismal. With the announcement of the 4% Challenge, can we be hopeful that 2019 will begin to level the playing field in the entertainment industry?
It has been less than a year and a half since the Weinstein accusations began, of which there are now eighty, and it seems that not a day goes by without some discussion of TimesUp or the #MeToo movement. There have been criticisms, and yet the impact of October 2017 has been seismic, leading to a much-needed global conversation to address the pervasive sexual harassment faced by women in particular, in workplaces across the world. This includes the entertainment industry.
“Hollywood has the same hierarchies as everywhere else. It is a plasterboard and sugar glass microcosm of the real world.”
It is easy to argue that the movement has been centred on Hollywood elites. While it has certainly been the actions of female actors (and a handful of men, as Terry Crews and Brendan Fraser have made clear) which triggered this large-scale shift, the beginnings of these changes are with the people. #MeToo began in 2006 with civil rights activist Tarana Burke, who sought to highlight the culture of sexual abuse and harassment in everyday society, and TimesUp started after 700,000 female farmworkers in the United States spoke up about what they had experienced. Celebrities helped to bring these issues and campaigns further into the limelight, using their influence to get people to confront the truth.
And the truth is this: the power in the world sits disproportionately in the hands of men, especially white, western men. It is an uncomfortable truth for many, but nevertheless the truth. Women (and other disenfranchised groups) have certainly been making great strides in recent years, asking for balance in all walks of life, whether it be in relation to wage gaps, the undervaluing of domestic work, or how they are represented in the law—in the very institutions that govern and influence our society—but there is still much to be changed.
“From 2007 to 2018 only 4% of the top 1200 grossing films were directed by women”
Sure, you can dismiss this conversation as one just about Hollywood, not the ‘real world’, but Hollywood has the same hierarchies as everywhere else. It is a plasterboard and sugar glass microcosm of the real world. The entertainment industry has a global reach and the cultures and norms it chooses to represent or ignore both reflect and shape society. What we see on TV affects how we think. This is why Hollywood is being questioned, because the problem is indicative of a much wider rot in society.
So where does the discussion of female directors come into this?
Well, you have heard of the phrase ‘history is written by the victors’, and I think this can be applied to the entertainment industry. The values we see on screen influence our view of the world, and at a time when you can literally carry the world in your pocket, the impact of mass media is all the more significant. This is why we need more diversity when it comes to filmmakers. This is why we need more female directors. Their voices bring new perspectives to the forefront in an industry dominated by men. And with studies showing that female directors are more inclusive of girls and women both onscreen and off, hiring more is an easy way to begin levelling the playing field.
Let’s look at some facts. From 2007 to 2018 only 4% of the top 1200 grossing films were directed by women, despite the fact that half of all film graduates are female. Only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director, with Kathryn Bigelow winning in 2009, in the ninety-year history of the Oscars. This is mirrored in the rest of the world, where 4.8% of CEO positions are held by women, where since 1995 there has been just a 12% increase in female parliamentarians, and where the UK wage gap is still at 18%.
“Because only 4% of the top 100 studio films over the last DECADE have been directed by women, #TIMESUP is initiating a challenge, the 4% challenge, and I intend to take it: I commit to working with a female director in the next 18 months.” –@TessaThompson_x #TIMESUPX2 pic.twitter.com/GjsuqeryKj
— TIME'S UP (@TIMESUPNOW) January 26, 2019
This is why I am so hopeful about the 4% Challenge. Announced at Sundance earlier this year by the TimesUp/Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, it challenges creatives and studios to ‘commit to announcing a project with a female director on a feature film in the next 18 months’. The 4% Challenge is an explicit call-out to Hollywood and other areas of entertainment. I think it might just signal the next step in a post-Weinstein world. Some will argue that it is simply about ‘filling a quota’, but I would ask why a quota was needed in the first place.
Universal Studios and MGM were the first studios to acknowledge and commit to the challenge, while dozens of actors such as Kerry Washington, Armie Hammer, Zazie Beetz, and Brie Larson have expressed their support, so it is certainly picking up speed. Seeing these changes onscreen will not only bring new stories to the forefront, but give everyday people the confidence to stand up against wider societal issues with the assurance that they will be heard. Movements like this signal hope and excitement about changing both the fictional and the real world, and I for one cannot wait for what is to come.