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Criterion two essay


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Criterion two essay

  1. 1. Criterion Two.To what extent can following the ‘unwritten rules’ of the male dominated film industrybegin to change the statistics for female film directors?Why is it important to explore possible explanations for the small number of femalesdirecting films in mainstream cinema? Young women sitting their A Level exams andconsidering their university and career options need to know the challenges they face.Girls of their generation have grown up believing they have equality with men andthey have all the opportunities to succeed that men do. Most of them won’t be awarethat a woman’s brain was once considered small and dilute compared to a man’s.They won’t know that the earliest record of a university in the English-speaking worldwas Oxford in 1096 and yet women weren’t allowed to officially graduate from thereuntil 1920. Cambridge University even refused to award women degrees before 1948.In 2001 Cambridge commissioned a report from external consultants to find out whywomen were under represented in it’s top jobs. The researchers concluded that theuniversity had an “insular and secretive ‘macho’ culture”, dominated by white males.The research here reflects the findings of studies carried out every year into genderequality in the workplace and in the film industry in particular. In the 1960s whenMartha Coolidge was interviewed for a place to study film at New York Universityshe was told, “You can’t be a director, you’re a woman.” Martha went on to be notonly a film director but also the first female President of the Director’s Guild ofAmerica. The comment made by her interviewer revealed the notion that directing orbeing the boss is a masculine skill and therefore not a route open to women. Thecomment also omitted women’s contribution to the development of film as an artform because it suggests women had never held this role before. Over five decadeslater and we don’t seem to have made any progress. In 2010 women accounted foronly 7% of directors on the top 250 grossing films. If women were directing filmswhen their brains were thought to be 150 grams lighter than a man’s, why are they notdirecting just as many films as men now when given the same opportunities as men ineducation, girls outperform boys in school exam results every year?Perception of the gender of the director is important when attempting to answer thisquestion because the role of the director has somehow come to be perceived as a malepursuit. This is undoubtedly connected to how the director has become the ‘author’ of
  2. 2. the film rather than the co-ordinator of a collaborative project involving many people.I would argue that this prevailing idea of director as author of a film, coupled with theomission of women from the auteur canon, has resulted in gendering the director asmale. When people inside and outside the industry expect the director to be male thenit becomes ‘natural’ and the order of things is followed and reinforced. AnthonyGidden’s theory of structuration proposes that people’s everyday actions at the microlevel reinforce and reproduce a set of expectations, which make up the social orderand structures at the macro level. He writes, ‘Society only has form, and that formonly has effects on people, in so far as structure is produced and reproduced in whatpeople do’ (Giddens and Pearson, 1998:77). Giddens theory suggests that there is asocial structure and established ways of doing things but the structure can be changedwhen people start to ignore these or start to do things differently. Kathryn Bigelowhas said, “If theres specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose toignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I cant change my gender, and I refuse tostop making movies. Its irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thingis that you either respond to it or you dont. There should be more women directing; Ithink theres just not the awareness that its really possible. It is.” (The Tech, Issue 13,Friday March 16 1990) Bigelow’s comment was made 20 years before she won anOscar for Best Director and after all that time her Oscar acceptance speechdemonstrated that she still didn’t consider gender important enough to mention. Thatdidn’t stop the press though because her win seemed to signal a break with traditionand therefore seemed ‘unnatural’ - and so began the critique of Kathryn Bigelow, theOscar winning ‘female director’.In her article, ‘Refocusing Authorship in Women’s filmmaking’ Angela Martinsuggests that Bigelow is one of the few current female filmmakers to which thetraditional Romantic ‘auteur’ label can be applied. She uses Victor Perkins summaryof the theory to explain the critical practice of auteurism. He said it was looking for“the achievement within the single film of values like economy, unity, eloquence,subtlety, depth and vigour [on the one hand; and on the other] recurrent themes in adirector’s films considered as a series…. themes, viewpoints and methods ofsufficient personal significance carried over from film to film”. (Levitin (ed) WomenFilmmakers 2003:43) Unlike most other female directors, Bigelow has produced abody of work within a single production context so she would at least be eligible for
  3. 3. consideration. Also unlike most other female directors Bigelow has chosen to work inthe action genres, which are traditionally considered to be very masculine. Some arecynical and suggest that Kathyrn Bigelow deliberately chose to work in mainstreamgenres because she knew the criteria for consideration when critics talked about the‘great genius’ that is the auteur. Christina Lane notes that Bigelow is one of the fewfilmmakers in mainstream film today who has an academic background in film theoryand suggests that the high degree of reflexivity in her films may be the result of hertraining. Lane is suggesting Bigelow is intentionally foregrounding her authorshipbecause she, “cites Andrew Sarris and Peter Woollen as her most influential advisors,which suggests she is not only schooled in the theories but probably has a stake inpresenting herself as an auteur.”While Bigelow was celebrating her BAFTA win for Best Director in February 2010,critic Martha Nochimson was suggesting she only won the Oscar because she made a‘mans film’. In her article Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist pioneer or tough guy in drag?Nochimson wrote, “Looks to me like she’s masquerading as the baddest boy on theblock to win the respect of an industry so hobbled by gender-specific tunnel visionthat is has trouble admiring anything by filmmaking soaked in a reduced notion ofmasculinity.” (Nochimson 2010) Even though Nochimson’s issue seems to be morewith Hollywood’s preservation of the hierarchy of men above women and masculinestories over domestic ones, she still makes a point which is hard to ignore. In order tobe accepted as a successful director in a ‘macho’ industry, Bigelow has had to become‘one of the boys’. Bigelow has always distanced herself from feminism and adopts ananti-essentialist stance in response to accusations that she deliberately chooses orprefers ‘masculine’ subject matter. In an interview with The Guardian in 1988 shesaid, “ This notion that there’s a woman’s aesthetic, a woman’s eye, is reallydebilitating. It ghettoises women.” (quoted in Hollier 1992:127). Whether Bigelow’spreference for masculine subject matter is natural or carefully chosen, she was beingreferred to as an auteur as early as 1994. Writing in Screen magazine Anna Powelldeclared, “Kathryn Bigelow, one of the few successful women directors inHollywood, has produced a sufficiently substantial body of work to have now reachedauteur status.”
  4. 4. If ‘masquerading as the baddest boy’ is the way to win an Oscar and be hailed as anauteur, then some of my students and women in other industries would wonder whatthe problem is. An interesting report from Catalyst in 2010 titled Unwritten Rules,stated ‘advancing in today’s business world is often as much about learning andplaying by the rules as it is about talent and results.’ What they learned from speakingto women in a variety of industries is that when it comes to career advancement, justdoing a good job isn’t enough. The researchers uncovered a set of strategies, orunwritten rules, that women deemed critical to their advancement. The reportexplained that unwritten rules are rooted in the organisation’s history, values andnorms and are sometimes communicated through informal networks. Inadvertently,organisations might overlook some of their best talent by providing opportunities onlyto those who belong to the most influential networks. Not surprisingly‘Communication and Feedback’ was cited as most important by 97% and ‘CareerPlanning’ was cited as important by 93% of respondents. 88% cited ‘Observation’ asthe way in which they learned about the unwritten rules. If females in the industrywant to be a director and have observed that avoiding ‘feminine’ scripts and adaptingan anti-essentialist stance is an ‘unwritten rule’ for career advancement, then maybethat’s what they need to do – if they can take the public criticism from feminist criticslike Nochismon. As Nancy Miller states, “If women’s studies is to effect institutionalchange through critical interventions, we cannot afford to proceed by wholesaledismissal of ‘male’ models.” (in Burke (ed) 1995:193) If women filmmakers continueto work in ‘women’s cinema’ instead of mainstream cinema then they areinadvertently admitting that they cannot compete with men in the mainstream filmindustry and to some extent they are effectively omitting themselves from futureaccounts of film history. The ‘masterpiece’ and ‘great genius’ tradition of the auteurcanon is most certainly still the way in which film is talked in popular culture.Women will have higher visibility in the industry and higher visibility as role modelsfor young women if they observe and follow the ‘unwritten rules’ for success inmainstream cinema. Once they have that visibility and prove they can compete withmen when making big studio films for high return on investment, expectations willstart to change at the macro level.Of course women using the unwritten rules strategy in business would not come upfor the same ridicule as women film makers because women in other industries are
  5. 5. not necessarily expected to have a ‘female voice’. Feminist critics always seem tojudge the films of women on how they represent female characters or how they tell astory from a female perspective. Clare Johnson called for a “counter cinema” in 1973because she felt that women filmmakers could “rupture” the patriarchal discoursewith a female perspective. Unlike other feminist critics she embraced auteur theorybecause as the ‘author’ of a film, the female director could intentionally, encode newmeanings by “disrupting the fabric of the male bourgeois cinema within the text of thefilm.” (in Grant (ed) 2008:124) Also unlike other feminist critics she focused on thework of two female directors who had worked in mainstream cinema - DorothyArzner and Ida Lupino as a way to illustrate how women could work withinconventional genres and critique sexist ideologies. I would argue this places a burdenon female filmmakers because they need to be able to tell whatever story they wantand be critiqued for their work, not their political voice. To place expectations onwomen that they should make different films from men is to place them outside theactivities at the micro level which could ultimately effect a change in the industry.Also, as Rachel Williams argues in her thesis No job for a Lady: Women Directors inHollywood, feminist film criticism can take on distinctly “auteurist undertones” whenit privileges indie or avant-garde film over mainstream. She believes that “it’s onlywhen all female directors are afforded serious consideration, regardless of the types offilms they make or the production context within which they make them, that feministfilm criticism can claim to have left the prejudices of auteur theory behind.” Williamswarns of a new feminist pantheon based on the same kind of personal prejudices asSarris’ which organises female directors according to their ability or inability to create“real” feminist art in a male dominated industry. If this was to happen, then the workof Kathryn Bigelow for example would be forgotten over time because it would notmeet the criteria of the new feminist canon.Giddens is particularly interested in the increasingly post-traditional nature of oursociety yet if we consider the gender gap in the film industry, traditional ideas aboutgender still dominate and it seems career choices for women are already prescribed,yet there is pressure for the gender gap to close in other industries. In August 2010Lord Davies was tasked by the Business Secretary and the Home Secretary to developa strategy to increase the number of women on the boards of listed companies in theUK. Following a wide consultation, Lord Davies published his recommendations in
  6. 6. February this year, including that women should comprise 25 per cent of FTSE 100boards by December 2015. Research from 2010 shows women are under-representedon company boards in the UK: in 2010 12.5 per cent of directors of FTSE 100companies and only 7.8 per cent of directors of FTSE 250 companies were women(Female FTSE 100 Report 2010). The government as part of a wider economicrecovery plan announced new support for women’s enterprise in November 2011.Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May said: “For toolong we have been overlooking the skills, experience and talents of women. Better useof womens skills could be worth billions of pounds to our economy each year”. AsGiddens (1991:70) puts it, “What to do? How to act? Who to be? These are focalquestions for everyone living in circumstances of late modernity – and ones which, onsome level or another, all of us answer, either discursively or through day-to-daysocial behaviour.” Every male and female has had to or will have to make decisionsabout their identity. Some students don’t think very far ahead but even when they aremaking their GCSE subject choices they may have a particular career path way inmind or at least know that they want a job that involves science, sport or the artsbecause they like or have strengths in that particular pathway. Giddens believes theprominence of these “What to do? How to Act? Who to be?’ questions about identityare both a consequence and a cause of changes at institutional level. Women who askthese questions of their careers in the film industry, as successful women do in anyother male dominated industry, can start to make a change in the film directingstatistics. If Kathryn Bigelow really did take time to plan her directing career with theambition of being celebrated as an auteur, she will have asked herself these questionsand she will have observed strategies and behaviours from the male directors sheclaims to have been influenced by, Scorsese and Hawks. She has even been referredto as “the Hawksian Woman” because she is “self-reliant”, “insolent” and “capable ofrunning with the boys.” (MacNab 2010)In conclusion, there is clearly a gender gap in all of the industries where hugeamounts of money are at stake, but while attempts are being made to close the gap inmany of these industries, there are not the same initiatives for the film industry.Thanks to the sexist auteur canon, and the burden of the ‘female voice’ placed onwomen filmmakers, it is still difficult for many to imagine a female in charge on theset of a big budget action film. If young women want any chance of a career as a
  7. 7. director they need to take note of the findings from research like ‘Unwritten Rules’which clearly indicates that just being as good as or in some cases better at their jobthan others, won’t necessarily move them forward in their directing career, they needto be part of the right networks and observe the behaviour of others who aresuccessful. They need to think about their identity as a film director in terms of beingassociated with essentialist ideas and how they are perceived by investors, colleaguesand audiences. As Giddens says, the questions we ask are the consequence and causeof changes at the macro level. To consider forming this type of identity rather thanfollowing your heart as an artist seems a harsh consequence of very little movementaway from traditional ways of doing things in the industry. However, if enoughwomen can be business minded enough to observe the unwritten rules for success inthe industry then surely they can start to make whatever genre of film they like withor without a ‘female voice’ depending on the story they want to tell. For it to be trulyequal, for society to be fully modernised, there needs to be enough female directors,working across a range of genres for the gender of the director to be irrelevant unlesswe are specifically analysing a text for representation of gender. Kathryn Bigelow iscertainly a filmmaker I would encourage my students to study and look to as a rolemodel. With a Masters degree in Film Theory and Criticism, a reputation for beingtenacious and an Oscar for Best Director, she is not someone who has let a ‘macho’culture stop her from doing what she set out to do. Her visibility now as someone whocan compete with the boys and win, has the potential to inspire a whole generation offilmmakers. But her story won’t be heard if the gender gap issue isn’t amplified.Students in film studies classes will keep studying the work of Hitchcock andScorsese without ever fully understanding the issues with the theory that exalted themto greatness. Finally I would say that being a successful film director and being afeminist film maker need to be understood as two different routes and women shouldnot have the burden of representation placed upon them in their careers. Equality isabout having choices and if we are ever going to move from 7% to 50% female filmdirectors then the girls need to at least be in the right race.
  8. 8. BibliographyAbramowitz, R (2001) Is that a Gun in Your Pocket? Women’s Experience of Powerin Hollywood, New York: Random House p 101BBC Online (2001) Cambridge’s “Macho” Culture, 30 January,, (2010) Why Doing a Good Job Might Not Be Enough, p 7 www.catalyst.orgFemale FTSE Report 2010, Cranfield School of Management, December 2010Giddens, Anthony and Pierson, Christopher (1998), Conversations with AnthonyGiddens: Making Sense of Modernity p 77Hollier, J. (1992) The New Hollywood, p 127The Home Office, Women’s Equality, Independent, Girls continue to outperform boys at GCSE, Tuesday 24 August2010, C. Women’s Cinema as Counter Cinema. In Grant, B Auteurs andAuthorship, Wiley-Blackwell 2008 p 124Lane, C. (1998). The Loveless to Point Break: Kathyrn Bigelows Trajectory inAction . Cinema Journal. 37 (4), 59-81Lauzen, M. (2010). The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind the scenes Employment of Womenon the Top 250 Grossing Films. Available: Last accessed 11December 2011.MacNab, G. (2010) Kathryn Bigleow: Love and war, The Independent, Saturday 23rdJulyMartin, A. (2003). Refocusing Authorship in Womens Filmmaking. In: Levitin,J Women Filmmakers, UBC Press p 43Miller, N. Changing the Subject, Authorship, Writing and the Reader. In:Burke S Authorship: From Plato to the Postmodern, Edinburgh UniversityPress, 1995 p 193
  9. 9. Nochimson, M. (2010). Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy in Drag?.Available: Last accessed 10 December 2011.Perry, M. (1990) Kathryn Bigelow discusses role of “seductive violence” in her films,The Tech Newspaper, Friday March 16, p 8Powell, A. (1994) Blood on the Borders – Near Dark and Blue Steel, 35 (2) p136 -153Robinson, J. (2009) Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women toFight for an Education, Penguin. UK.Williams, R (2001) No Job for a Lady: Women Directors in Hollywood, University ofNottingham p 49