The film industry is a notoriously tough one to break into, especially so for aspiring female directors.
“When it comes to storytelling … research shows that our stories are still overwhelmingly being controlled by men,” said Danielle Stallings, film professor at Long Beach City College. “Stories are how we pass on our knowledge, beliefs … we need to put our stories back in our own hands.”
According to the New York Film Academy, there is a 5 to 1 ratio of men to women working in the film industry. Last year, only seven percent of the top 250 films were directed by women, according to a 2015 report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
Numbers are so low that the A.C.L.U. has asked for an investigation into the hiring practices in the film industry, suspecting gender bias in hiring.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, my own experience in film school confirms gender biases exist and they appear almost at the outset of a career.
The ratio of male to female is about 50/50 in my film theory classes at Long Beach City College. But in film production classes that I’ve taken, the number of women has been dramatically lower.
Stallings has seen the same trend in her own classes, too. “In the academic world, they call it ‘disproportionate impact.’”
And while sexism may not be blatantly obvious – none of my male classmates make nasty comments about female directors, for example – I doubt they can see the entitlement they will experience in the industry. Some of my female peers have already begun questioning their path to becoming a director because they know the odds are against them.
The big question for me is not whether I will become a director. I am committed to that goal. Of more concern is whether I will be able to direct films that can be financed. And as a masculine, queer, woman of color, I’ve got more strikes against me than the average female talent.
“We need to tackle this at the start of the pipeline, not at the end,” said Stallings, noting the typical measure of progress is to look at how many women directors win Oscars, for example. But, notes Stallings, we can also push more women filmmakers into the workforce from the get-go.
In that spirit, Long Beach City College will be initiating “Our Turn,” a day-long event where women with passions or ties to the film industry will have the chance to network with each other.
Studies show having more women in prestigious roles can make a difference. One from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reveals that having more female directors and producers is directly correlated to a higher number of behind-the-scenes jobs for women.
Some women are taking their careers into their own hands. Some have started all-female production companies, like The Dollhouse Collective, or have formed groups like the Alliance of Women Directors, and started women’s film festivals. Others are speaking out about Hollywood’s gender gap, and most importantly, making their own films, a true testament to willpower.
To celebrate the rich careers of women filmmakers, here are my top five picks for women directors with a bit on the effect their films had on my life:
- Jamie Babbit
Films to consider: But I’m A Cheerleader, The Quiet, Itty Bitty Titty Committee
Jamie Babbit is a director, screenwriter and producer from Ohio who has won various festival awards including SXSW and Sundance. Babbit is probably most known for directing the film “But I’m A Cheerleader.” Before I saw this film, I had never actually seen girls kissing each other, let alone an entire movie about a girl realizing she liked girls. All I knew was that I needed to find a way to see the movie again and that I really wanted to kiss a girl, every day for the rest of my life. The film eventually appeared on TV again and I watched it alone. It became one of my favorite movies of all time.
- Sofia Coppola
Films to consider: The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola, the daughter of the famous filmmaker Francis-Ford Coppola, has made a name in filmmaking all her own with an always unique vision projected in everything she makes. She’s won a slew of awards for her work from the Oscars, Golden Globes, Cannes, and the Independent Spirit Awards.
Fans of her films might find “Marie Antoinette” to be an odd choice to review, but I think it’s a good one for newcomers to the S. Coppola library, at least in terms of style and pace. The film focuses on the story of a young girl trying to balance her role and obligations as the Queen on France and a teenager all at once. The film is filled to the brim with Coppola’s unique style and view of the world, while also having a soundtrack that cannot be beat.
- Catherine Hardwicke
Films to consider: Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown
Mostly known for directing Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke is not to be underestimated. Her breakout directing debut was with the controversial film “Thirteen,” in which two 13-year-old girls are depicted as going through substance abuse and having sex, among other things.
But perhaps the top film to watch by Hardwicke is “Lords of Dogtown,” the story of men who laid the foundation for modern skateboarding. The film’s notable because it’s a woman director’s view of a world mainly dominated by men. Fun fact: People often criticize the mere idea of an action film directed by a woman because she, supposedly, doesn’t understand what a man likes. But romantic comedies – the genre’s majority of consumers being women – are often directed by men who go without criticism.
- Desiree Akhavan
Film to consider: Appropriate Behavior
Desiree Akhavan is most known for her breakout film “Appropriate Behavior,” which followed a woman trying to balance her life as the perfect Persian daughter while also bisexual. The story blew me away because it was so well put together and deeply personal to Akhavan. Her career may be just beginning but she is definitely on her way to success if she keeps up the trajectory she’s on.
- Kathryn Bigelow
Film to consider: Point Break
Kathryn Bigelow is most known for her films “Point Break” starring Keanu Reeves, “The Hurt Locker”, and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
When people think of action movies they don’t generally think of a female director, but Bigelow has found that her niche is just that. I first saw “Point Break” in a film class in college, and did not notice that the film was directed by a woman until my professor made it a point. You could see it in a few different ways, including in the way Bigelow depicted the women as sexy but not overly sexualized. It was an entertaining film that didn’t need to demote a woman to some sex toy for the entertainment of a man.
If you’re interested in seeing my work, please check out the short film I produced below: