Women and Film (From Media Magazine archive)
In MediaMagazine 14 former A2 student Chloe White showed how she investigated and refined her title for the OCR ‘Women and Film’ topic. Here we include research findings, as submitted to OCR.
Why women are less successful than men at the box office with special reference to Jane Campion.
The Box Office Guru website told me that out of the 50 highest grossing films of all time, none were directed by women. One reason could because there are so few. Only 7% of directors are women according to the ‘Birds-Eye-View’ website and thus making them less known; in a survey I carried out, only 1% of the public could name three female directors whereas 99% could name three male directors. So in a time when females are increasingly powerful in every other workforce, why are women so absent from the film-directing industry?
In an article from Alternet.org (‘A highly acclaimed Internet information source that provides crucial facts and passionate opinions’) named ‘The Celluloid Ceiling’, female director Ephron (female director of Sleepless in Seattle) says the reason lies behind the audience:
the movies that make the most money are aimed at a subliterate market, by which I mean not just teenage boys, but the entire third world – the films need to have little dialogue and lots of action.
The evidence for this can be seen in the box-office statistics for Independence Day directed by Roland Emmerich, the action movie made a huge $306,169,255 dollars worldwide. However, Martha Coolidge, president of the Directors Guild of America said in the ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ article that women are not often given the chance to do action movies:
Many times I’ve gone to producers with the idea of doing a movie that I’m passionate about and found that they can’t conceive of a woman doing material that is not completely chick centric.
When I interviewed the director Coky Giedroyc (Women Talking Dirty) she said that she is more interested in making films about issues not widely explored, for example ‘the workings of the female mind’. Coky Giedroyc admitted that women are often confined by the ‘chick-flick’ genre: romantic comedies mainly. ‘Chick-flicks’ do prove popular in the box office; in my survey I found that 80% of the females I asked would rather see a ‘chick-flick’. Bridget Jones, a typical ‘chick-flick’ directed by female director Sharon Maguire made $71,409,079 dollars worldwide in the box office whereas another ‘chick-flick’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding from male director Joel Zwick made a lot more: $241, 438, 208. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. So why did the ‘chick flick’ directed by a man make so much more money? A number of reasons including publicity and case are involved. Perhaps the fact that Bridget Jones is set in England could have affected its US box office takings. Or, perhaps men are simply better than women at directing? This could explain only three women have ever been nominated for the Best Director Category at Oscars (n woman has ever won). It could also explain why, in The Times in an article stating the ‘top 40 best directors’ none were women or why in the same article in the ‘top 100 films you must see before you die’, there were no films directed by women. However, I believe the reasons go deeper than this. Cherry Potter, former head of screenwriting at the National Film and Television School in London, thinks it is a catch 22 situation. She said in an article in the Guardian:
the greater the commercial pressures the more scared the studio chiefs become of taking risks – women are seen as a risk because they lack experience which prevents them gaining experience
This is similar to what Coky Giedroyc said: ‘you’re only as good as the last film you directed’. Christina Choy, lecturer at New York Film School said in The Celluloid Ceiling article that women lose confidence at film school because the male lecturers give negative feedback to the female students work because they ‘can’t relate to it’. Some, including journalist Andy White from The Creative Week and actress Naomie Harris (in a Guardian website) believes it is about ‘who you know’ and women don’t belong to the ‘old boys network’ that is so influential in the film industry. Producer, Polly Ley, said in a recent article in The Guardian that the problem lies in the fact that there are no role models:
the Australian film industry has an unusually high percentage of female film directors. I once asked one why they thought this was and she cited Jane Campion as the person who made it all possible.
Director Jane Campion was the second woman nominated for an Oscar in 1993 for The Piano and was the first woman to win the ‘Palme D’or’ at the Cannes Film Festival. The Piano did fairly well in the Box Office considering it is not an action movie, earning up to $40, 132, 527, however her most recent film In the Cut did less well, earning $4, 750 602. Perhaps the speculation concerning it’s Oscar nomination boosted the audience numbers for The Piano. Campion is often said to be a ‘feminist director’, maybe this is why she is less successful in the box office; because her films are less attractive to males who can’t relate to them. In a survey I carried out, 30% said that out of the options they would like to see a film about feminist/feminine film, however, they were all women. Her films have been described as a ‘vehicle for feminist or post-feminist enquiry’ and Grahame Fuller has cited her as having a ‘career long examination of female masochism’ in Sight and Sound magazine. However, in the Jane Campion book, it says that in an interview, when asked about being labelled a ‘feminist director’ she said:
Even if my representation of female characters has a feminist structure, this is nevertheless only one aspect of my approach.
Campion believes that feminist culture ‘arose as a reaction to stereotypical representations to male-dominated perspectives’. To conclude, however, Campion says she no longer knows what a feminist director ‘means or expresses’. However, through studying the films myself I can see she is certainly interested in the female mind. Many of her films seem to explore the theme of imprisonment and freedom: Ada (Holly Hunter) in The Piano is trapped in an arranged marriage, Ruth (Kate Winslet) in Holy Smoke is trapped in a house in a desert and Frannie (Meg Ryan) in ‘In the Cut’ has her freedom imposed on as there is a murderer in her area. In The Piano Cook and Dodd of Women and Film noted that Campion, like other female directors Sally Potter (Orlando) and Julie Dask (Daughters of the Dusk) rewrites its national history from the perspective of the women caught up in it. In The Piano we see a suppressed Victorian woman. Her imprisonment within her oppressive society is shown in the opening image which appears to be bars, however, soon we realise it is a woman signifying her own state of imprisonment as the bars are her fingers held in front of her eyes. Cook and Dodd also observe that Ada is restricted by her clothes that pull her down in various points in the film. In the end, Ada earns her freedom back and finds her voice, but in the process she has lost her finger, her piano and her passion. The Boston Review described The Piano as a ‘culmination of sado- masochistic screenplay’ which, ‘explores Freudian erotics and archetypal symbols to explore a woman’s imprisonment and freedom’. In the Cut (2003) appears slightly less feminine than The Piano perhaps showing Campion’s attempt to gain more at the box office. Jane Grahame of Total Film magazine describes the film as being a ‘graceful, sinewy thriller’, however in an interview by the BBC, Campion said she wanted it to be a ‘relationship story first’. Campion said she believes women are trapped in their desire to be in a relationship:
women often postpone their lives, thinking that if they’re not with a partner than it doesn’t really count. They’re still searching for their prince’.
Although in this film, as Grahame Fuller writes in his review: ‘undercuts notions of femininity’ (Sight and Sound magazine), there are strong feminist undertones. This can be shown as Ryan’s character Frannie becomes the more masculine character; Frannie ties up the police inspector Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) in an act of sexual dominations, Malloy says: ‘I’m starting to feel like a chick’.
It seems to have dawned on the nation suddenly the fact there are an extreme lack of female directors who remain very absent from the box office and the need for women directors to have their films equally publicised. Anthony Minghella (director of The English Patient) said in an article in The Guardian
It matters in every possible way who is making the films. That perspective and that purpose is determined by the personality of the director…you wouldn’t want all the information to come from one distorted perspective.
‘The Birds Eye View’ Film Festival was recently launched and Amma Asante won a BAFTA for ‘Best Newcomer’ for her film A Way of Life, which indeed focuses on a female mind. In the interview, Coky Giedroyc said that times are definitely changing: in films she has directed she’s started to notice a huge rise in women in more ‘masculine’ areas such as lighting, camera operating and editing, perhaps from these positions they can work their way up to directing more easily.
To conclude, the film industry has been slow to progress explaining why there are so few female directors and therefore so few in the box office. It seems that female directors such as Jane Campion wants to make films about issues not explored by the huge numbers of male directors such as feminism and women’s roles through society, however this isolates a male audience who can’t related and also a third world audience who may not understand. Because women have been less successful because of their ‘feminine’ films, they are not given the chance to do more action-based films. However, I feel that if female directors become more predominant within the industry, as they slowly are, women’s choice of films to direct will vary and they will be given more of a chance by studios and producers.