Opinion: Why is the film industry still dominated by the pale, male, and stale?

Hanna Flint's Column | Soho House

With studies showing that women protagonists and filmmakers are still not being fairly represented, it’s time to revisit this ongoing inequality, says Hanna Flint

Saturday 28 May 2022    By Hanna Flint

As a woman in film, every week feels like an unfriendly reminder that the industry is still very much a man’s world. This is in spite of the fact that women make up not only half the population, but also spend more at the box office than our male counterparts, as data frequently shows.  
I’m sure plenty of us will be going to see Top Gun: Maverick this weekend to, respectfully, observe the homoerotic energy delivered by a slew of hot young wingmen as Tom Cruise returns with jingoistic machismo to whip a new band of pumped up fighter pilots into shape and take on an ambiguous foreign enemy. Yet, while making considerable effort to reestablish Val Kilmer’s Iceman in this ‘America, f**k yeah!’ world, neither Kelly McGillis nor Meg Ryan were invited back to return as Mav’s love interest or Goose’s widow, and their female replacements were primarily there to offer moral support to the leading men.  
Jerry Bruckheimer suggested there is still a list of mainly white, A-list men who industry gatekeepers will trust to open a film, but no such luck for the ladies. A recent survey reinforced that by the fact that it found opportunities for women to lead films were still being hindered by this industry preference for men. ‘Despite the major disruptions in the film business over the last couple of years, on-screen gender ratios have remained relatively stable,’ San Diego State University’s Dr Martha Lauzen said of the study. ‘Last year, audiences saw almost two male characters for every female character, and although women protagonists led some of the most high-profile films including Spencer, Being The Ricardos, and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, women comprised slightly less than one-third of sole protagonists last year.’ 
The Swedish Film Institute just released a report that found movies by female filmmakers on average spend over a year longer in development than projects led by male filmmakers, and are considered a higher financial risk. Investors, meanwhile, will often ask more negative questions of female entrepreneurs, regarding risk and pitfall prevention, and positive questions of male entrepreneurs focused on ‘opportunities, achievements and development’. 
Hanna Flint's Column | Soho House
Hanna Flint's Column | Soho House
Hanna Flint's Column | Soho House
If that wasn’t bad enough, another new study found a decline in women reviewing films compared to males who still overwhelmingly dominate the critical landscape. In 2022 so far, men accounted for 69% of critics, women for 31% and nonbinary individuals for 0.3%, which is a decline of 4% for women like myself in the field.  
I’m not shocked. I have been highly aware of this inequality for years. One only has to look at the banners of entertainment and film magazines to see just how many white men continue to hold key editorial positions and make up the staff. When you throw the intersection of race in there, there’s barely a person of colour making up these employment numbers. As a woman of colour and a freelancer, editors often commission as a means to outsource their diversity because their outlets are so very pale and male.  
I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Actually, I’m both because this isn’t just about creating opportunities for women to share their perspectives through cinema as a filmmaker or about movies as a critic. It’s about economic equity. We should have just as many opportunities to be paid for our talent as men, especially when we as a demographic are contributing so much to the industry’s overall survival. At Cannes Film Festival, only five of the 21 films in competition are directed by women, and that is apparently a record number despite Julia Ducournau’s Titane winning the Palme d’Or last year. 
‘People will disappear from cinemas if you don’t offer them what they want. Audiences are not fools. We have to offer stories and be inclusive. When you play films by women, they win Palmes d’Or and attract audiences,’ director Rebecca Zlotowski said during a panel on the future of cinema at the festival. ‘There is an emergency, but it is an economic urgency, not a question of morals.’ I think it’s both. 
Hanna Flint's Column | Soho House
Hanna Flint's Column | Soho House
Challenging Ricky 
According to social media, Ricky Gervais is back with another stand-up special and in it, he’s continuing the work of Dave Chapelle on Netflix by punching down on the trans community. I’ve unfortunately read some of the unamusing jokes, but you won’t catch me clicking on his show. 
One of the biggest mistakes we make as culture vultures is hate-watching films, series and specials on streamers because there’s no special algorithm to separate audiences viewing in terms of like or dislike. It all contributes to its overall figures, and the bigger they are the more likely the stuff you despise gets recommissioned. *cough* Emily In Paris *cough* 
Gervais certainly doesn’t care about the backlash; as he tweeted, he’s already been paid and I don’t really expect much from a guy who gleefully says the n-word. So, I’ll leave the retorts to comedians like James Acaster, who said it far better than I could. ‘The comedian’s always like, “Bad luck, that’s my job, I’m a stand-up comedian, I’m there to challenge people. If you don’t like being challenged, don’t watch my show. What’s the matter guys, too challenging for you?”’ he said.  
‘Because you know who’s been long overdue a challenge? The trans community. They’ve had their guard down for too long, if you ask me. They’ll all be checking their privilege on the way home, thanks to you, you brave little cis boy.’ 
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