Mind the Gap: gender equality in the film industry

Discussions on gender equality in the film industry have gained increasing momentum in the last year amidst the ongoing reflection sparked by the global anti-sexual harassment #metoo movement and Hollywood’s Time’s Up campaign. Innovative policies and initiatives addressing gender-based disparities in this sector are now better identified through UNESCO’s Policy Monitoring Platform.

Respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, including gender equality, is a pre-requisite for the creation and distribution of diverse cultural expressions. Gender equality is one of the 11 monitoring areas of UNESCO´s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At the same time, the film industry is arguably the most high profile of all the creative industries, with considerable cultural, social as well as economic weight. Film is also a powerful medium that in many ways both reflects and shapes society and culture. Diversity and gender-parity are, thus, crucial to the filmmaking process if cinema is to reflect experiences and perspectives of various groups in society.

Persistent disparities

Gender imbalance and stereotyping in cinema have received critical attention over several decades. More recently, attention has been drawn to gender inequality within the industry. According to UNESCO’s 2018 Global Report “Re|Shaping Cultural Policies” women are severely under-represented in the workforce, have less access to resources and face substantial gender pay gaps.

Data cited in the report shows that, in Europe, only 1 in 5 films is directed by a woman and only 16% of the funding goes to films directed by women. Moreover, another pan-European study cited in the report reveals a significant under-representation of women in key creative positions, including directing, even though an almost equal number of women and men graduate from film schools (European Women’s Audiovisual Network, 2016).

As expressed by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the Global Report, “We must create a world where a woman is as likely as a man to be a decision maker. We must create a world where watching films written by women and directed by women and produced by women is completely ordinary and mainstream.”

Innovative practices

UNESCO’s Policy Monitoring Platform provides valuable examples of cultural policies and measures implemented around the world to achieve the Convention’s goals. This unique research engine allows search by geographic and thematic criteria and compiles innovative practices on issues such as gender equality in the culture and creative sectors, including the film industry. Brazil and Sweden have launched inspiring initiatives in this respect.

In 2013, the Secretariat of Audiovisual Activities of the Ministry of Culture and the Secretariat of Women’s Policies of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil launched the “Carmen Santos Award – Cinema by Women”. The measure aims at giving increased visibility to the cinematographic work of women’s directors and technicians, in order to promote equal opportunities among men and women in the Brazilian audiovisual sector. A particular attention is given to indigenous women, Afro-Brazilian women and women from vulnerable groups.

At the same time, the Brazilian civil society is also mobilizing to enhance women’s contribution to the audiovisual. The Brazilian NGO Mulheres no Audiovisual supports the creation, production and distribution of critical artistic and audiovisual content made by women. Inspired by Netflix, the platform provides video streaming services, gathering not only women's audiovisual productions, but also relevant information on the history of women in cinema and promoting the participation of new female filmmakers in national productions.

The same year, the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) has reached an agreement requiring production funding to directors, scriptwriters and producers to be distributed equally – in a 50/50 percent ration – between men and women by 2016. The objective was successfully achieved, making Sweden the first country in the world to achieve gender parity in public financing for films. The policy addressed gender misconceptions and provided evidence against arguments often raised as obstacles to gender equality. Several other initiatives have been set up simultaneously to counter gender stereotypes, such as a website called Nordic Women in Film, to make female film-makers in the region more visible, and a mentoring programme known as “Moviement”, aiming to help women film-makers develop leadership skills and career strategies. To pursue this work and raise international awareness on gender equality in film production, a “FiftyFifty by 2020” event has been launched at the Cannes Festival in 2016.

These initiatives specifically acknowledge and promote women’s contributions to cultural life, strongly supporting the implementation of Goal 4 of the Convention and SDG 5 on women’s empowerment.

*The platform has been made possible with the funding from the Swedish International Cooperation Agency (Sida).