Think back to your most favourite films: short, international, indie? Now ask yourself how many of them had women directors behind them? How many of them featured a female point of view? Can your favourite films even pass the Bechdel test?


If not, you can see why female representation in the film industry is a problem. The film industry like any other industry is not without its faults. Representation is just one branch of a very heavy tree. And female representation is in itself something that needs to be addressed. That is not to say that homophobia, ableism, and racism are issues any less important than female representation.

Since its origins in the 1920s, Hollywood has been wrestling with the prospect of equal representation.

Dr Shelly Cobb is an associate professor at the University of Southampton. For years she has been studying women in film (both production and representation).

She has written articles and chapters on the subject of women filmmakers, gender and contemporary Hollywood.

Her most recent work includes being primary investigator on a research project titled: Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary Film Culture in the UK 2000-2015.

In this project she works with a team of six women, including co-investigator Linda Ruth Williams and research fellow Natalie Wreyford. Together they find and count all the women working in six key production roles in British films from 2003 to 2015. These roles are director, writer, producer, executive producer, cinematographer and editor.

The researchers comment:

‘We also record interviews with women who work in various roles and ask them what their job entails, their career histories, how they started out working in film.

‘We asked some about their experience with sexism or what other ways gender has affected their work generally’.

Dr Cobb said the project was partly inspired by the annual Celluloid filming report from the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. It is the longest running and most comprehensive study of women in media.

The study looks at the top 300 grossing films of the year and investigates the positions women held in each of them.

Dr Cobb said she was aware the report was renowned around the world, however, she was curious about how the British film industry would compare.

‘I knew that there were lots of British films that did not make it into the top 300 grossing films in America, so I wanted to do a data set around British films in particular to see if it was similar or different than the data that was coming from the American report’.

The aim of the report was to shine a light on the issue of representation in the industry. The data found is shared with other organisations to improve gender equality. Dr Cobb also mentioned that she and her team are working on ‘establishing a history of women in film’.

‘It’s a terrible habit of the world the women in history get lost or forgotten because they don’t count as important. In Hollywood and everywhere else women do work in the industry but they aren’t remembered as having key roles’.

Data posted on the project’s website and twitter feed paints an alarming picture. Not only has the number of women in the film industry not been increasing in recent years, but there has also been a decline.

One of the sparsest roles populated by women was that of cinematographer, which reached around 8 per cent in 2015 — a shocking statistic in light of the fact that women make up 50 per cent of the world’s population.

‘The trend is that, much like all the other data that is out there about Hollywood or other film industries, women are really really underrepresented and are struggling to make films in all these industries’.

While conducting the interviews, Dr Cobb found that the majority of the women had run into obstacles — mainly due to the fact women were seen as a ‘risky’ investment.

‘The people with the money don’t think they (women) can handle the money, some of it is just blatant bias and sexism’.

She explained these ideas are a reflection of our society today. She thinks we are still operating in a very ‘gender traditionalist manner’ and it was one of the main points brought up by the filmmakers interviewed.

‘The idea of women being in charge of a big movie set seems to require a masculine version of authority, so there’s lots of bias and prejudice and habit that goes into these things but also our cultural prejudices that we have around gender’.

Despite the work being done to address these issues, the actual number of women in the industry does not reflect the whole picture. To gain further insight into the reality of studying film today, I set my sights on the latest class of film students.

Leslie Mensah is a student of Film Production Technology at Birmingham City University.

On the brink of her directorial debut she represents the future of the industry at her course. She says out of the 50 people in the class there was only ‘a handful of women, no more than 10′.

‘We tend to stick together, work together because we all have the same goal. The woman part of being in film is really important to us; we know we’re about to step into a world that’s dominated by men’.

She also shared her thoughts on why women are less likely to be in those top roles.

‘People tend not to move out of their comfort zone when it comes to directors, that’s why you keep hearing the same names over and over again. So when there’s a new woman out there she doesn’t get noticed until way later, and that can be discouraging’.

We also spoke about what is next for women in film and she remained optimistic about change in the industry.

‘I feel like I’m steeping into a scene where I can definitely thrive and thrive as a woman director, or whatever I choose to do. I feel very welcome and I feel like I would have mentors everywhere. [I also think that] I wouldn’t feel so alone, [or] that I’d have to work twice as hard just because I am a woman’.