“Cinema is a reflection of society and, in most cases, can be a mirror and not just show the problems but also give solutions and help them reach a large number of people through faces and voices that matter.” - Kirti Kulhari
There are endless quotes that can describe cinema’s influence, for they can be a mirror of society to being an escapist fantasy of life’s troubles.
All of us have a significant memory relating to movies we watched, whether we experienced the magic and powers of Harry Potter, the epic love story of Allie and Noah in The Notebook, or when Iron Man snapped his fingers, defeating Thanos or how Marion’s death scene in Psycho made us scared to take a shower. The point is movies are powerful, they can shape the way we think and the way we view life. And the creators behind the cameras are influential in creating worlds and inserting ideas. Auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Orson Wells, Stanley Kubrick, and many more are undeniably creators of iconic films that stand the test of time. That being said, when we talk about auteurs, we rarely mention female directors. Even though there are plenty of female directors that have made an impact and are making waves in the industry. Yet no one seems to know their names or their films.
Why is that? What led to the lack of women in the film-making industry? Is art made by female directors worthy? And why do we keep gatekeeping women from creating the movies they want? Why do we belittle female-centric films?
In this article, we will discuss how the film industry, whether in Hollywood or across the globe, shaped the way we view art from the female perspective. This is a difficult topic to tackle and has lots of talking points, however, we’ll try to keep it simple, condense the information, and hopefully give insights on how to empower women.
The Silent Era and The Beginning of Talkies
During the silent era in Hollywood, the film industry was rising and tons of female directors started working on making their films without intervention. According to the Atlantic, before 1925, during the silent-film era, women wrote the outlines for roughly half of all films. A great many women were behind the camera in those days—producing and directing films, and running studios. Despite the fact that most of these women were white when it comes to independent cinema, there were 10 black women known to be part of the film industry during this period. Even with this excellent representation of women in films and the increase of women's audience in cinemas, movies weren’t considered a money-making industry, until the arrival of “talkies”. Talkies “talking pictures” began to show after the end of world war I and now cinema has transformed into a business that generates money. From here, women were sidelined and removed from positions of power, allowing men to create pictures and dominate the business.
The Aftermath of Keeping Women Out of the Film Industry as Directors
The men directors who took over the movies after the war and the invention of the boom mic were trailblazers and their talents are undeniable, as their films were groundbreaking and exciting, yet what’s often lost when we talk about cinema, is that we lost other perspectives, we highlighted one category’s point of view.
Unfortunately, there were no female directors during the golden age of cinema, except for Ida Lupino in the 1950s (even her journey to take on the director’s chair was difficult to tackle). And by 1971, Elaine May became the first woman to star, write and direct a film “a new leaf” distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Sure, Hollywood has its fair share of female directors, yet they aren’t given equal opportunities when it comes to finance or accolades like male directors.
Sexism, Gatekeeping and Undervaluing Women in Film Industry and Accolades
In 1984, after Barbra Streisand made her debut feature, Yentl, which she directed, co-produced, and starred in, the Oscars didn’t nominate her for best director. Newspapers at the time cited that as one of the reasons why she was an egomaniac and her movie served as a vanity project. Despite many successful films directed by women in 2020, the Oscars did not nominate any female directors in the best director category, including A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, and Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
These snubs outraged many people and actors because they sent a message to the world that yes, women can be directors, but their films aren’t of merit or value. It’s worth mentioning that most of the academy members are male, hence they see movies according to their beliefs, perspectives, and ideas. While awards aren’t the only thing that matters or the things that define what makes a movie great, however, we can acknowledge that a nomination can give visibility.
Egypt is no different from the USA?
Looking back at our history when it comes to filmmaking, Egypt isn’t known for having many opportunities for female directors just like the men. They exist yet are not as prominent or well-known as men. Let’s tackle Egyptian Female Directors and give them the recognition they deserve.
According to researchers, after the Revolution of 1919, women began to believe that they could be anything they wanted to be. And started to call for equality. When it comes to cinema, there were about 12 female directors in Egypt including, Aziza Amir, who directed two films, “The Daughter of the Nile” and “Atonement of Your Sin”. The lack of female directors took a worse turn in the 70s when there were no female directors at all. Only editors and a couple of producers. Lo and behold, enter Nadia Hamza, who focused on creating films that defended women's issues, and afterward come Nadia Salem. In the 1990s and 2000s, we saw a rise of female directors, like Inas El-Degheidy, Sandra Nashaat, Kamla Abu Zekry, and Hala Khalil.
However, the struggle remains, women directors mostly stick to working for TV series, and the few who get movie gigs, are not given the same chance to return as their male counterparts
Internalized Patriarchy and Sexist Ideas
Addressing the elephant in the room: Patriarchy.
While we cannot easily say “F the patriarchy” like Taylor Swift, we have to admit the hard truth that patriarchy is very much alive and is ingrained in our societies and minds. We have come accustomed that women can do few things and men are capable of doing almost everything. Directing is a hard job that requires focus, being able to multitask and take risks and work for a long time. And most of us think that it is not for women. Because it takes away from her primary job, being a mother and a wife. For Instance, the acclaimed director, Kamla Abu Zekry mentioned in an interview that directing is a hard job for a woman to do and it affects her ability to manage her household.
While she’s entitled to her opinion, one cannot help to think about how this statement affects emerging young female directors. The patriarchy can take shape in the form of rejecting feminism.Lina Wertmüller, the first woman best director nominee, rejects feminism and is called a female director.
“ We are directors, not female directors. It doesn’t make sense to me to mark differences between men and women filmmakers. The question is to make good movies. I always say that a good writer should be able to identify with all the different characters he or she may create.”
A strong statement and in a way she’s right, however, we need to remind ourselves that feminism is about giving equal rights and equal opportunities. So, what now? After this lengthy piece, what can we do and where do we go from here?
A Better Future Awaits?
It seems like things are changing for the better, the progress is slow but it exists like when Chloe Zhao and Jane Campion won Oscars back to back for Nomadland and The Power of the Dog.
Now, Greta Gerwig makes box office history as ‘Barbie’ scores the biggest opening weekend ever for a female director. We can see the change in Egyptian media as well, female directors keep on creating amazing TV series and movies. Our job is to keep the conversation going and support female directors. Women deserve to be recognized, to create art, and not be molded or chained. Whether action, drama, or comedy, women can do it too.