GUEST POST: Do we need diversity quotas in film?
Engender and the Equal Media and Culture Centre for Scotland have hosted student placements from the MSc in Social Research at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods course. As part of their research outputs, the students have produced a series of blogs.
In this post, Alex looks at why there's still work to do to ensure diversity behind the camera in Scotland's film industry.
The Glasgow Film Festival (GFF) is the UK’s third-largest film festival and one of Scotland’s biggest annual cultural events.
The UK Government has recognised its “significant contribution” to Scottish culture and to the careers of new filmmakers through its Audience Award. The festival’s organisers pick the nominees, but the winner is democratically elected by film-goers. Since the nominees are specifically chosen to nurture the careers of first or second-time directors, the award is a great site to foster a more diverse film industry in Scotland.
In recent years, criticism of the Oscars and BAFTA nominations drew attention to the underrepresentation of women and people of colour in the film sector. Research has demonstrated stark gender and racial disparities behind the scenes of the UK’s film industry. The Calling the Shots project studied British films produced between 2003 and 2015, finding that only 13% of their directors, 20% of their screenwriters and 27% of their producers were women. Statistics for women of colour were even worse, as 90% of the films examined did not employ any women of colour at all.
The Glasgow Film Festival’s director, Allison Gardner, has overseen GFF to go from strength to strength in terms of inclusivity, especially in its recognition of women filmmakers. In 2020, films directed by women opened and closed the festival for the first time and in 2022, 40% of all the films at GFF 2022 were directed by women.
Cinema for All?
Gardner has publicly voiced support for greater inclusivity in film, and has acknowledged that “We need to change those structures,”. Yet she has also asserted that the festival’s inclusive programming is not the result of quotas or targets but of a desire to maintain the “broadest possible appeal” to audiences. In fact, the Audience Award has consistently featured as many (if not more) women directors as men in almost every year of its history (see below), even before developments like 2017’s “Me Too” movement drew attention to gender inequality in the industry.
“Cinema for All” is certainly a great ethos and one the festival and its parent organisations, Glasgow Film and Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), live up to. GFT is noted for its excellent attention to accessibility for autistic, deaf, and low-income patrons, for example. And in 2021, Glasgow Film commissioned an “Anti-Racism Audit” to help it meet its goal of becoming a “proactively anti-racist” organisation. Yet, good intentions aside, can an organisation (or industry) truly change its culture without setting concrete targets and goals? The audit itself recommended taking clear-cut actions and meeting deadlines to avoid becoming the kind of diversity policy that inhibits transformative change through its existence (see the work of Sara Ahmed, On Being Included, 2012, and Complaint!, 2021).
The case for quotas
Quotas and targets have been shown to work. In 2013, the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) pledged to distribute its production funding equally between men and women filmmakers. It reached its goal by 2014, and other organisations and festivals have since taken up its “5050x2020” pledge, like the National Cinema Centre in France, which introduced a point system and financial incentives to motivate filmmakers to participate. The BBC has done similar target-setting with its 50:50 Commitment, and the BFI released its own “Diversity Standards” in 2017, which Screen Scotland piloted in 2021 and is set to adopt fully this year. Other sectors have also joined in; Creative Scotland committed itself to “50/50 by 2020”, a pledge launched by Partnership for Change in 2015, which aims to tackle gender inequality on Scottish boards. That same year, more women than men were newly appointed to Scottish public boards, and Creative Scotland itself appointed a gender-balanced board for the first time.
In an article in The Herald, Gardner insisted that she prioritised the “quality” of the films she selected for the festival, not the genders of their directors. Indeed, the history of the Audience Awards demonstrates that there is no lack of talented women directors. Films directed by women won the Audience Award four out of the eight years I reviewed. My research on the award also found that, despite the high representation of women directors (54% of the total!), women were less well-represented in other key roles (writer, producer). Women of colour were particularly disadvantaged, representing only 6% of producers, for example, compared to white male producers (45%). This means that a white man working as a producer was seven times more likely to have his work nominated for an Audience Award than a woman of colour.
As initiatives like ‘5050x2020’ pave the way for underrepresented filmmakers to get their shot, it will become increasingly necessary to introduce quotas. Despite the GFF’s efforts to include women directors, women in other behind-the-camera roles and especially women of colour, were overlooked, suggesting attention to diversity targets for production and crew members are still very much necessary.
Engender occasionally works with students as part of their placement requirements for university or college courses - this allows students to work with Engender on specific areas of our work for women's equality. Student blogs form part of their course assessment, and they do not receive payment from Engender.
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