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British film industry no better at including women in key roles than Hollywood, research launched at Cannes shows

Published: 16 May 2018
The Calling the Shots project
The Calling the Shots project was launched in September 2014

More than half of British films had no or just one woman in key production roles new research shows. A study of UK films reveals overall inclusion of women is worse than on the top 250 films released in the USA.

Academics from the University of Southampton and University of Exeter working on the AHRC-­‐funded project Calling the Shots: women and contemporary film culture in the UK compared their data on British qualifying films in production in 2015 – the majority of which were released in 2016/2017 – with the data from the Annual Celluloid Ceiling report from San Diego State University for the top 250 films released in 2017.

The reports were released at events hosted by Women’s Film and Television UK during the 71st Cannes Film Festival. Only three films directed by women are in competition at this year’s Cannes, at which gender inequality in the film industry has been a hot topic.

Dr Shelley Cobb, from the University of Southampton, said: “We often encounter assumptions that the UK film industry must be better at gender equality than Hollywood, but our data clearly shows that this is not the case; in some ways the British industry is worse. Diversity and equality targets for funded films are good steps, but wider progress is going to require that white men notice how they dominate film sets and that they must consciously develop more diverse contacts and hiring practices.”

Professor Linda Ruth Williams, from the University of Exeter, said: “Our research has identified in precise and damning detail the limited chances women have to flourish in the British film industry. The history-changing movements which have gripped the industry since last year belie the fact that it remains closed to women across many filmmaking professions. Inequality of opportunity is rife.  Will we still be telling this same old story at Cannes in ten years' time?”

The research also shows films made in collaboration between the UK and in other nations are more likely to have women directors, editors, and screenwriters than those made solely in Britain. Women make up 24 per cent of directors on co-productions compared to just 11 per cent on UK domestic films. A total of 20 per cent of all co-productions had no women in any of the key roles and a further 22 per cent had only one woman. On UK films 23 per cent had no women in any key roles and a further 36 per cent had only one woman.

Dr Natalie Wreyford, from the University of Southampton, said: “Women’s inclusion as directors, editors, screenwriters and producers of British films is currently being bolstered by co-productions with countries in Europe and around the world. Our data are further indication that the UK is not doing enough to improve gender inequality in key roles on British films, and it is troubling to consider what effect Brexit may have on women working in UK-qualifying films.”

The research also includes findings that women producers and cinematographers are particularly squeezed out as budgets rise.

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