Patriarchy influences the film industry: what women are like?
Nowadays sexism has become normalized over the years, but we cannot refuse that men still dominate in our society. The film industry is also a part of the patriarchal community that we all live in. The influence of patriarchy structure can be portrayed through the movie and is dominant in the production process. Let’s see what women are like in this field?
From the beginning, our society is structured by and for the benefit of heterosexual men or we used the word ‘Patriarchy’. Men are considered as the “active” do-ers of the world, while women are expected to take a more “passive” role supporting the men or men’s goals. Patriarchy also influences the film industry directly and indirectly. It’s mostly men who write the films we watch, mostly men who make those films, and it is men who are usually the target audience. Therefore, men are usually given the lead in the stories themselves while female characters are assigned functions that are limited to serving the goals of those male protagonists. Most of the industry is dominated by men and by patriarchal notions of heterosexual, male-hegemonic gender roles. This can be traced back to the absence of women in the production side of the industry as directors, producers, cinematographers, scriptwriters, editors, or distributors. The dominance of men in all these departments strengthens the male gaze and patriarchal control of men over the content in the movie.
Harley Quinn, for example, is a character appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Comparing two versions of Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey, one of Harley Quinn’s versions by female director and writer, deconstructs the male viewpoint which is completely different from Suicide Squad, another version of Harley Quinn by a male director. The most obvious comparison from both versions is Harley Quinn’s main costume. In Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn’s outfit is a skin-tight baseball tee with “Daddy’s Lil Monster” stamped across the chest, and her shorts are like lingerie which is objectified in leering shots of her bum and boobs. This implies that her body is presented in a way that sexualizes and objectifies her only for the male gaze, and her costume and her existence in the movie is to please the male viewership. In contrast, the Birds of prey costume puts Harley in bright and colorful clothes that emphasize her passionate personality and also being practical for fighting.
Moreover, in Birds of Prey, as opposed to Suicide Squad, the camera follows what Harley is doing, not how good her shape looks in the process. Based on a scene from a Suicide Squad official trailer 1, there’s a moment where Harley steals a purse from a busted window display. The purse might be what her character cares about at that moment, but the shot focuses on her figure when she bends over in leather booty shorts which portray in front and center in the scene. On the other hand, the Birds of prey story depicted her journey to find herself and her power, independent of any man. Harley attempts to find her voice without the toxic presence of the Joker, a male character in Suicide Squad, which is departing from men-dominated and sexist. It portrays characteristics of female choices by telling the story of a group of women joining together against patriarchy. This movie presents powerful female friendships as well as female sexuality based on confidence and not for male confirmation. Harley Quinn is not the perfect role model, but her characterization in Birds of Prey displays an elegant perspective on female empowerment.
We can see that patriarchy influences the film industry which affects the representation of women in the film. In many movies, women are always displayed as the love interests of the male lead, a mother to the main lead, or a sister but may not have her own identity. The role of women hasn’t been changed as she would always play a passive role such as waiting for the hero to rescue her from the villain. The male hierarchy could be seen among both the films and the filmmakers. Even the cinema industries of the subcontinent have flourished since their establishment, but the room for females in the field is very insignificant. According to research from IBM, India; Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi; and Delhi Technological University (DTU), the data shows that women don’t get much importance in Bollywood films. Cast introduction in movie plot is one of their research that analyzes how male cast and female cast have been expressed. They find that males are generally introduced with a profession like as a famous singer, an honest police officer, a successful scientist, and while females are either introduced using physical appearance like beautiful, simple-looking or about another (male) character (daughter, sister of). The results show that females are always associated with a successful male and are not portrayed as independent while males are portrayed to be successful. Also when we look at other elements, males are often represented as wealthy while females are represented as beautiful in movie plots. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, Jessica Chastain criticized the ‘disturbing’ portrayal of female characters in the program. “I do hope that when we include more female storytellers we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life represented on screen”, she said. Women who “are proactive, have their agency, don’t just react to the men around them.”
Besides, the domination of males over the cinema is not just limited to the camera representations of gender and distribution of roles but also off-camera. The male hierarchy not only influences the cinema on screen because the excuse is that’s what the audience wants to see and we only represent culture but it prevails behind the camera process of filmmaking as well. We have witnessed bias against female filmmakers in comparison to male filmmakers, according to the research from the International Islamic University, Islamabad. Indian film director Zoya Akhtar explained a struggle in Bollywood as a female director directing that due to the struggles her movie Luck By Chance took 6 years to complete. And Indian cinematographer Priya Seth said in an interview that she had to face a lot of prejudice because a technical job was not believed to be a woman’s territory. Based on the data from the BBC culture website, one of the most striking features of the data is the large gender differences that exist between crew roles. Directing (12% female), cinematography (8%), and film-music composition (6%) roles are the most heavily male-dominated. Cinematography, with its stacks of camera equipment, has traditionally been gendered as a masculine activity.
Furthermore, the patriarchal structure also influences the winning prizes. According to data from Wikipedia, the Academy Awards or known as Oscars–an award for artistic and technical merit in the film industry– there are only 8 female directors who are nominated for best director awards and only 2 female directors who have won this award since 1929. Kathryn Bigelow is the first one who won an Oscar for the best director from The Hurt Locker in 2009. Last year, it was the first time two women have been nominated for Best Director in a single year. And Chloe Zhao is the second woman to win the best director at Academy Awards from Nomadland in nearly 100 years. Moreover, only 2 female cinematographers are nominated in the award’s 94-year history. In 2017, Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever to be nominated for a cinematography Oscar. However, she didn’t win, and only men have ever won. Let’s keep an eye on Ari Wegner, an Australian cinematographer, whether she will be the first woman who wins the best cinematography award or just the second woman to be nominated. On the other hand, the other film awards are not better. Based on the source from Bonjour India website, only 2 female directors have won the Palme d’Or since 1955. Jane Campion is the first woman who won the Palme d’Or, the top film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993. And last year, Julia Ducournau became the second female director to win the Palme d’Or from the film Titane. Due to the study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and film, the role of women in film production is still the same as in the past 20 years. If we count the number of directors, writers, producers, and editors from 250 example movies, there are still only 18% from these positions which is unchanged data since studying this project in 1998. So, it is not a surprise that the possibility of female directors being nominated for the awards is less than male.
The influence of the patriarchal system has a long history from the past and still going on in our daily life. It has had a very big impact on every side of the film industry: representation, production, awards, and opportunities. Cinema is a medium that carries influence in reinforcing ideas and cultures, and the manifestation of patriarchy is a formidable obstacle in society. I hope that many people will realize that there is patriarchy hidden even in the film, and it results in a huge impact on women directly and indirectly. Let’s leave a comment for the names of films that you think there are patriarchal !