“I’m a woman, I’m a filmmaker, I love horror films – I can’t be the only one”

Alice Guy portrait picture Italiano: Foto di A...

Alice Guy, cinema’s first horror film director

I mentioned in my post about women horror film directors that Sheena had also written an article, from a personal perspective. This goes together with my interview with her, which I posted a couple of days ago. You can find Sheena’s article in its entirety here, but I wanted to take some of the things she said and match them up with points from my article, to try and get an overall perspective of the problem (if it is a problem – and Sheena and I both think it is).

After describing her background as a consumer of horror in many forms of media (books, films, theatre, TV) Sheena states quite simply that to her mind being a woman who likes horror is simply No Big Deal:

Throughout my life I have never really thought anything of it. I am a fan of horror, I am a filmmaker and I am aspiring to make a horror feature film. The fact that I am female doesn’t mean a thing.

Yet she contrasts this fact with the fact that representation of women both in front of and behind the camera in the horror genre is limited. After noting the limited number of films directed by women on show at last year’s FrightFest and Abertoir (something I also noted in my post), Sheena picks up on a list of the greatest horror films in Time Out:

Time Out compiled a list of the 100 best ever horror films, in their words “as chosen by those who write in, direct, star in and celebrate the genre.”

So a list compiled by a collection of people who are really passionate about the genre. Out of one hundred films listed guess how many were directed by a woman??

ZERO.

I spent some time in my article questioning why this was the case, and there may be good reasons why it is – if we’re looking backwards at the history of horror cinema. But when it comes to looking forward, I observed that there is a lot of output by women in the genre and that it needed light shone on it.

One thing that needs correcting is the prejudice that women can’t make horror films, or can’t make good ones. When I tweeted a few weeks ago that I thought women had a lot to offer to the horror genre, the first response I got was from a man who simply replied, “Nah.” I suppose he thought he was being funny – when I challenged him to elaborate on that, he went silent. Yesterday I posted a selection of comments made by both men and women when confronted with the proposition that ” I just don’t think [female directors] can make horror movies as dark or disturbing as male directors can.” They served to refute the accusation. But I can’t help feeling there’s still a stubborn prejudice that women can’t make serious horror films. A lot of this is doubtless confined to the sort of male horror fan who is stuck in the seventies/eighties, when lesbian vampire films were the rage, or zombie and slasher movies inevitably worked in a few female nude scenes with barely a tangential relationship to the plot. The stereotype of the overweight, long-haired young man, whose relationship with women in horror goes no further than an interest in eye candy, is a stereotype and I doubt it represents a majority. But there’s no doubt there are plenty of these guys around.*

I think there’s a more serious way in which women horror directors are kept in the dark, and it cuts across genres. The statistics suggest that studios are less likely to greenlight films directed by women; that, overall, it’s harder for women to break through into the studio system than for men.  A much-cited interview with Amy Pascal, head of Sony, reveals how the system is stacked against women:

For a woman to direct a movie in Hollywood, she has to go through so many layers of rejection by the powers that be — I suppose including myself — that it is harder to get to that point.  So you can’t just create something. […] I think that the whole system is geared for them to fail and we’re going to have to change a lot of what we do in order for that to happen.

As Pascal says, women directors working in the independent sector, of whom there are thousands, are less likely to be pulled out of this relative obscurity into the studio system. And if you aren’t making a studio film, you aren’t getting the publicity, the profile and the market penetration that you need for the fan-in-the-street to remember your film, to even come across it. So the only place where women directors get to ply their trade is in film festivals and slow-selling DVDs – and they’re competing with the hundreds of male directors and a public who rarely access these outlets.

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But is this necessarily a bad thing? At the moment, it looks like women who love horror and want to make horror films are under-served and under-represented – and, yes, that is a bad thing. But perhaps there’s a change coming, at least in terms of these women getting their material in front of an audience. If, as recently suggested by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the future of cinema lies not in theatrical productions but in video on demand, that means there’s a potentially huge market available for any woman who wants to sell her film online. And the growing presence of internet sites which not only promote women’s horror film-making (such as Planet Etheria), not to mention a more open-minded attitude among male bloggers and website curators who are prepared to judge any film solely on its merits, mean that the opportunity for women to promote their productions directly to the public is greater now than it’s ever been… and is increasing. So the clubby, boyish mentality of the established film festivals (which doesn’t extend, I’m pleased to say, to more enlightened venues like Sundance) should become less dominant over time. Of course, women will have to work harder and harder to push their own films in an increasingly crowded independent market – but so will men. The ultimate revenues will be lower, meaning that sustaining a filmmaking career will be hard, as will finding the budgets to create films with high-quality production values. But who knows? Maybe with less money around, it’ll force people to replace cash with imagination, which has always been the hallmark of independent cinema anyway. And I don’t think women have any systemic disadvantage when it comes to imagination…

If you’re a woman – or a man – who makes films (or even just watches them), let me know what your perspectives and experiences are in the comments.

 

[* I can imagine plenty of male readers of this piece saying, “that’s ridiculous, I don’t know anyone like that!” Well, maybe you move in more progressive circles; good for you. Or maybe it’s just an encouraging sign of the times?]

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