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Source: BFI

New research by the British Film Institute (BFI) has highlighted the gender imbalance in UK films both in front of and behind the camera.

The information comes from the BFI Filmography, a new database of British film that was launched today (September 20) at London’s Southbank. It includes information on over 10,000 UK feature films, from 1911 to the present day, and 250,000 cast and crew.

The findings show that less than 1% of film crews are majority female (23 out of more than 10,000) and only 7% since 2000.

Only 4.5% of all UK films are directed by women, the most prolific female director being Muriel Box (Rattle Of A Simple Man, The Piper’s Tune) with 13 films. The most credited male director is Maurice Elvey (The Suicide Club, Love In A Wood) with 151 films.

Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) and Sally Potter (Orlando) are the most prolific working female film director with seven films apiece. Ken Loach is the most prolific male with 27 films.

The percentage of crew members who are women has risen from 3% in 1913 to 34% in 2017 but in many departments, such as photography and music, women still make up less than 10% of senior crew members. 

Sterotypical roles

The research shows that women are still often not accurately represented on screen and are often cast in gender stereotypical unnamed roles such as prostitutes, housekeepers and nurses. 94% of all unnamed prostitutes in British films are played by female actors. They also tend to have shorter careers and on average make fewer films than male actors.

Kate Dickie (Prometheus, Filth), the most credited female film actor of the current decade, said during a panel discussion held to launch the research that she told her agent to stop sending sending her prostitute roles. She said: “I had to phone up my agent and tell them: ’I don’t have any more prostitutes in me, I had done every version of every sex worker. I can’t say yes to these anymore’.”

Women were cast as unnamed doctors only 3% of the time from 1911-1985, and only 15% since. 52% of NHS doctors are women.

The percentage of women cast in credited roles was 31% in 1913. In 2017 it is 30%. 

Heather Stewart, BFI creative director, told Screen: “[What made me optimistic] was that the percentage of female crew has been changing since 2000, but it’s not fast enough.”

“The depressing thing for me is what you get to see on the screen. You see women being a nurse, a prostitute, a receptionist, we don’t even get to be the doctor. What’s going on between casting director and director, how gender neutral roles are assigned, is for me still the most depressing thing.”

Stewart said she hopes the research raises publicity around these issues, and in the future would like to expand it to television. “Our biggest collection is actually television. Without understanding telly you can’t understand the big picture,” she said.

Gurinder Chadha told Screen: “I think what’s really good about the statistics is that it names [the sexism]. When Kate Dickie said [during the panel discussion] about not playing another prostitute - If I was a bloke and I worked in the industry and had the power to finance movies and had a daughter, I’d be squirming in my seat.”

New data

• Judi Dench is now the most prolific working female actor

• Michael Caine is the most prolific working male actor

• Kate Dickie is the most credited female film actor of the current decade

• Jim Broadbent is the most credited actor of the current decade

• Brits make more films about war than sex, and more about Europe than Great Britain

• “Man” is the most common word in film titles

• Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond are the most featured characters