How I Saw More Women-Directed Films in 2016 than in My Entire Life

“How many female film directors can you name?” asked my friend.

  1. Sofia Coppola
  2. Kathryn Bigelow
  3. Andrea Arnold

I was stuck. I had no problem rattling off names of famous male directors. Yet, I don’t even know enough female directors to count on one hand.

'Lost in Translation' Movie Stills
Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”

I fell in love with cinema because of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”, which came out in 2003. It’s a shame that, even now, there are still not many well-known women directors out there. Well, ‘well-known’ if compared to their male counterpart.

While I wouldn’t argue that these male directors aren’t amazing in what they do, there’s still a lot of left to be desired in terms of how and what stories are told in today’s cinemas.

the-babushkas-of-chernobyl
Holly Morris & Anne Bogart’s “The Babushkas of Chernobyl”

In 2015, for example, some Avengers fans were upset over Black Widow’s storyline in “Age of Ultron”. They argued that the film had reduced the badass assassin into nothing but a baby-obsessed flirt. While Iron Man’s worst nightmare was the death of his Avengers compatriots, Black Widow’s greatest fear was her infertility (a.k.a. women’s-only issue). Would such problem have occured had the director, producer or screenwriter been a woman?

black-widow
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

I’m curious about the female perspective of filmmaking.

With these in mind, I made it a mission in 2016 to discover more films by female directors.

On the side note, I also wanted to explore more of Asian cinema, which made me wonder: how many films by Asian female directors was I going to see?

I went about catching as many films as I could in Singapore, which is where I’m based in. The result turned out more interesting than I expected.

the-projector-singapore
Singapore’s coolest independent cinema, The Projector! | © Philipp Aldrup

I keep track of the films that I’ve seen on my Pinterest board (2016 started with Carol!). With the year winding down, my nerdy self decided to create an Excel sheet with information on these films.

So, what’s my film consumption in 2016 like? In total, I saw 83 films, which were composed of 2016 and earlier releases. I caught their screenings in commercial cinemas, arthouse cinemas or museums, library DVDs or plane rides.

the-piano
Jane Campion’s “The Piano”

Of these 83 films that I saw:

16     were women-directed. While this only made up one-fifth of the total, it’s still an improvement from four films in 2015!

5      were by Asian female directors, which is an increase from 2 in 2015. Most of the women-directed films that I saw came from USA (7 films).

naomi-kawase-an
Naomi Kawase’s “An”

Of the 17 women-directed films,

8      were DVD releases before 2016

7      were screened as part of a film festival

0      was commercially released (the two films that played in commercial theatres were part of a film festival)

wadjda
Haifaa al-Mansour’s “Wadjda”

I also did Bechdel test on the male-directed films that I saw. The test consists of these three criteria:

  1. The movie must have at least two women in it
  2. These two women must talk to each other
  3. They must talk about something other than men

Of the films I saw:

59%      of male-directed films failed this test.

100%    of women-directed films passed this test.

tiga-dara
Nia Dinata’s “Three Sassy Sisters”

“You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.”

One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate about women-directed films is that they present wider variety of female characters and dimensions.

Many female characters in male-directed films exist to serve the male protagonists’ storylines. But, in women-directed films, their struggles go beyond men. They’re their own being, and they exist for themselves.

While I could now name at least five female directors with confidence, my journey to discovering the works of women directors is only starting. I’ll leave you with three of my favourite directors whom I discovered this year.

a-girl-walks-alone-home-at-night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (by Ana Lily Amirpour)

A female vampire roams around an Iranian ghost-town on a skateboard. If that’s doesn’t sound badass, I don’t know what does.

cleo-de-5-a-7

Cleo de 5 to 7 (by Agnes Varda)

Two hours from 17:00 to 19:00h is the longest day of this woman life: she’s waiting to receive her cancer diagnosis.

certain-women-lily-gladstone_ifc-films

Certain Women (by Kelly Reichardt)

You know the saying, “The silent ones are the most observant ones”? This rings true particularly to the third segment of this film, which is my favourite. It follows a horse rancher (played by Lily Gladstone, above) who develops a deep affection for an out-of-town lawyer teaching a night class for adults (Kristen Stewart).

BONUS: Wonder Woman (by Patty Jenkins)

Coming to you in 2017!

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4 thoughts on “How I Saw More Women-Directed Films in 2016 than in My Entire Life

  1. Great article! I like that you furthered your research with the Bechdel test and added data about Asian female directors. Did you find any openly LGBTQ+ directors?

    1. Hey Zee, thank you for your comment! The films by LGBTQ+ directors that I saw are all by male directors, including:
      – Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
      – Carol (Todd Haynes)
      Hope to encounter more works by LGBTQ+ female directors in the future!

  2. Lost in Translation was pretty great. Sofia is easily becoming one of my best female directors. Though, granted, I haven’t watched that many female-directed movies either. But you’ve given me a great place to start! :) Looking forward to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night cause I’ve heard great things about it.

    1. I hope you’d enjoy “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (the film’s soundtrack is amazing too!). Happy exploring :)

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