How many women feature in UK film crews? Which departments have less than 10% women? Who are our most prolific female directors and writers?
These questions can be answered using a new Filmography by the British Film Institute (BFI). This dataset contains over 10,000 films, stretching back to 1911, and represents every UK feature-length film released in cinemas. The Filmography includes cast and crew lists for each film, and contains over 250,000 unique people. The BFI have inferred the gender of each cast and crew member by using their first name (9% are unresolved).
This article, and another about casts, provides a first glimpse at this new dataset. The aim is to spark ideas amongst film researchers and to provide a set of metrics that can be tracked over time. The Filmography will continue to grow and, with the public's help, it will improve as more contributors are identified. More details on the methodology are provided at the end of this article.
Over the past 100 years, there has been a substantial improvement in the gender mix of UK film crews. The percentage of crew members who are women (across all UK films) has risen from a low of 3% in 1913 to a high of around 34% in 2017 (based on films released up to August 2017). There were two significant periods of growth. The first occurred during the Second World War and the second came between 1975 and 1991 which mirrored the rise of women in the wider UK workforce. Interestingly, both periods of growth came when relatively low numbers of films were being released.
Recent movements in the gender mix have been clouded by a rise in uncertainty. The variety of names in film credits has increased, which has made it more difficult to infer the gender of crew members. However, there are signs that the gender mix in UK film crews may have improved a little in the last few years. And based on the films released so far in 2017, this could be the first year when the percentage of crew members who are women exceeds the percentage of cast members who are women. That result could of course change over the remainder of the year as more films are released.
The gender mix in UK film crews still sits well below the gender mix in the wider UK workforce. And out the 1,729 films which have been released since 2000 and have had at least 50 crew members, only 8 of these films had crews where women made up at least 50% of the credits.
The percentage of credited crew members who are women ranges from 15% for detective dramas to 31% for documentaries. Part of this variation is caused by the improvement in gender balance over time coupled with differences in the age of films within each genre. For example, genres which contain relatively more women tend to be those which also have relatively more recent films, such as documentaries and biopics. The documentary genre is particularly interesting because their crews have the highest percentage of women, but their casts are among those with the lowest percentage of women.
Narrowing attention to films released since 1990, there are still several genres where women make up less than 30% of crew members. They are action & adventure (24%), science fiction (25%), crime (27%), war (28% women), children's (28%), fantasy (28%), horror (28%) and thriller (29%). Compared to films released prior to 1990, the smallest improvements have been in action & adventure and science fiction. Two recent examples of films that push against this result are The Lobster (2015) (53% women) and The Survivalist (2016) (40%).
How does the gender mix in film crews nominated for BAFTA awards compare to the gender mix in other UK films? The chart below shows UK films that have been nominated either for BAFTA's Best Film award or for their Outstanding British Film award.
The UK nominees are fairly evenly balanced either side of the white line which represents all UK films. And there is no substantial difference in the overall gender balance between UK nominees and the set of all UK films from 1947 onwards. This result could change as more individuals in crews are identified or if the analysis was extended to include non-UK nominees and other BAFTA categories.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) was the first UK nominee (and winner) to have a crew containing at least 30% women. Over a decade later, Paris Texas (1984) looks to have become the first UK nominee to pass the 40% mark. And most recently Fish Tank passed the 50% mark in 2009, though there is a small chance that Pride and Prejudice got there a few years earlier in 2005. Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Made in Dagenham (2010) are particularly notable as both their casts and their crews contain a high percentage of women relative to other UK nominees.
For film casts there was a clear correlation between the gender mix of the cast and the gender of individuals in senior roles within direction and writing. The picture is not as clear for crews because for a higher proportion of crew members (compared to cast members) it is not possible to infer their gender. This uncertainty can be seen in the chart below, which uses all UK films from 1990 onwards. If the gender of unknown crew members was ignored, then it does appear that women make up a higher percentage of the crew in films that have female directors and writers, compared to films that have male directors and writers. However, it is not possible to draw this conclusion with confidence due to the group of crew members whose gender cannot be inferred. Even then, the chart only shows a correlation, and does not prove a causal relationship.
Since 1990, only 54 films out of the 2,847 films released (or 1.9%) had crews that contained at least 50% women (ignoring crew members whose gender could not be inferred). Of those 54 films, 36 had either all-female writing, directing or producing teams. Two examples of films in this group are Driving with Selvi (2015) and Public House (2016). At the other extreme, 82 films (or 2.9%) had crews that contained less than 10% women. In this group, only one film had either an all-female writing, directing or producing team.
There are large differences in gender composition between the departments in film crews. These charts show the percentage of senior crew members who are women in 14 departments from 1930s onwards. For Make-up & Hair, Visual Effects and Design it was not possible to isolate senior credits, due either to a small number of credits or to changes in the terms used to describe senior roles. For these three departments the charts show the gender mix over all credits.
Despite women only making up around 34% of crew credits in 2017, they comprise 68% and 81% of senior credits in Casting and Costumes respectively, and 78% of all credits in Make-up & Hair. In most other departments women have never held more than 25% of the senior roles. For several departments, such as Production and Direction, the gender mix improved sharply over the 1980s, but those gains then stalled. In other departments, including Photography and Sound, the percentage of credits filled by women has never risen above 10%.
These results provide a number of questions for future research. Why are there such large differences in the gender balance between departments? What factors drove the increases observed in the 1980s? And why do some departments still have less than 10% women?
Over 150,000 people have been credited in crews for UK films since 1911. However, 68% only appear once in the Filmography, and less than 10% are credited in 5 or more UK films. Women are also less likely than men to be credited with more than one film. These results are just estimates and the true percentage of people who have only worked on one UK film is likely to be slightly lower. That's because it is not always possible to prove that the same name in two different film credits refers to the same person. In these instances, a new ID will be created. This tendency increases the percentage of crew members who only have one film credit. Another issue is that in the early decades of the Filmography not all crew members were given credits, and it is suspected that women were less likely to be credited than men.
The chart below focuses on people who are credited in at least two different films within the Filmography. Contributors are grouped into the decade when their first UK film was released. Among this group, men have tended to have longer careers in UK film than women, where 'career length' is crudely defined as the number of years between a person's first and last UK film. At its largest the gap in average 'career length' between men and women was 4 years in the 1940s. Over subsequent decades, the gap appears to have closed, and was less than a year for those starting in the 2000s. Of course this last group still have most of their careers ahead of them, and so differences may emerge in years to come.
Among the record breakers, Muir Mathieson, a Scottish composer and conductor, is credited with the greatest number of films in the Filmography (373 films). Four women have been credited with over 100 UK films. They are Fiona Morham (production executive, 213 films), Isobel Griffiths (orchestra contractor, 194 films), Renée Glynne (script supervisor, 110 films) and Vanessa Baker (casting, 108 films).
Turning to the average number of films made, for crews the gap between men and women appears to be closing more quickly than for casts. However, this metric (number of films) should be treated with caution because, as the previous chart showed, men and women have undertaken very different roles within crews. And these roles require different time commitments. For example, a member of a casting team will probably work on a different number of films within a given year than a director. If one gender has been more likely to work in 'quicker roles' then this would artificially shrink or exaggerate the gap in film counts between the two genders.
The table below shows the most prolific directors and writers in each decade from the 1980s onwards.
Amongst directors, the most prolific men have made more films each decade than the most prolific women. Even for the most recent period, 2010 to August 2017, the male directors listed have released between 2 and 4 more films than the female directors listed. There is a similar gender gap for the most prolific writers, which spans the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The only exception is Ruth Prawer Jhabvala who was credited in more films in the 1980s and 1990s than the most prolific men. She is also the only person to have won both a Booker prize and an Oscar. For the most recent period, several female writers are currently level with their male counterparts. And Jane Goldman has been credited on three more films than the most prolific male, John Logan.
Over the entire dataset there are significant differences in the number of films released by the most prolific men and women, for both direction and writing. These differences reflect the barriers that women have faced in the UK film industry. Muriel Box has the greatest number of directing credits among women, with 13 films. For comparison, the most prolific male director is Maurice Elvey who is credited with 151 films. For writing, Kathleen Butler is the most prolific woman with 32 films, while Eliot Stannard has 101 films.
Turning to the gender mix of directors' and writers' casts, Carol Morley stands out because, across her four films, women have made up 68% of her casts which is much higher than for anyone else listed. The only other creators in the list to have at least 50% women in their casts are Andrea Gibb, Emma Thompson and Debbie Isitt. Mike Leigh stands out in the list as the man who has the highest gender mix in his UK film casts (just under 50%).
The BFI's Filmography covers UK films that have been released to cinemas and are 40 minutes or longer. To qualify as a 'UK film', the film must have been funded or produced, at least in part, by a UK-based production company.
The BFI has inferred the gender of cast and crew members by comparing contributors' first names to a database of baby names given to boys and girls in England and Wales. The BFI also searched manually to identify the gender of prolific cast and crew members. And for remaining actors it used the gender implied by their characters' names. In comparison to a survey, this inference method is faster, non-intrusive and does not suffer from non-response bias.
There are two limitations to consider. The first is that inferred genderisation wrongly assumes that gender identity is both a fixed and binary concept. There is also likely to be the odd mistake if a contributor has a first name which is more frequently given to a different gender. As a result, a person's 'inferred gender' may not match the gender (if any) with which they identify. This limitation means that there is still very much a place for other methods, such as surveys, that can more accurately capture the complete range of gender identities.
A second limitation is that the BFI was not able to infer the gender for approximately 9% of all contributors. The first name of a cast or crew member may not be gender specific, such as Sam or Alex. Or their name may not be included in the set of baby names used to perform the genderisation. This issue particularly affects cast and crew members who have non-English-origin names. Omitting this group could bias results if the gender balance among these contributors differs significantly to others. For this reason, all the data visualisations contain upper and lower estimates which show how unidentified contributors could change the gender balance.
The visualisations show how the gender mix of a film's cast (or crew) varies with characteristics such as the film's genre or its year of release. The percentages are calculated by pooling casts for a particular genre or year, and then determining the percentage of actors who were women. An actor who contributed to two films in that year or genre will be counted twice. Thus, the percentage reflects the relative number of opportunities for women compared to men, as opposed to simply the number of women compared to men. Unfortunately, it is not possible to distinguish leading roles from minor roles.
The percentage of a cast (or crew) who are women is a simple metric and it should not be over-interpreted. If one film's cast contains a higher percentage of women than another film, it does not imply that the women in that film had more lines or more screen time. Nor does it imply that their characters were more complex or that the film itself somehow better reflected a women's perspective.