It’s not easy being a female film director in Britain. That’s not us being melodramatic: it’s a fact. Recent research by Directors UK found that fewer than 12 per cent of British films are directed by women. Female directors rarely get the chance to direct big-budget feature films or action, crime, horror or sci-fi movies, and overall, women make fewer films in their careers.
This imbalance can be partly attributed to the pervasive stereotype of the director as male artiste. While men are seen as being able to turn their hand to any genre of cinema, female directors often find themselves stereotyped as “just” making “women’s films”.
And the knock-on effect of this lack of representation is pretty depressing. With a dearth of high-profile women behind the camera to aspire to, other women are discouraged from entering the industry. As a result, those women who are working as directors can find themselves pigeonholed even more.
Now, with the help of two talking thumbs, award-winning British director Rachel Tunnard has brilliantly satirised the experience of being a woman who’s just trying to get a bloody film made.
In the four-minute clip, titled You'll never get anywhere if you can't take a joke, love, a ‘female’ thumb tells a ‘male’ thumb that she’s thinking of making a film.
“There isn’t an audience for female films”, the man thumb promptly replies – unless she counts “your mum, your nan [and] your ex-boyfriends who are basically trying to ascertain if they were correct in dumping you”. If she really wants to make a movie, he informs her, it’ll have to be a rom-com. “With lots of kissing in it. Cos girls love kissing.”
Much of Tunnard’s script mocks the sexist attitudes of people working within the film industry. The man thumb can’t bring himself to say the words “Bechdel test”, and muses that “there’s just so much more to consider when you’ve got female crew. Like all the time you’ll lose because women are always stopping the take going, ‘Cut, cut! I need the loo! Who wants to come with me?’”
But she also skewers the limitations of the stock female characters found in Hollywood movies. “Basically, you need to decide if you’re cute-sexy or ballsy-sexy,” says the man thumb sagely. “Are you gonna be self-aware and make jokes about the fact that you can’t get a man? Or are you gonna pretend that you’re too whimsical to notice that you don’t need one?”
Rachel Tunnard’s debut film, Adult Life Skills, tells the story of a 29-year-old woman (Broadchurch's Jodie Whittaker) who moves back home and spends her time making short videos in her mum’s garden shed (featuring her thumbs). It won the prestigious Nora Ephron Prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and has scored rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.
“I made the thumb video because I’m getting asked about being a female filmmaker a lot,” Tunnard tells Stylist. “It’s really difficult, because you can’t talk about [sexism] without appearing as though you’re really negative or you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, or something like that. In truth, the best way to tackle it is just to find a way to laugh about it – and then conceive another way to get what you want.”
Adult Life Skills is screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, ahead of nationwide release on June 24th.