U.K. Making Strides in Showbiz Gender Pay Equity, But Scandinavia Leads

Gender inequality in film is not restricted to the U.S. In Europe, the pay gap between men and women in film is evident across key territories, though some countries tackle the issue better than others.

Stats in the U.K. are more promising than those in the U.S., but still show how far the nation needs to go to reach wage parity. According to research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, women in Blighty comprise only 27.3% of directors of Brit films based on an MPAA rating of G, PG or PG-13 released from Jan. 1, 2010, to May 1, 2013. Using the same parameters, U.S. films failed to include a single female director. Further, female scribes represented 58.8% in the U.K., compared with 11.8% in the U.S. Less than 38% of characters seen in British indies are female, but this drops to 23.6% when the U.K. collaborates with the U.S.

“There is a pay gap across all sectors of employment in the world, and the U.K. film business is no different,” says Elizabeth Karlsen, the London-based producer behind 1950s-set lesbian love story “Carol.” “The U.K. is a thriving cottage industry that offers up an extraordinary amount of talent to the global entertainment business. But we can’t deny there is still gender inequality.”

Karlsen, also chair of the U.K.-based org Women in Film & TV, says she feels encouraged that attitudes are changing, and points to prominent Brit titles built around strong female characters — “Carol,” “Suffragette” and “Brooklyn” — as examples of current films supported by U.K. public funding bodies. “It can’t be a coincidence that they have the BFI, Film4 and/or BBC stamp on them,” she says. “Execs will commission female stories.”

In France, the biggest issue for women in the film biz is limited access to high-budget films, according to Berenice Vincent, head of international sales at Les Films du Losange, who set up lobbying group Le Deuxieme Regard in 2013 to promote gender parity for films in France. “High-budget films get the highest wages, and the average budget for female-directed films is €3.45 million ($3.76 million) against €5.66 million ($6.2 million) for male directors,” Vincent says. “For the most part, actresses are still paid less than actors in France, but the subject is still quite taboo, and French talent does not speak out like those in Hollywood.”

Vincent says many industryites in Gaul argue that unequal pay is a question of talent rather than gender. And while she allows discussion of the issue has increased, much more needs to be done. “Public authorities have to follow the situation and think about concrete solutions,” she maintains.

The gender pay gap is also an issue in Germany, says Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of regional film fund org Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. “There are so many more films with a male lead in Germany, which is one reason why men are ahead on the pay scale,” Niehuus says. Yet, she adds, a strong feminist movement in the nation is intent on changing the situation, for women above and below the line. “There is a marathon ahead,” she notes.

Scandinavia, on the other hand, has always been a model of gender equality across all sectors of employment. Sweden and Norway in particular have seen big gains in gender parity in their homegrown film industries. In 2014, half of all feature-length, commissioner-approved fiction films in Sweden were directed by a woman, while 61% of those same films had a female screenwriter, and 69% a female producer. In Norway, women comprised nearly 54% of key staff (director, screenwriter, producer) on feature narrative films in 2014, up from 27% in 2010.

Stockholm-based talent agent Laura Munsterhjelm, who reps thesps such as Alicia Vikander, Rebecca Ferguson and Malin Akerman, says she has never had to address the issue of a gender pay gap. “Actors mostly get paid by the day, and you get a better fee if you have more days, a long career or if you are well known and viewers are interested in you, regardless of gender,” she says. In fact, with Sweden intent on distributing state funds equally between men and women, Munsterhjelm adds, “A film has better chances of getting funding from the Swedish Film Institute if it has a female producer, scriptwriter, director and lead attached.”

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