Guest Post: Why does film need more complex female protagonists?

I asked Kate Kaminski, Founder and Artistic Director of the Bluestocking Film Series, to detail why highlighting complex female protagonists is an important mission. Kaminski is a screenwriter, director, and independent filmmaker whose films have screened all over the world.

The series, which proclaims itself as the film event in the world that requires complex female protagonists, takes place in Portland at SPACE Gallery on July 17th and 18th.

And now I pass the mic to Kaminski:


Before I begin, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out two things:

  1. All the studies out of Sundance/WIF, USC Annenberg, and the Geena Davis Institute statistically prove there is a lack of complex women characters on-screen, and festivals are generally an important entry point for filmmakers into the business of commercial filmmaking.
  1. If we were a festival focused on African-American, Latino or Jewish cinema, would there be any question of relevance? “Women in film” festivals provide a space for expression just as all the other fests devoted to specific voices do.

Women are indisputably under-represented in popular movies, or represented in ways that emphasize sexuality over other aspects of their characters. Without Bluestocking — and other festivals that seek to bring diverse voices into the marketplace — we are left with little more than the echo chamber of Hollywood’s sexist, white boys club.

I started Bluestocking Film Series in 2011 because something was missing from festival screens in Maine. Looking around, I wondered where are the female-driven films I was craving? Five years ago I thought: what if I create​ a film event that exclusively screens women-powered films that pass the Bechdel Test? If I buil​d it …​ will they come?

Well, I built it and the audience has shown up, each year in greater numbers. At every screening since we started, inevitably people will approach me to say how refreshing it is to see movies that explore the female experience in new, exciting, and provocative ways. We seek and select filmmakers who fluently speak the language of film, which is of course, also the language of entertainment. Our 2015 selections have something to offer every film lover and exhibit uncommon talent, vision and execution. This year we’ve got films featuring obsessive knitters, girl gangs, women at work, and even a genie.

This year—2015—I’ve felt a seismic shift for women in film. Representing all the filmmaking trades, women are coming forward to expose Hollywood’s backward sexism and unequal hiring and compensation practices​​. The problem is so blatant that the ACLU has initiated a campaign to address it.

It’s unmistakably clear: women ​are relegated to the sidelines, or erased completely, in front of and behind the camera. In 2014, women were just 12% of on-screen protagonists and only 7% of all directors on 250 top-grossing films.

The operative words are top-grossing films. This celluloid ceiling means that the few women who get the chance to lead a film story or direct big movies are pitted against each other and all the other women fighting for a bite of a puny piece of the pie, while male actors and directors take the lion’s share ​of work​ and money​.

I’m a film lover and movies just aren’t reflecting the experiences of 50% of the ​global population. By continuing to showcase great films featuring complex female protagonists, we prove that ​women and girls can drive the story and lead the action on-screen.

We can’t be what we don’t see and having access to women’s voices and stories is tangibly important for ​all your mothers, sisters, daughters, and girlfriends; and for all your fathers, brothers, sons, and boyfriends too.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.