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News > Culture

Action! France Tackles On Screen Sexism with Subsidy for Women

  • French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen

    French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 September 2018

The new French measures are specifically targeted at opening up technical positions to women in the film industry, which has remained an almost exclusively male preserve.

France is to give movies made by women a special subsidy bonus in a bid to counter sexism in the film industry, its culture minister announced Wednesday.

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Francoise Nyssen, who helped launch the 50/50 pledge on gender equality earlier this year that shook Hollywood, said that productions  "exemplary" in terms of equality will get an extra 15 percent subsidy.

The new bonus will work on a points system, Nyssen said, with productions given one point for a female director, scriptwriter or chief technician. A film will have to get at least eight points to qualify for the extra cash.

"When things do not change themselves or change too slowly, we have to change them ourselves," the minister said as she announced the experiment, which will initially last for a year. "We cannot wait any longer," Nyssen added. "The figures oblige us to act. As it stands, only one film in six would qualify for this subsidy."

Nyssen and her Swedish counterpart launched a new international fund to get more women behind the camera at the Cannes film festival in May. She also pressured the world's biggest festival into signing up to the 50/50 for 2020 charter, in what was hailed as a historic coup by campaigners. Many stars at the Venice film festival earlier this month wore 50/50 badges and lapel pins to support the movement.

Subsidies are a key motor for the film industry, particularly in Europe, with many movies relying on seed cash and tax write-off schemes.

The minister is also forcing the French film council, the CNC, to demand that producers hand over detailed information on the gender balance of their movies, and how much men and women earn.

Nyssen has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements that were sparked by the downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. She has also made the campaign against sexism and the underrepresentation of women in the film industry a priority.

"We cannot let the wave that rose up last year fall away," she told a special commission meeting of filmmakers she assembled to tackle gender equality in the cinema. "We cannot go back to how it was, as if Weinstein never existed, as if it was only him. That equality on paper also meant an equal chance in reality."

The minister was a key player behind a red carpet demonstration by Hollywood stars and women directors at Cannes calling for equality. The 50/50 gender parity pledge which came out of that unprecedented protest has now been adopted by most of the world's leading film festivals including Venice, Toronto and earlier this week San Sebastian.

France is home to Europe's biggest film industry, with around a quarter of films made by women directors. That is much better than many other major European players such as Britain (12 percent) and Spain (10 percent). But it remains far behind women directors in Scandinavian countries who enjoy relative equality, with 43 percent of Finnish films made by women.

In terms of pay, French women directors are still paid on average 42 percent less than their male colleagues, according to a recent CNC study.

Brigitte Rollet, an expert on women in cinema, told AFP that female directors "often have less money, are more limited in the genre of films they can make, and have more trouble getting a second film made."

Nyssen said that she believed that "quotas and financial incentives" could spark change.

"It is cinema's job to open people's eyes and change mentalities," said Frederique Bredin, the head of the CNC.

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