Women Directed Just 11 Percent of Films Screened in Israel in 2017

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Arab Israeli Maysaloun Hamoud, director of "In Between", or "Bar Bahar", poses for a picture inside a cinema in Nazareth, northern Israel January 26, 2017. Picture taken January 26, 2017.
Arab Israeli Maysaloun Hamoud, director of "In Between", or "Bar Bahar", poses for a picture inside a cinema in Nazareth, northern Israel January 26, 2017. Picture taken January 26, 2017.Credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS

Two hundred fifty four commercial films were screened in Israeli movie theaters in 2017, but only 28 of them – 11 percent – were directed by women. Four of the films were jointly directed by a man and a woman, says Lior Elefant, the head of the Israeli Women in Film and Television Forum, who looked into the matter.

As for Israeli movies released in 2017, the situation was slightly better for women directors, but still far from equality: Of the 36 new Israeli films that played in the country’s theaters last year, only six (16 percent) were directed by women. In comparison, 10 Israeli films released in 2016 were directed by women, up from eight in 2015, says Elefant.

Only 28 of the films that appeared in Israel last year had a female screenwriter, as compared to 196 films that were written by men and 21 jointly written by men and women.

Elefant published her findings on Sunday on the website Politically Correct. The results encompass all the films shown commercially in Israel last year and include both feature films and documentaries. They do not include films shown only in art house theaters, such as Jerusalem’s Cinematheque.

The unequal reality is also reflected on what we see on the screen, says Elefant. The lack of women directors and screenwriters directly influences the number of women in leading roles: Only 66 of the films shown (26 percent) had a woman as the main character. In just over half of the films, a man was the star, and in 14 percent of them, either a couple – a man and a woman – or a mixed-gender group of people held the principal roles.

When a woman had written the screenplay, however, the chances of a woman also being the star of the film were much greater: Out of the 28 films written by women, 20 focused on women (70 percent), four were about men and another four were about a mixed-gender group of people. In comparison, of the 196 films written by men, only 34 dealt with women – and quite a few of them were horror films, says Elefant.

In sync with the movement against sexual harassment sweeping Hollywood and other industries in the past year, Elefant also examined how people convicted of or suspected of sexual harassment or assault were involved in the films shown in Israel. She found that 8 percent of the movies, 21 out of 254, had one or more such people involved. Elefant conducted this part of her research using the website Rotten Apples, which includes only American films.

And what about the advertising posters for the films? Somewhat unsurprisingly, women are left out there, too. Even though women starred in 66 of the films, only 54 of the posters focused on women’s characters. A man was featured in 102 posters, 34 showed couples and 32 promoted the movie with a group of people.

The great number of sexual harassment and assault incidents is not just the result of the small number of films made by women and the little attention given to women on the screen, says Elefant, but it is also one of the causes.

“One of the largest obstacles for women in the film industry is sexual harassment, which shows them time after time that they do not belong on the set, and that they do not control their fate,” she said, adding that the now-infamous meetings with disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein are just one example of who determines their film careers.

Elefant believes that sexual harassment, along with other barriers such as unequal wages, discrimination, long work hours, a lack of job security and more are what keeps the film industry, which began as a man’s industry, from changing.

The commercial Israeli films directed by women released last year were: “In Between” by Maysaloun Hamoud; “A.K.A. Nadia” by Tova Ascher; “Personal Affairs” by Maha Haj; “Between Worlds” by Miya Hatav; “The Road to Where” by Michal Bat-Adam; and “The Burglar” by Hagar Ben-Asher.

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