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Newly Launched BFI Filmography Reveals Stark Gender Disparity in UK Film

Jodie Whittaker, one of the BFI Filmography’s most prolific actresses, in “Adult Life Skills

Today the BFI introduced the BFI Filmography, a complete, living record of all the 10,000-and-counting UK films released since 1911. While the resource is, as the BFI describes, “a treasure trove of new information,” it is also a revealing account of the pronounced gender inequality present in UK movies, both on and offscreen.

Among other issues, the filmography is plagued with gender stereotypes. The BFI found that the four character types women are most likely to portray are prostitutes, housekeepers, nurses, and receptionists. Of course, that’s when women are onscreen at all. As the filmography shows, the past century hasn’t featured much change in opportunity for female actors: women comprised 31 percent of film casts in 1913 and, so far, represent 30 percent of the casts in 2017.

Overall, female actors tend to work less than their male counterparts. For example, the most prolific male actor working today is Michael Caine, who has made 70 films to date. The most prolific actress still working is Judi Dench, who has made 41 films.

As for women in behind-the-scenes roles, the BFI Filmography includes only 23 projects with a majority-female crew, which amounts to about one percent. Just seven percent of the films made since 2000 were made by a majority-female crew. As one would expect, the number of women working on film crews has increased over the past 100 years — but the rate of change is still frustratingly slow. Women accounted for three percent of film crews in 1913, and by the early 2000s that number had grown to 27 percent. Women comprise 34 percent of this year’s film crews.

Women helmed only 4.5 percent of the BFI filmography and, like their onscreen counterparts, female directors tend to work much less than men. With 13 movies, Muriel Box (“Rattle of a Simple Man,” “The Piper’s Tune”) is the filmography’s most prolific female director. Maurice Elvey (“The Suicide Club,” “Love in a Wood”) is the most prolific male director with 151 films. That’s right: Elvey made over 11 times as many films as Box.

Director of Photography is the crew role that features the largest gender gap. Women DoPs have shot just 1.3 percent of UK films. With eight films, Nina Kellgren (“Young Soul Rebels”) is the female DoP with the most work experience.

The gender disparity of the BFI Filmography is disheartening of course, but it could also be a springboard for reform in the UK film industry — and not just for women’s representation. The lack of racial diversity in UK movies is also startling: 59 percent of the last decade’s films featured no black actors. As the BFI stated: “Whilst the BFI Filmography launches with a detailed look at gender, it is the intention to continue to build on the data, to provide a greater understanding of representation on and off screen.” Here’s hoping that studios really consider the BFI Filmography and decide that the next 100 years of cinema will be a better, more inclusive place.

Some additional stats from the filmography are below, courtesy of the BFI. Go to the BFI Filmography website to look through the new resource and find out more.

Most prolific women actors of each decade 1960–2017


Marianne Stone — 62 films


Marianne Stone — 37 films


Liz Smith — 14 films


Sadie Frost — 10 films


Shirley Henderson — 18 films


Kate Dickie — 13 films

Jodie Whittaker — 12 films

Most prolific women actors (still working)

Judi Dench — 41 films

Maggie Smith — 40 films

Vanessa Redgrave — 40 films

Sylvia Syms — 38 films

Liz Fraser — 37 films

Joan Collins — 37 films

Honor Blackman — 36 films

Jane Carr — 34 films

Julie Walters — 34 films

Helen Mirren — 33 films

4 Characters women are Most likely to play (when name/gender is unspecified)

Prostitute — 94% cast as women

Housekeeper — 91% cast as women

Nurse — 88% cast as women

Receptionist — 80% cast as women

4 Characters women are Least likely to play (when name/gender is unspecified)

Police Inspector — 0% cast as women

Police Sergeant — 0% cast as women

Steward — 0% cast as women

Taxi Driver — 0% cast as women

Most prolific women directors

Muriel Box — 13 films

Christine Edzard — 7 films

Gurinder Chadha — 7 films

Sally Potter — 7 films

Wendy Toye — 6 films

Mira Nair — 6 films

Penny Woolcock — 5 films

Beeban Kidron — 5 films

Debbie Isitt — 5 films

Mary McGuckian — 5 films

Newly Launched BFI Filmography Reveals Stark Gender Disparity in UK Film was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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