Film Forward

More Than 12,000 Movie Fans Have Taken This Pledge To Celebrate Women Behind The Camera

#52FilmsByWomen is a simple way to show your support.

If you're disappointed by the lack of women working behind-the-scenes in the film industry and want to do something about it, an easy way to start is by actually watching and supporting movies by female filmmakers. If you want to take that support a step (or 52 steps) further, Women in Film Los Angeles is here to encourage you.

Women in Film is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1973, which supports equal opportunities and portrayals for women on and off the screen. In 2015, as part of the Trailblazing Women initiative with Turner Classic Movies, the organization launched the "52 Films By Women" pledge.

Those who sign up to take the pledge on the WIF website are asked to watch one film from a female filmmaker each week for a year — 52 films in total. (And you can start at any time, not just at New Year's.) In less than two years, more than 12,000 movie fans have taken the pledge, and that number is only getting higher.

Women in Film's Executive Director Kirsten Schaffer shared in an interview with Letterboxd earlier this year that the pledge was partly inspired by the organization's research with the Sundance Institute and USC, through which they discovered "how few people could name more than a handful of women directors."

Considering this lack of knowledge, you may need some guidance for what to watch if you decide to take the plege. In that case, there are plenty of resources available online, several of which are linked on Women in Film's pledge page. Go Watch It has a list curated specifically for 52 Films By Women, with information about where to watch. A Plus has a list of great films directed by women that you can watch on streaming services, and Film Fatales has compiled a list of all female-helmed movies available on Netflix. The Director List also has a database of more than 1,000 female directors, searchable by genre.

Although many participants in the pledge (much like the aforementioned lists) tend to focus on films from female directors, there are plenty of hard-working women in other roles behind the camera who deserve recognition. One study found that only 17 percent of directors, writers, producers executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 films of 2016 were women. Therefore, the inclusion of projects by women in a variety of positions is not only allowed — it's encouraged.

"When we first started this it was to bring attention to women directors, but we fully support all the female filmmakers — editors, cinematographers, writers — so we encourage everyone to seek out their films too," Gayle Nachlis, senior director of education for Women in Film, told A Plus in an email.

Something else to consider when choosing films is seeking out projects by filmmakers who are currently working. When Communications Director Morgan Green received a comment on her Letterboxd list that suggested she was missing several well-known directors of the past (most of whom had passed away), she emphasized that "it's important to support the wonderful women who are making films now in order to promote gender parity in the film industry moving forward." 

Women in Film also suggests seeing films by women on opening weekend, and as Kirsten Schaffer points out in her interview with Letterboxd, "you can help a director's stats just by adding her film to your Netflix queue."

When you've finished browsing the online lists and scanning your local movie times, another great way to get movie suggestions is by checking out what other participants are watching. Nachlis, who shared her own journey through the pledge on Facebook, told A Plus that social media has played a "tremendous role" in spreading the message.

"Part of the pledge is that participants will spread the word to their friends and followers by posting their lists (and reviews) with the hashtag #52FilmsByWomen on Twitter, Facebook, etc.," she shared. "People are really enjoying this challenge — and are being entertained, educated and inspired by what they see."

In addition to the well-stocked hashtag, there are also several testimonials from bloggers and critics who have documented or reflected on their experiences with the pledge — and it's not just women. Courtney Small of Cinema Axis, for example, wrote, "The 52 Films by Women project has become such an integral part of my film going experience that it has changed the way I go about selecting my films."

Cameron Williams of The Popcorn Junkie, meanwhile, wrote about how the pledge made him realize that "a portion of the responsibility lies with the audience to level the playing field." 

Schaffer also told Letterboxd about a woman named Brandy who held weekly viewing parties for the films in her pledge. "She told us that she has identified as a feminist for a long time, and so she expected the pledge to be fun, but not 'groundbreaking', which is what it turned out to be."

She added that it's common for participants to choose to complete the pledge another year, which Nachlis encourages for participants who are inspired by the experience to take action. "Don't stop after one year," she told A Plus. "Continue the pledge to support women creators by watching their work."

We would also suggest putting your own spin on the pledge, or even creating a new pledge of your own to support other forms of diversity in the film industry. Maybe you'll tailor your pledge to only include films by women of color, or those that highlight the LGBTQ experience. However you choose to show your support, there's a good chance the experience will open your eyes and motivate you to be more conscious of these issues in future viewing.

"There is something incredibly powerful about feeling alone in your experience of the world, and then seeing an experience that echoes yours brought to life on the silver screen," Schaffer told Letterboxd. "I think that happens frequently for women (and even some others) who make our pledge."

To make the 52 Films By Women pledge, visit the Women in Film website, and tweet about it using the hashtag #52FilmsByWomen.

Cover image via Instagram

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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