According to a recent study conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, there are few women behind the camera. In 2021, just 6% of cinematographers were female, compared to 4% in 1998.
If awards ceremonies are a measure of progress in Hollywood, then two consecutive wins for female filmmakers at the Oscars, with last year’s winner Jane Campion being the first woman to be nominated twice, may indicate that things are improving.
One category, however, has a significant amount of catching up to do: cinematography.
Since the Oscars began in 1929, no woman has ever won, and only two women have ever been nominated: Dee Rees in 2018 for Mudbound and Ari Wegner for the film that won Jane Campion her directorial award, Power of the Dog.
A recent study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University reveals that there are few women behind the camera. The study revealed that in 2021, only 6% of cinematographers were female, up from 4% in 1998.
Polly Morgan, whose latest feature The Woman King premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to overwhelmingly excellent reviews, is among this small fraction.
The British director, who is the first woman to be accredited by both the British and American Societies of Cinematographers, told that progress is being made, albeit slowly.
“I do see many young women on the street… And a large number of women from all over the world contact me with the question, “How do I do it?” How can I travel there? How can I progress?'” Morgan stated.
Therefore, it is difficult to tell contextually how many are out there, but we’re making progress and moving in the right direction.
“There aren’t many women working as visual effects supervisors or composers, but I believe there are the fewest women in composing.” “Filmmaking has historically been dominated by men, but I believe we’re taking measures to redress the imbalance, but it will take some time.”
In addition to The Woman King, Morgan was the cinematographer for the summer box office hit Where The Crawdads Sing.
She says she can’t quite believe it, despite being one of the very few women to reach the pinnacle of her industry.
She stated, “I have to pinch myself because it’s all so strange, I still feel like I’m 21 and it’s frightening to realize that I’m not and that younger people are coming up behind me.”
“However, I believe it is necessary to maintain a presence and engage in publicity and other activities, as I recognize that this is what inspires new generations.
“When I was beginning my career, there were very few women in my industry that I could reach out to and seek for guidance, so I love that there are more and more women doing it now.”
Morgan states that she was inspired by representation when she was attempting to balance her job and family.
“I adore the fact that women are balancing family and career,” she remarked.
“When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I believed I would never be able to have a family and perform this profession. It wasn’t until I saw other women doing it that I realized ‘oh, I can do it too’ – and now I have.
“Even though it’s difficult for working mothers, we make it work, and I believe it’s vital for women to realize that they can be a mother and a filmmaker in whatever capacity they choose.”
The Woman King has been a labor of love for filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood and actress Viola Davis.
It is set in the 1820s and is about an all-female military corps in West Africa called the Agojie. It took around seven years to produce.
When the project was given the go-ahead, Prince-Bythewood gathered a team of female department leaders, including Morgan.
The film was shot on location in South Africa, and according to the cinematographer, it was not an easy shoot.
Morgan stated, “It was a challenge in every way, and I think that’s one of the things that attracts me to something; it’s thrilling to push yourself and try something new.”
“But yeah, we began principal photography in the north of South Africa on a game reserve, filming the opening scene of the movie, which is a night exterior, huge battle scene, and we had to bring everyone and everything up to that location, all the background extras, all the materials to build the camp, all the lights, the cables, the generators, the crew, and there’s no Wi-Fi up there, so communication was difficult, so it was incredibly difficult.”
“The crews in South Africa are wonderful, and I believe that this type of difficulty brings everyone together, as you all must figure out how to pull it off.”
But while it was challenging, it was also fulfilling, and Morgan is pleased with her accomplishments.
“On a film like this, as opposed to a smaller film, my role changes because I have to lead and manage all these different types of people, as well as a rigging crew that will go ahead of time and pre-set gear for us, ensuring that everything is in place when we arrive, so it doesn’t take us a tremendous amount of time to get started.
This requires a separate area of my brain to function, similar to working at an airport or directing flights.
The Woman King will be released in UK theatres next month, but it remains to be seen if a woman will ever win the Oscar for best cinematography.