By now, I’m sure you’re probably all intimately familiar with Carol Morley’s Dreams Of A Life, which stars Zawe Ashton, who Emmanuel recently interviewed (read that post HERE, if you haven’t; you really should).
We’ve talked about the film quite a bit, and will probably continue to do so, until 1 of us finally sees it :)
And here’s a bit more… this time, words directly from director Carol Morley, who sent me this personal entry she wrote back in 2009, expressing her frustrations with getting Dreams Of A Life financed and produced.
While it’s primary lament is on the challenges in getting womens’ stories produced, we can also throw this into our ongoing umbrella conversation on the black British experience in cinema…
Here ya go:
DREAMS OF A LIFE- SOME THOUGHTS ON WHY IT’S BEEN SO HARD TO GET IT MADE
“Women need to start their own film industry: this one isn’t working.” Joe Queenan, The Guardian, September 2007
Why has it been so hard to find the money for Dreams of a Life? Primarily because it has not been seen as commercial. Even within the public funding sector, commerciality is seen as a crucial component because films need a distributor. Unfortunately, marketing notions of what is commercial and what audiences want to go and see are very limited, with the outcome being that films with explicit female stories lines are hard to get made.
“I find it staggering and rather depressing”… it’s not just about the “lack of female directors,” it’s that “the stories are all so male-driven, even with the independent films. It’s quite a bleak canvas.” Phyllida Lloyd in Forbes, Feb 2009
There has been on going under-representation and misrepresentation of women in film, which clearly needs to be addressed. Only 6% of British directors are women, even fewer are writers, and therefore female characters and female stories in films are bound to not represent the range and depth of experiences of British women.
“Let’s face it, the lack of female directors is cinema’s Achilles heel, giving us a boring and one-dimensional analysis of the world. It’s a situation that desperately needs to be addressed.” Kaleem Aftab February 2006 BBC Collective
One aspect of gaining commercial viability is to cast a star in a film. Britain has a poor track record of creating roles for black actors, who have often gone to the USA where there is a greater chance of getting work. Dreams of a Life has a black female lead. It is rare to have a film with a female lead, let alone a black lead.
“In Britain, TV and film producers and directors are still nervous about black actors in leading roles. Ask anyone in the street to name five American black actors and they can do it; but ask them to name five British counterparts and they will be stuck. That is not because the talent does not exist, but because we just don’t get that exposure here.” David Harewood, The Guardian Oct 2007
We really need to break the stereotypes of Black British women played out in film, and I think that Dreams of a Life does this, as it creates a complex story of Joyce Vincent.
“Essentially, black women in modern British cinema fall into three categories. There’s the strong, determined single mother who tries to fight the system for the good of her offspring but usually ends up losing the valiant struggle (think Bullet Boy). There’s the young woman trying to do the right thing against the example set by her peer group (think Kidulthood). And then there’s the invisible black woman, in the film to provide nothing but sexy background fodder (think anything made by Guy Ritchie). And that’s when black women appear on the screen at all. To watch Richard Curtis’s films, you’d think no black women lived in Notting Hill, or anywhere else in the UK for that matter.” Guardian 10 April 2006 Amina taylor
The camera not only shows the world, or versions of the world, but it shapes our world. What is seen on screen is, crucially, very powerful. To predict the market, to decide what is commercial, limits what we see and surely must be at the heart of why so few women direct films and fewer write them. Women’s stories are not seen as commercially viable and are therefore relegated.
“What’s so bad about wanting to direct women’s stories? It makes me so angry that we are put down and made to feel like crap because we are interested in seeing women’s stories onscreen.”” Women and Hollywood February 2009 Mellissa Silverstein
Women’s stories in films are so restricted we are missing out on creating important narratives. Joyce’s story needs to be told on a bigger canvas than some grim TV documentary, which is why it is so important to fight to make it a cinema film, full of originality and surprises, and to make sure it reaches an audience regardless of what the marketers and distributors say: a female audience, a black audience, an audience tired of the same old thing, hungry for change. It is a battle cry really, and I truly hope that Dreams of a Life will be part of a new wave of British Women’s Cinema, that questions form and how we make a film, that questions what subjects are deemed worthy and marketable, and that engenders a female audience that is undoubtedly out there.