Maria Jansson

Representing women: Gendering Swedish Film Culture and Production

Film is an important cultural expression. Films mirror as well as mould our understandings of society and contribute to public debate. Thus, questions of who is permitted to make films and what messages can be communicated are important. This project departs from a theoretical understanding of film and filmmaking as a system of representations. In feminist Film Studies, representation refers to how women and gender relations are portrayed in film, but representation can also be understood in terms of women’s presence in the film industry. Focussing on significant moments in film history, the aim is to investigate the gendered character of the system of representation in Swedish film. How does the presence of women filmmakers impact the representation of women on the screen? In which conditions and on what terms do women’s films gain access to the public sphere? The project will analyze instances where women in film culture have acted for change and identify political, social, legal, economic and cultural conditions that have circumscribed women’s work. The main contribution of the project is its multi-disciplinary approach which enables a discussion of links between women filmmakers, their working conditions, the films produced and how they enter the public sphere. Combining the disciplines of Film, Politics and Law enables the development of a theoretical framework that connects relevant debates around cultural and political representation.
Final report
Representing Women: Gendering Swedish Film Culture and Production
(Numbers refers to publications in the publication list.)

The project took its theoretical starting point in the twofold meaning of the word representation in relation to gender. In political theory the word is used to designate political representation and women's presence, while in film theory it refers to on-screen representations, including filmic representations of women. Our aim was to examine women's own actions and initiatives to change the film industry and to investigate political, social, legal and economic aspects of women's conditions in production, distribution and exhibition, as well as to analyse representations of women on screen.

The work process in the project took off by a launch at the symposium Past, Present and Future Film History, which project participant Ingrid Stigsdotter arranged at Filmhuset in collaboration with the Swedish Film Institute in late autumn 2017. The research process began with an extensive collection of material: a series of 22 interviews with women working in the film industry, archival studies, studies of government public record, legal texts and contracts, close readings of films, and collection of news items on gender equality efforts in the film industry and film reception material. At an early stage, the research team wrote a join article on methodological issues (11). Employing expertise from different disciplines in analysing the materials provided opportunities to develop theoretical insights on how the two meanings of representation interact in the workings of the film industry. The researchers have acted as guest editors of special issues of two journals: Gender, Work & Organization (6) and the Journal of Scandinavian Cinema (5), thus drawing international attention to the project and contributing to the establishment of an important international network. Parts of some interviews were also filmed, and the interviewers produced a short film, in which the participants talk about their experiences in the film industry (59). In 2019, the project organized a symposium funded by RJ Research Initiation (F18-1328:1) with international researchers and practitioners working in the Swedish film industry. In February 2020, we met with the project's international reference group to discuss draft papers written by the project team. The project concluded with a seminar at the cinema Zita in 2022, open to the general public, with presentations of research results and a premiere screening of the project’s short film. During its final year, a spin-off effect of the project has been new grant applications and initiation of work on related research projects. Project participant Maria Jansson is PI of the Swedish part of the new project DIGISCREENS (European funding partnership Chanse, Swedish funder Forte) which started in October 2022 and will compare distribution and film on digital TV platforms in five European countries. The project has also inspired a series of workshops funded by NOS-HS 2022-23, largely as a result of the contribution of project participants Ingrid Stigsdotter and Louise Wallenberg. The workshops deal with comparative studies of women's work in the Scandinavian film industries, focusing on specific professional categories. Project participant Frantzeska Papadopoulou Skarp has applied for a new project entitled 'Law and Fiction', which aims to investigate how fiction influences the development of law and how existing regulations can affect fiction. New questions about 'relational contract theory' have led Papadopoulou Skarp to work on methodology for archival research in law, and to explore issues of inclusion/exclusion from the scope of copyright law, in collaboration with scriptwriters and film editors.

During the course of the work, additional research questions have emerged. For instance, investigating resistance to the implementation of gender equality measures (1) and comparative studies of gender equality policies in the film sector in Sweden and Spain (7, 9, 17). Methods and perspectives from digital humanities have also been explored (13, 14). Another additional theme concerns in-depth studies of the conditions of women in certain film professional categories, particularly in costume design (31, 32, 33, 34). Finally, studies carried out on the interview material with a special focus on the intersections of gender and age, as well as motherhood (20, 21) should be highlighted. Maria Jansson and Louise Wallenberg intend to continue exploring the latter question in dialogue with the network of international researchers that we have managed to establish.

The three most important results from the project are related to (a) feminist production studies, (b) theoretical and empirical investigations into the twofold meanings of representation and (c) studies of women’s agency in the film industry.
The project has contributed to so-called feminist production studies by taking a holistic approach to women's agency and conditions in the film industry. In relation to existing research, the project significantly combines the study of production, distribution, exhibition and meaning in film, and includes the impact of gender equality policies and legal regulations on production. The project has examined how legislation has affected the opportunities for women to maintain control of how their creations are used and circulated, but more importantly how, and under what conditions, copyrights have been administered (2, 26, 27). A unique material spanning from 1912 to 2021, consisting of contracts, correspondence between authors and their legal representatives, and documents from finalised and ongoing legal disputes, has provided the opportunity to reach a more profound understanding of industry practices and culture that have had an impact on women filmmakers (2, 3, 12, 26, 27). The impact of gender equality reforms on women’s conditions has shown that 20 years of gender equality policy work has led to an increased proportion of women in so-called creative positions behind the camera. At the same time, the project has shown that the power of the director and others in creative positions has declined in favour of financiers, distributors and producers. This affects women's conditions and, not least, the possibilities for women (and men) creators to contribute to new ways of representing gender relations on screen (see e.g., 1, 2, 3, 10, 12)

The project has also explored the relationship between women's conditions and experiences, and how this affects on-screen representations and vice versa (1, 3, 19). To examine how production and representation interact is a unique approach that has contributed to new theoretical development. Drawing on feminist institutionalism and feminist film theory, the project has been able to show that women filmmakers consider whom to include when putting their team together, and experiment with working methods to ensure a more open working environment that allows more complex representations (19, 21). The project has also shown that in mainstream productions, traditional ideas, and stereotypes about how women and men should be represented on film also influence the production process. For example, the ideal of the male gaze positions women directors who want to represent women in untraditional ways in a precarious position and leads to them being challenged in their professional role (1, 19, 35). The presence of the idea of the future film during production in combination with the male gaze means that the vulnerability of female actors during production functions as a prerequisite for common film portrayals (1, 35). The research has also shown that the interaction between film representation and film production has led the interviewed filmmakers to develop a range of counterstrategies (1, 19, 35).

Through the analysis of historical archival material, the project has investigated women's pioneering efforts and agency during early Swedish film production using new perspectives from digital humanities and feminist film historiography (13, 14) and highlighted the potential of future collaborations between gender studies, film studies and computer science for automated analyses of gender and representation (14). The more historically oriented research also includes the publication of an anthology on the agency and visibility of historical women film workers (4). Further, studies of women’s organising and collective voicing of their conditions and their demands for gender equality efforts during the period 1975-2018 shed light on the interaction between women’s organising and policy (1, 18)

Throughout the course of the project, results have been continuously presented in both national and international research contexts, such as research conferences (37-45). The scientific results have also been communicated through articles in international journals, anthologies and monographs. Results have been presented to film professionals and interested members of the public, both nationally and internationally, for example at the Karla Film Festival (55, 58), through talks and presentations at local cinemas and at gatherings in Istanbul and Rabat. Popular scientific texts have also been published on sites such as (51, 52), in the film magazine FLM (50). Project results have received attention in Swedish national news, for example through a full-page article in SvD.

Articles in journals with agreements with Swedish universities have been published in Open Access. For one e-book and some chapters in e-books we have paid for open access. Articles and book chapters that are not covered by agreements or paid open access are published as full text in Diva and on Research gate, in so-called ‘accepted version’, after the embargo period (when relevant).
Grant administrator
Örebro University
Reference number
SEK 6,712,100
RJ Projects
Studies on Film