The BFI Filmography provides a unique opportunity to scrutinise the history of the UK film industry in a way that has never been possible before. With a comprehensive database of UK feature films at hand, we have been able to add layers of knowledge onto this data in order to examine the full timeline of UK film history. The major questions currently being asked of UK film focus primarily on diversity and inclusion and how successful our industry is at achieving these objectives. In mapping gender onto the BFI Filmography, we are able for the first time to tell the story of gender across an entire film industry across time, and lay bare the facts about gender equality in UK film.
The Filmography is a dynamic resource, and the underlying data is constantly being reviewed and updated. If you spot something you think needs clarifying or changing please let us know.
Why did you choose to focus on gender in the Filmography?
With recent debates surrounding the careers of women in the film industry, it seemed timely to use the new knowledge contained in our database to contribute to this discussion. If we could discover people’s gender and layer this onto the entire history of the UK film industry, what would that look like and what stories could that tell us? Once we know the truth about the prospects for women in the film industry, what lessons can we learn in order to improve equality in this field? On a practical note, we also felt gender was a dataset we could potentially complete and therefore provide the most useful overview of this topic.
How did you find out the gender of everyone in the Filmography?
We adopted a bulk approach to begin with, obtaining a list of forenames from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). They compile these names from birth certificates year on year, noting whether they were given to male or female babies. We compared these to the forenames of the cast and crew in our Filmography and where there was a match, inferred that it was likely that person was male or female based on their given forename.
The ONS names are obviously limited to names given to children in England and Wales and therefore err towards English and Welsh language forenames, potentially omitting people with a continental European, Asian or African heritage. The list is also no help for people whose names could be gendered male or female e.g. Mel, Frankie, Alex. For these we have either tried to find alternative datasets to compare ours with, or undertaken some manual research for those people who had worked on five or more films. We also used any other information which might indicate whether or not someone identified as male or female e.g. their name articles (Mr, Mrs, Miss etc.); whether their biographical information referred to them as ‘sister’, ‘brother’, ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘actor’, ‘actress’; if their character forenames indicated gender where their name didn’t.
Is it 100% complete?
We have inferred the gender for around 91% of people credited in the Filmography. We are continually tweaking and adding to this data and our ambition is to complete the set. However, with 250,000 people in the Filmography and that number ever growing, it is unlikely that we will ever find the gender for everyone. If you notice any omissions or have any information we can use, please let us know.
Is it 100% correct? Does this affect the accuracy of the data analysis and interpretation?
As our method applied gender in bulk to the majority of our dataset, we only claim to have ‘inferred’ this information, so cannot claim that it is 100% correct. We feel that this inferred gender is enough knowledge to be able to make wide-reaching assertions about the UK film industry and report findings about its workforce. We also display the margin of uncertainty in our Filmography web platform, to make sure that our data visualisations make it clear where the genderisation is partly complete. We are always looking to verify this information so feel free to let us know if you spot any errors.
Is this ethical?
The intent in gathering this information is clear – we are solely using it to identify areas in the sector which are under-represented, in order to advocate for change and improve this situation in the future. As this is for the purposes of advancing knowledge of diversity, inclusion and equality in the film industry, we are confident that our actions are not only ethical but necessary. We are dedicated to handling this data in a secure and responsible manner so if you are uncomfortable with inference about you or someone you know in this way, please contact us.
Why is everyone either ‘male’ OR ‘female’? What about people who identify as neither/both?
We are aware that the notion of gender is fluid and in no way as binary as our method has prescribed. Where possible, we have tried to take into account which gender a person identifies as. However, as our method of assigning gender is inference from first name and not self-declaration by the person themselves, it is clear that nuances may be lost. We are trying to develop ways of collecting this data in the future, so that our data is more nuanced and accurate. In the meantime, we have faith that our method makes a valuable contribution to the discussion around gender in the film industry and ask you to contact us if you have any contributions to make.
Do you intend to add other information to the Filmography?
Yes. We would love to have as much information in the Filmography as possible to be able to present as rich and full history of the UK film industry as we can. Information about the make-up of the people working in our industry can help us to identify areas where we are under-performing in terms of equality and opportunity. Anything we can do to contribute to and further that discussion is essential. We have already started to research the ethnicity of people in our Filmography, a ten-year sample of which was released for our Black Star season in October 2016. This project is ongoing and included in the BFI 2022 strategy. We are also working to develop a methodology to collect this information at source in the form of self-declaration, so that we do not have to undertake laborious, retrospective research.
What if I disagree with information in the Filmography?
Please contact us. Any help you can provide is welcome and necessary for us to make this work as accurate as possible. Thank You.