Back into 2012, with only 32 percent of Swedish state-funded features produced by women, and women directors and screenwriters underrepresented, Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute (SFI), decided that something needed to be changed. So she set a target that 50 per cent of films would be written, directed and produced by women within four years. For years later, film industry can see the striking result: almost 100% mission accomplished. Anna Serner is coming up with new plans for the future while being a role model for lots of European and American film industry bodies. However, not everybody is happy with the reform. Surprisingly, there both men and women between unsatisfied ones. 

The Background

Serner was raised in a family of a lawyer, where the justice was important. The family was very much into gender equality. When Serner got her first job as a CEO she was immediately called by a journalist and asked to comment on the women in her company are less paid than men. Serner explained the situation as she saw it: it was pretty shitty. Accidentally, that became the first step in her women rights activism. The Magazine came out with a cover photo of her and with the headline “That’s Shitty!” So Serner became a spokesperson for gender inequality. Since she was in a leading position, she realized she can actually change things, not just talk about them.

Anna Serner


Fifteen years later she became a CEO of Swedish Film Institute, where the gender inequality was as big as anywhere else. She launched a 50/50 gender mandate for all Swedish productions.The institute doesn’t have a male or female quota, Serner said — individual commissioners decide which projects they like and then make the case for why those projects should receive funding. All the works were measured in the same way. Today the mission is accomplished and Anna Serner is working on a new plan. By 2020 they want 50/50 in front and behind the camera and they want every film to pass the Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

What’s the attitude of male directors towards Serner’s campaign? She admits lots of big ones support her. However, not because they are feminists but because they can afford it. Ones who are against the reform are “ok-movie” directors, anxious if they are going to make the next film. Serner explains that the decisions in art industry are often made not out of what’s best for the busyness but what’s best for you. In Swedish film industry men used to be a majority.

The Nordic Women In Film

One of the strongest arguments against Serner’s reform is that it is often hard to find enough female directors. As Serner sais that’s not true. To prove that she launched a Nordic Women In Film web-site, which gathers all the nordic female film contributors, like Wikipedia. The site is filled with female cinematographers and it is also supposed to be used as a base for their CVs. The platform is also supposed to inspire women, creating female role-models in the film industry.

Even if the quantity of men and women who want to be behind the camera is unequal, the demand begets supply, doesn’t it? Since the mandate was implemented the number of female applications augmented. Anna Serner’s reform encourages more and more women to realize their dream, which seemed impossible only three years ago.

It’s still a fact that the main box office films, which are usually made with a lot of money, are made by men. That’s not because women fail at doing them. It’s because they’re not allowed to do them. The next target for us is to get women bigger budgets, – tells Serner to The Vice Magazine.


On The Other Hand

Despite the reform is meant to support women, not only male directors were upset. Women also found it controversial, because they wanted to be considered “directors” rather than “women directors” and because their funding applications were still being rejected. We say 90 per cent ‘no’ and that goes for women and men so there were a lot of women believing ‘now it’s my turn’ and they got rejected, – Serner tells to The Sunday Morning Heard. These are another 50/50 of the reform.

There is no doubt that since the 50/50 mandate was implemented, Sweden has a better film industry. A key measure that is that twice as many films are screening in leading international festivals “compared to when there were only white men” making features. However, that’s not necessarily because women directors are better than men, but because there has been a lack of female perspective on stories so [these films] feel unique and original and that’s what everyone is looking for.


Goal 2020

At a seminar during Almedalen Week 2016 the new action plan Goal 2020: Gender equality in film production, both in front of and behind the camera was presented.The plan contains four concrete steps:

  • Women in key roles in more and larger productions: A qualitative survey to be conducted into what films women get the opportunity to make, and why.
  • Increased visibility: We continue updating the digital knowledge bank
  • Counting continues, both behind and in front of the camera: We produce an annual gender equality report featuring qualitative analyses in the world of film.
  • Increased knowledge about gender and diversity: We hold an annual film education seminar focusing on gender, which targets teachers and film educators to reach children and young people.

The certain amount of unsatisfied people is an indispensable part of any reform. Anna Serner and her team are in the right direction and it’s just a matter of time the situation will get balanced.

Subscribe to WM Daily. Be In Touch With Rebellious Voices