Kenyan Director Wanuri Kahiu Tells Davos, "Buy Tickets" to Back Women Filmmakers

Wanuri Kahiu attends the SAGIndie Director's Brunch during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival - Getty-H 2018
Fred Hayes/Getty Images

"I'm not saying you have to see the film.... Do it for the data," the 'Rafiki' director said after the Oscars' snub of women filmmakers for best picture.

After Oscars' snub of female filmmakers for best director, Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu urged Davos delegates to buy cinema tickets to support women directing movies in Hollywood and worldwide.

"If there's a female director and you want to see more female-directed films, buy tickets. Do it for the data. Because this is the data for the industry that allows us to continue to make work," Kahiu, whose Cannes-debuting film Rafiki was banned in her native Kenya, told the World Economic Forum in Davos during a session that was webcast.

"I'm not saying you have to see the film. I'm just saying you have to buy the tickets. Do it for the data, and do it for us, because we're doing the work," she added during a panel on artistic freedom. Kahiu wrote and directed the LGBTQ film Rafiki, which made history as the first Kenyan film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival even as the movie was banned in her home country due to its lesbian storyline.

During her keynote address, Kahiu distinguished between direct censorship in Africa, China, Russia and elsewhere and "subtle censorship" in Hollywood.

"In America, where they have an economic type of censorship, if you go into a studio, they say you can't make a film with women as leads because no one wants to see a woman as a lead. Or no one wants to see a transgender lead, or a black person as a lead character," she argued.

Kahiu in Hollywood is working with Millie Bobby Brown to adapt the YA novel The Thing About Jellyfish for Universal, with producers Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane of MWM Studios, Bruna Papandrea and Reese Witherspoon on board the project.

She is also working with Oscar-winner Viola Davis and Nnedi Okorafor on a TV adaptation of the Wild Seed novel for Amazon Prime Video. But that collaboration follows women directors in Hollywood once again being excluded from the best director category for the 2020 Oscars.

According to the latest study from USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the number of top-grossing films from female directors reached a new high in 2019. That's after films like Greta Gerwig's Little Women, Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers, Olivia Wilde's Booksmart, Lulu Wang's The Farewell and Melina Matsoukas' Queen and Slim lifted the percentage of female-helmed movies performing at the local multiplex.

The study found that 10.6 percent of the directors of 2019's top-grossing movies were women, which is the highest percentage in 13 years and a major jump from 2018's 4.5 percent. But while the number of female directors increased, the study also found that the percentage of female directors from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups had dropped from 21.4 percent in 2018 to 16.8 percent last year.

The ratio of white directors to underrepresented directors is approximately 5-1. Historically, less than 1 percent of all directors in the last 13 years were women of color.