Spotlight on Research: Sweden

Spotlight on Research: Sweden

April 12, 2023
Maria Jansson, Louise Wallenberg, Ingrid Stigsdotter and Frantzeska Papadopoulou.


Despite more than 20 years of gender equality measures, women in the Swedish film industry still navigate an environment entrenched by male norms. This is an overarching insight from the 4-year research project “Representing women: gendering Swedish film culture,” a project carried out by four interdisciplinary scholars at Stockholm University and Örebro university. The project aimed to explore and analyze the conditions and agency of women working in the Swedish film sector in different positions. In the following, we will highlight three findings from the project related to women’s authority on the set, the representation of women on screen, and the resistance against gender equality efforts. The results are based on an analysis of 22 interviews with women working in the film industry in conjunction with studies of policies, legal texts, contracts, films, and news items on gender equality efforts in the film industry.

We found that traditional ideas about how women and men should be represented in film influence the production process in mainstream productions. In the interviews conducted, it became clear that women directors had to work to maintain authority on the set constantly and that they had to develop specific strategies to stay in control. They also explained how they constantly have to fight and justify their ideas, especially when they want to portray women in non-stereotypical ways. We also found that institutionalized ideas about the portrayal of gender on screen affected production. Challenging those ideas led to women directors’ authority and professionalism being challenged. This indicates that even though women in so-called creative positions have increased due to gender equality efforts, much remains to be done for women and men to work on equal conditions. Another conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the interplay between production and representation on-screen needs to be investigated further.

In our interview material, it became apparent that challenging the traditionally circumscribed and sexist representation of women on screen by including portrayals of complex and not always likable women was often a strenuous struggle. Especially producers and distributors questioned non-normative representations of women who were not easily categorized and/or sexually attractive and likable, frequently arguing that these outside-the-box representations would not appeal to the larger audience. Hence, these gatekeepers often proved to be stuck in static and discrediting notions about audience expectations and needs. But it was not only women characters outside of the box that proved difficult: women directors who wanted to focus on men and men’s relationships were also questioned, and this was because they, as women, were not considered to be able to tell ‘authentic’ stories about men.

When the project started in 2018, Sweden was seen as a forerunner regarding gender equality in the film industry and was hailed in international media. However, the domestic debate presented quite a different story. In the Swedish press, the criticism of gender equality increased over the years and peaked in 2022. Following a louder voicing of far-right criticism portraying gender equality as part of a “gender ideology,” the Swedish Film Institute’s gender equality work was accused of violating the arms-length principle. The government embraced this critique by deleting the wording about gender equality in the government’s assignment to the Swedish Film Institute for 2023 in favor of a formulation about “artistic freedom.” The language change can only be interpreted as a strong signal regarding the future of gender equality, even if gender equality and diversity remain one of the goals of public film policy.

Apart from these three results, the project has contributed to feminist production studies by taking a holistic approach to women’s agency and conditions in the film industry, including analyses of under what conditions copyrights have been administered. Analyzing historic archival material, the project has also investigated women’s pioneering efforts and agency during early Swedish film production from the 1910s and on. It has also studied women’s collective mobilization and their voicing demands for better conditions from the 1970s cine-feminist movements to #metoo. Further, studies based on the interview material focusing on the intersections of gender, age, and motherhood have also been published and disseminated. If you are interested in reading more about our results, we have enclosed a list of selected open-access publications below.



Wallenberg, Louise, Papadopoulou Frantzeska, Maaret Koskinen & Tytti Soila (2023): Now about All these women in the Swedish Film Industry. New York and London: Bloomsbury.

Stigsdotter, Ingrid (ed.) 2019. Making the invisible visible: Reclaiming women’s agency in Swedish film history and beyond. Sweden: Kriterium. DOI:

Calderón-Sandoval, Orianna & Maria Jansson. (2022). Subverting technologies of gender in male-dominated gender regimes: (self) representations of Spanish and Swedish women filmmakers. Feminist Media Studies, online first,

Jansson, Maria. & Orianna Calderón-Sandoval. (2022). Opposition to gender quotas in Sweden and Spain: Debates about gender equality in the film industry. Women’s Studies: International Forum, 93,

Jansson, Maria & Louise Wallenberg (2023). Women’s Agency in the Swedish Film Industry; Annoying Little Buggers and Passionate Team Players. Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, 12(2),

Jansson, Maria, Frantzeska Papadopoulou, Ingrid Stigsdotter & Louise Wallenberg (2021). The Final Cut: Directors, Producers and the Gender Regime of the Swedish Film Industry. Gender, Work & Organization, 28(6), 2010-2025,

Wallenberg, Louise & Maria Jansson (2021). On and off screen: Women’s work in the screen industries. Gender, Work and Organization, 28 (6), 1991-1996.

Jansson, Maria & Louise Wallenberg (2020). Experiencing male dominance in Swedish film production. In: Susan Liddy, Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, practice and power. Palgrave Macmillan,

Jansson, Maria & Louise Wallenberg (2021). Representing and experiencing motherhood on and off-screen in Swedish film. In: Susan Liddy; Anne O’Brien, Media Work, Mothers and Motherhood: Negotiating the International Audio-Visual Industry (pp. 45-62). Routledge, DIVA:

Stigsdotter, Ingrid (2019). Tracing women’s agency in Swedish film history and beyond. An introduction. I: Stigsdotter, I., 2019. Making the invisible visible: Reclaiming women’s agency in Swedish film history and beyond. Sweden: Kriterium, doi:

Stigsdotter, Ingrid (2019). Women film exhibition pioneers in Sweden: Agency, invisibility and first wave feminism. I: Stigsdotter, I., 2019. Making the invisible visible: Reclaiming women’s agency in Swedish film history and beyond. Sweden: Kriterium, doi:

Jansson, Maria (2022). Den manliga blickens filmpolitik. FLM årgång 16 vår 2022.

Stigsdotter, Ingrid (2018). Doing Women’s Film & TV History,

Jansson, Maria (2019). Wifti-talk,

Jansson, Maria (2021). Hidden Labour: Women’s Conditions in the Swedish Film Industry. Talk at Creative Industries Research and Innovation Network (CIRIN),

Jansson, Maria & Louise Wallenberg (2020). Carla Research presentation,