The Rise of Film TikTok & Its Female Gatekeepers

Warner Bros/Moviestore/Shutterstock & Pavan Bivigou/TikTok.
Zendaya & Timothee Chalamet in Dune (2021), Pavan Bivigou's profile on TikTok.
TikTok had been untouched on Pavan’s phone for about a year when the pandemic hit and she, like many other film-lovers, found themselves at a loss as theatres shut their doors for the foreseeable future. Restlessness, fear and boredom crept in, and during the height of isolation, she began using the video-sharing platform to keep a personal diary of what she was watching. Seeking distraction and connection, hordes of other displaced cinema-goers also had the same idea, and creators in their thousands began to pour in, joining a sacred space where the love of everything screen-related is key: Film TikTok.
Today, the hashtags #filmtiktok and #filmtok tally up just under 3 billion views in total, and that’s not taking into consideration the numerous sub-categories of the community which branch off into their own obsessive corners of the internet: #filmtokmusical #blackfilmtok #tiktokshortfilm – the list goes on. Here the creators blur the boundaries of film content with anything from recommendation videos, critical video essays, crowdsourced projects, to fan trivia and Timothée Chalamet supercuts. At a time when it’s another day, another depressing statistic about women in film, it’s notably a place where Gen Z female creators are reclaiming, driving and changing conversations around movies.  
“Male genius is a myth,” London-based creator Pavan denounces wryly in a voiceover on one video championing forgotten female editors throughout history. Her other videos explore everything from our obsession with car sex scenes, to meditations on the beauty of Black skin in cinematography. “My thing in talking about film is to try to respond to it emotionally,” she explains. “A lot of criticism pulls a film apart and looks at its nuts and bolts —  how it was made and why, what it means. I always wonder about what it feels like to experience the film first and why we are happy to experience certain films repeatedly — what film watching gives us. That may not be deemed valuable in other spaces but has been well received on TikTok.” It is young, female film criticism in its most unfiltered, rawest state, edited into visually impactful and digestible bite-size pieces.
Kristen, a 17-year-old soon-to-be college student from New York, is another creator who started her account at the beginning of lockdown. Her videos spotlighting Asian-American actors and lesser-known ‘underground’ Asian films have gained her 13.9K followers. “It does make me feel proud… implementing diversity in this cis-white-male-dominated industry of film and film-making,” she says. “I get messages from people saying they watched a movie from my account and felt more connected with their identity.” After all, film has always been a source of escapism and connection, two things sorely lacking during the pandemic – often even acting as a lifeline for some. Kristen’s videos including “Films to honour suicide prevention" and “Movies that taught me it’s ok to be alone” have a mental health focus which has resonated with her viewers, resulting in around 90K plays on each. “I’m glad [they] got the amount of attention it did, because those films personally got me out of some times where I felt unstable.” 
Not just a self-soothing mechanism, the creators are also cognisant of the ripple effect of their discourse. What we watch has always had a direct impact on culture and society, and as long as conversations in film are singular so will be viewpoints by the masses that consume them. “The dominance of the “film bro” is being questioned and undercut on Filmtok,” muses 25-year-old Eva, a creator from Virginia whose front-facing camera videos sit at the intersection of feminism, film and comedy and have pulled in 1.2 million likes. “There’s a ton to discuss in terms of race, gender, and sexuality in film, and the darker potential that it can have as a tool of propaganda or in terms of producing and reinforcing negative stereotypes that genuinely affect people’s lives. The stories we tell as a culture, and the funding that goes behind that, has a very tangible impact on all of us.”
There’s also no denying the way that Film TikTok has been instrumental in reclaiming older works which were shunned due to systematic industry misogyny in place at the time. One notable example is 2009’s revenge-horror Jennifer’s Body, written by Diablo Cody and starring Megan Fox. Now in the age of social media and the second wave of #MeToo, swathes of female TikTok creators have helped bring the film back to popularity, even installing cult status. “I love the way TikTok helped reclaim Jennifer’s Body as this wonderful movie for young women to explore growing into themselves and negotiating their desires,” says Pavan. “Young women watch that movie and they get it… how hungry and hungered teenagers bodies are. And TikTok being a new space, it allows all film fans to set their own agendas so they can discuss movies like Jennifer’s Body on their own terms.” 
One only needs to look at #filmtokmusical and remember the likes of Bridgerton: The Musical and Ratatouille: The Musical – both TikTok cultivated and crowdsourced projects, with the latter actually turning into an IRL all-star Broadway production early this year – to see that there is a rich source of untapped creative talent on the app, and the masses will always push the agenda. “It’s crazy when you think about it: a specific scene in a film can go viral on TikTok and suddenly that film is in Netflix’s Top 10 for the week – the influence really is huge and unlike that of any other platform,” says Daisy Connock, a 19-year-old student from Staffordshire. “On an individual level the impact might seem small, but I do think there is huge potential for the successful marketing of films on TikTok that hasn’t been fully explored yet.” 
It’s not just criticism where young women are finding their voice heard on Film TikTok. Filmmakers are flocking to the platform in efforts to democratise film knowledge for all. Christina Dobre is a 26-year-old filmmaker from New York with 82K followers, whose educational videos range from giving viewers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes antics on film sets, teaching etiquette for production jobs, and debunking career myths for burgeoning female filmmakers. This corner of the internet has been instrumental at creating a sense of community, which many people clung too during lockdown, and one which has grown exponentially. “Many of the friends that I have made this year have come from Film TikTok!” she confirms. “I have met a few who live in my NYC area, others across the country and even across the world. It is truly an amazing space to be in and share our love for filmmaking together. I plan to host a film TikTok meet-up in NYC sometime soon!”
TikTok has been a vital resource when it comes to cracking open the elusive ivory tower of cinema and nurturing the next generation of filmmakers. Rare access and intel is now easily accessible at the tap of a thumb. Student indie filmmaker and director Sarah, 24, Florida, has been documenting the day-by-day highs and lows going into the making of her queer coming-of-age film Egghead & Twinkie, even finding the community’s corroboration has fortified her belief in the project. “When I originally came up with the idea for this film, I was faced with criticism that an LGBTQ comedy with a mixed-Asian protagonist was 'too niche' for mainstream audiences,” she remembers. “Our reception on TikTok has not only shown me that this is untrue, but that many people have been waiting for a story like this. As a queer, mixed-Asian creative, in many ways, I was making this film for my younger self. But now I know that there are many others who felt the same way as I did growing up, and I'm making the film for them too."
While the forum for open discussion on TikTok does appear to be more democratic than other spaces such as Twitter, YouTube, Letterboxd due to its creative editing capabilities and engaged Gen Z audience, as with any internet community there are always bound to be trolls, something which Emmylou, a 20-year-old creator from New York has experienced after gaining around 15,000 followers in just a couple of weeks at the beginning of the pandemic. “I get some pretty awful comments and DMs – 'You’re a woman so your opinion doesn’t matter’,” she says. “Unfortunately, this is just the reality of being a woman with a significant amount of followers on any social media platform. I worry that closed-minded comments like these might scare women and non-binary people away from the community and prevent it from growing.”
TikTok has claimed that its community guidelines have gotten stricter this year in aims to protect its users, but creators are finding they often have to take the role of moderating into their own hands. “It’s worse when you’re a woman and, dare I say, Black, especially if you are talking about race in a film that is beloved,” says Pavan. “You can disagree and that disagreement can become a discussion but I have zero tolerance for rudeness, meanness, racism, transphobia, sexism, I delete those comments as soon as I see them and I will delete a post if it attracts too much of that." 
But thankfully for her and many other female creators, the majority of their online experience has been positive. “My interests are specific enough and I generally focus on things I want to champion rather than things I hate,” she says. "How Black skin is lit! How Minari reminded of my family! How Jim Jarmusch is good for heartbreak! There is not a lot to argue about but maybe when I finally get around to discussing Marvel movies there will be.” 
Love it, hate it, or simply feel out the loop on it, the power of TikTok is undeniable. And its creators are aware of the sway they possess on such an influential platform, with many having been approached for work opportunities such as internships, panel talks at film festivals, potential Netflix collabs – with even one creator being tapped by a director to write dialogue for a short film for Gucci
Bobbi is a 22-year-old creator from New York, whose nostalgia-rich pop culture account engages her 230K followers with everything from relaxing film history ASMR to musings on best TV moms. “I think there are plenty of future Academy Award winning filmmakers, screenwriters, and directors on FilmTok right now and I think it's going to be amazing to see where everyone goes beyond TikTok,” she says decisively. “I think the community will only get bigger and filled with even more perspectives and I just hope to continue to be a part of that.”
Is the future of Film on TikTok? Only time will tell – but its gatekeepers are absolutely convinced. 

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