The media industry is still failing to address lack of female representation behind the camera
2018 is widely celebrated as a year of unprecedented progress for female professionals in the media industry. Production houses pledge their support for gender equality left right and centre, and #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have dominated headlines- and rightly so!
Yet, while we are all looking at the red carpet, the real story is behind the camera. Recent figures reveal women account for under 10% of directors are women, and less than a quarter of television and radio professionals.
This is a devastating imbalance, which in any other industry would cause outcry; surely it is time this gender imbalance was debated more openly?
Participation in the industry
You only have to look at our film awards to see this gender imbalance. At Cannes, just one female director (Jane Campion) has ever secured the top award, the Palme d’Or, and only two women have ever won the prize for best director.
Statistics are similar at The Oscars. Kathryn Bigelow- with the Hurt Locker in 2009- is the only female to win best director; while just a single woman has even been nominated for a cinematography prize. It is the same at awards and festivals across the globe.
Competition prizes do not necessarily represent the industry as a whole, however they provide a pretty good expression of the wider picture. A study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, revealed in over 900 popular new films, just 7.3% of directors. This, according to the BFI’s 2017 study, is a more profound gender disparity than 1913.
It is not just Hollywood, the same pattern is visible across global television and journalism. According to the 2015 report, “Who Makes the News”, which studied 114 countries, women accounted for just 24% of contributors to radio, television and newspaper. It is statistics like these pushing campaign groups worldwide to voice the worrying lack of female representation in public media.
“While it feels like commissioners are finally getting the message that audiences are interested in female stories, and that female voices need to be heard, it’s worrying that this overdue trend doesn’t seem to be echoed so strongly behind the camera,” says Emma Bullimore, London-based entertainment journalist, TV critic and broadcaster.
So why are women absent?
The culture of masculinity behind the camera has repeatedly been identified as a barrier for participation. Directing and producing have long been typecast as male roles, creating a gender bias which has frequently side-lined women.
This was pinpointed by research project “Calling the Shots”, a study of the UK film industry conducted by Southampton University. When interviewing female film makers, researchers found many had experienced aggressive domination of masculinity on shoots.
This climate has pervaded television and journalism. The torrent of vile abuse directed towards television presenter and renowned historian, Mary Beard, following her appearance on a political panel discussion, exposes the struggle many women face when attempting to establish their voices in the media; even when, like Beard, more than qualified to do so.
Angel Melo, a producer, fixer and director in Brazil agrees. “I am a tough, hardworking and highly experienced individual, yet I find myself continually patronised and my intelligence undermined.”
“I am not claiming every male in the industry is a misogynist, in fact I have fantastic professional relationships with many men in my crew. Rather it’s an entire culture here in Brazil, where my identity as a black female in this country has created many obstacles throughout my career,” she said.
“The masculine culture erodes women’s confidence when securing funding for new productions,” Said Film Maker, Jennifer Brea. Brea was speaking at a panel discussion, Demystifying Film Financing, hosted by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film, where several directors and producers discussed their experiences.
This has led to what Kate Kinninmont, Chief Executive of Women in Film and Television UK, described as a “relentless squeezing out” of females in the industry.
Kinninmont’s claims are echoed Southampton University’s Research, which revealed between 2000 and 2015, 25% of films had no women in director, writer, producer or editing roles.
“It has been a tough ride,” Melo reflected. “There have been times when I do feel I have had to work harder than my male peers to prove my abilities, and it has taken many years to get to this point in my career.”
Push for change?
The Post-Weinstein landscape is changing dramatically. This year’s film awards season was dominated by cinema’s big stars pledging their support for gender equality movements. Both Director Ridley Scott and actress, Frances McDormand, decried the absence of female voices behind the camera, while Brie Larson condemned review panels for the over representation of white males.
Meanwhile, executives at Cannes echoed these principles with a pledge to secure gender parity in the competition programme by 2020.
“We must expand the breadth of voices in journalism and media,” said ex-director of BBC News, James Harding, speaking at the Journalists’ Charity Inaugural lecture earlier this month.
However, this gender imbalance does not mean women are absent in the industry.
“It’s important to emphasize that it’s not a lack of women in behind the camera – we are here, we are talented, and we are ready to work,” says Paisley Smith, Canadian filmmaker & virtual reality creator, and found of Virtual Reality Girls.
Indeed, the eminence of female professionals across the globe is displayed in one of The British Film Institute’s (BFI) latest positive actions initiatives. The BFI’s ‘Women with a Camera’ series sought to deconstruct widespread masculine images of film directing, by exposing the lineage of female film makers throughout history. Featured- amongst others- were, Italian born Lorenza Mazzetti, Japan’s Tanaka Kinuyo and Norwegian Anja Breien.
“The challenge lies in making sure that these experienced, dedicated, talented women are hired for opportunities throughout their careers,” warns Smith.
Angel Melo believes raising the profile of gender specific issues through film and media will be a crucial part of this.
“We must share our stories,” she insists. Indeed, Melo is currently working on a documentary profiling the domestic abuse in Brazil. With almost a third of Brazilian women reported to be victims of domestic violence, this is a critical issue in the country’s female rights movement.
Changes in India
India presents a particularly interesting case of the changing participation of women in the film and television industry.
Indian cinematography is shifting rapidly, marked by growing rates of female participation in the industry. Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta, Gurinder Chadha, and Meghna Gulzar are just three of India’s prize winning female film makers with stellar filmographies.
“We are seeing more and more women behind the camera, particularly in major cities like Calcutta and Delhi.“ says Anshul Gupta, Director at Stand4Productions, a fixing service in India.
However, India’s metropolitan scene is not necessarily representative of national trends. In many regions, progress has been slow.
“India is home to many different film sectors, each with their own cultures and rules,” says Gupta. “Indeed, when I have worked in Southern India I found a marked reduction in female professionals compared to Northern cities.”
Furthermore, women are often confined to limited roles within film production, a concern asserted by UNESCO’s study, Inside the News: Challenges and Aspirations of Women Journalists in Asia and the Pacific.
“There are very few camerawomen, the general opinion is that they cannot lift heavy objects or be in rough terrains to film,” says female producer Mou Trivedy.
“I work in the documentary sector, where I am often judged on my physical abilities to lift equipment or shoot in various conditions. In addition frequently women are judged for taking leave for medical needs like periods or pregnancy.”
Trivedy’s concerns are echoed by Roberta Clarke, Regional Director, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, who has stressed the need for women to have greater access to media both in creating content and called for an end to gender stereotyping.
Nevertheless, Gupta is optimistic for the future of female careers in India film making. “There is definitely a positive trajectory towards higher participation of women in the sector” he says.
However, Trivedy is less certain.
“The situation can only change with the education system in India, When female children are given equal opportunities in education. In addition parents must be more accepting of children choosing alternate career paths like filmmaking.”
Movement is also coming from South Korea. Women have continued to struggle to break through Korea’s competitive film industry, however today several notable names have emerged; including Park Chan-ok, Jeong Jae-eun, and Moon So-ri.
Last year the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) brought together a new generation of politically active female voices in cinema.
“I have not faced any significant gender discrimination or challenges while working in South Korea due to my gender,” said South Korean fixer, Jayine Chung. Chung has had a highly successful career, working for a range of international media channels.
The extent to which these high profile successes are indicative of comprehensive change is unclear. Indeed, earlier this year 22,000 south Korean women marched through the streets of Seoul in protest against the governments lack of action against sexual harassment. President Moon Jae-in has pledged to strengthen laws on workplace harassment, but change is yet to be seen.
Nonetheless, the SIWFF exhibited the sheer volume of female talent, and the ways in which new projects act as mediums through which gender issues are aired and debated, marking substantial progress for the sector. It is an exciting time for women in Korean film.
In Australia pressure for gender parity behind the camera is rising.
“Crews working on feature films and television dramas are overwhelmingly male dominated,” says Andrea Gorddard, an Australian based fixer and producer. Gorddard has over 20 years’ experience in the Australian media industry, working on documentaries and advertising, as well as running her own fixing business.
“However, the dynamic is different across different sectors of the industry; there is a very healthy female representation in advertising and documentary making.”
One of the most significant problems for women in the sector is balancing caring roles in the early stages of their careers.
“When I had to juggling my career and young children, I found it incredibly difficult to pursue some of the terrific jobs I was offered,” says Andrea Gorddard.
Today I do not feel being a woman in this industry is restricting my work, but it is a challenge for women early on in their careers.”
Indeed, a survey conducted by Raising Films- an industry charity- found 79% of female media professionals found their caring role had a detrimental impact on their careers. The charity has collaborated with women in film & television NSW and university of technology, Sydney, to advocate for further support for women across film and television, tackling the lack of affordability and accessibility of childcare, as well as workplace culture.
“There have been substantial shifts over the last few years, and there is a positive and proactive attitude amongst industry professionals here,” says Gorddard.
In Japan’s socially conservative society, a dearth of female filmmakers in the country hardly comes as a shock.
“We’ve worked with many different crews from Japan and around the world, and every single one has been male-dominated,” says La Carmina, a Japanese fixer and producer.
La Carmina has worked across the television industry in Japan, working on projects with Discovery, TLC Asia, National Geographic and more. Along with her colleague, Naomi Rubin, she runs a Tokyo based production / “fixer” company, La Carmina and the Pirates.
“Camera crews and directors are almost always men; if there are women in the teams, they are in the role of producers. Travel TV hosting also is predominantly male-fronted,” she continued.
Sachi Fujita, another female Japanese fixer agrees.
“Although here in Japan I don’t feel any special disadvantage, men dominate camera operators and director roles here.”
Fujuta works for ZIZO Media and is an experienced line producer, fixer and coordinator in different commercial and promotions.
The gender imbalance in Japan’s media industry has been attributed to the country’s strong traditional, male dominated, culture.
“Japanese culture is still quite conservative in terms of male and female societal roles, the higher-level positions are all filled by men. It’s still an anomaly for two women to start an independent production company like ours; the “pirates” name is partially a reference to breaking conventions and steering our own path,” says La Carmina.
Indeed, this culture has severely limited access to the industry for many women, and speaking out against marginalisation and harassment has often drawn criticism rather than sympathy.
Popular writer, Haruka Ito, was criticized after revealing she had faced sexual and other harassment by a senior male employee when working at Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency.
Similarly, female journalist, Shiori Ito, faced a torrent of online criticism after speaking out against a prominent TV newsman whom she had accused of raping her.
However, women are beginning to take a more prominent role behind the camera. According to the Directors Guild of Japan, there are now approximately 20 female members out of 550. Yet, considering this is an increase of just 5 female members since the end of the 20th century, it is perhaps somewhat a marginal increase.
Yet these figures may not be representative of Japan today, as many young directors do not join the guild.
“I’m not sure if the industry is changing from a legal or education background point of view,” reflects Fujita.
“But female camera crew and directors are gradually getting more attention and exposure.”
La Carmina is clear that women are playing a vital role in Japan’s industry.
“I am aware of more women starting up production and consulting companies, or working in freelance roles (such as special effects makeup, and casting). When women appear as on-camera hosts or producers, they’ve been wonderful at these roles from my personal experiences.”
Will this create real change?
Gender parity in audio visual production is a critical issue, not just for the sector itself, but for society as whole. Film, television and other digital platforms are the primary means through which news is relayed, stories are told and we find daily entertainment. Exclusion of female voices has a devastating impact on our culture and politics.
“Of course nobody would say it’s impossible for a man to direct or write a brilliant female-led piece but surely we’re missing out on new and valuable perspectives by not providing opportunities for women to tell and shape their own stories,” says Emma Bullimore.
Discussion forums and pledges are undoubtedly positive developments, but it will take more than statistical studies and gestures; practical changes are necessary for meaningful progress.
“While inclusion riders are a great start it’s vital that it doesn’t feel like a box ticking exercise,” warns Bullimore.
Platforms for reporting harassment, financing initiatives and everyday practical assistance such as on set childcare, would all draw more women into the industry and support career development.
Change is a glacial process, however pressure on the audio-visual industry must be sustained.
“In this rapidly changing world”, says Jennifer Salke, NBC’s Entertainment President, “It’s critical that we bring women storytellers in our world in much bigger numbers.”
Angel Melo has worked with national and international teams on a range of different projects. To find out more about Angel and her work visit her World Fixer profile
Anshul Gupta is a producer and fixer with Stand 4 Productions. To find out more about his film, documentary and commercial work visit his World Fixer profile.
La Carmina is a fixer based in Japan. To find out more about La Carmina and her work visit her World Fixer profile
Jayine Chung is a fixer based in South Korea. To find out more about Chung and her work visit her World Fixer profile.