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And the award goes to…

The Oscar awards in the US this week followed the Bafta awards in London a couple of weeks ago and, amid the dress reviews, speeches, dud jokes and bad comedy routines, there was something else going on. The discussion about diversity, or lack of diversity, in the films and filmmakers being nominated.

To highlight the lack of women with Oscar award nominations, was the #giveherabreak campaign that swapped the ads during the telecast to play female-directed films. It was an effective way to demonstrate how films directed by women, and women directors, were overlooked in this year’s list nominations.

The discussion about how to make the film industry more diverse and representative of society, and the criticism of predominately white,male judging panels and award nominations, has been growing in recent years. It’s spurred on no doubt by the #metoo movement and the renewed focus on the full participation of women in all parts of our institutions and society, and the obstacles to achieving this goal.

This week’s post takes a brief look into some of the issues and some measures to try and address the gender and diversity disparity in mainstream cinema and the awards circuit.

When it comes to Hollywood, one of the most visible champions of inclusion and championing equal participation for women in cinema is actress Geena Davis and her organisation, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The tagline ‘If she can see it, she can be it’ really sums up the institute’s guiding mission, which is to achieve gender balance on screen, particularly for entertainment made for girls and preteens and families, through research, industry involvement and bringing attention to the issue. It’s also helping to fund female filmmakers so there’s a pool of women creatives who can work in the industry and help more female-oriented stories get made.

Barbie film director
Filmmaker Barbie didn’t exist when the Broad was a girl.

There’s now a growing list of festivals around the world that have publicly committed to the 5050×2020 Pledge, which aims to have better gender and race representation and transparency in films submitted for inclusion in the festival. This extends to the cast and crew, selection committees and programmers and right through to the executive boards. After all, this is about systems of bias and discrimination that go right from the on set crew to the highest levels of management and decision making.

Have a look at the 50/50 project for more on this.

Think about some of the wonderful, interesting series we’ve seen come across our screens in recent years, like Orange Is The New Black, Glow, Russian Doll, Veep, Handmaid’s Tale, Jane The Virgin, Big Little Lies, Broad City, Grace and Frankie, Call The Midwife and Wentworth to name just a few.

How do films and TV shows for, by and about women and women’s stories get made? And why have they not been made in the same number as male-oriented productions?

It’s the age old problem of patriarchy and discrimination keeping women out of creative and leadership roles through institutional practices, hidden bias, societal expectations about women’s roles and so on. When it comes to the creative industries, women need to be in the writers’ rooms writing the scripts, challenging the narrow, stereotyped female characters and the lack of female characters, and giving the female characters agency in the stories. A diverse range of women’s voices and experiences, including ethnicities and sexualities, need to be involved in the creative side as well as the funding committees, on the boards making high-level decisions about what productions get the greenlight and on the awards and festival judging panels.

Sometimes it takes a deliberate approach to opening up with means of creative production through positive discrimination to set a target for 50/50 gender parity, for example. Obviously, there’s more than just gender to consider when it comes to achieving diversity in representation as well as creative production for film and TV.

In the UK in 2018, for example, ITV announced it would stop commissioning series backed by an all-male writing team. Of course there was the inevitable backlash, as there usually is, around positive discrimination measures with accusations of discrimination, censorship, militancy and so on. But to address the historic disparity in stories and storytellers, it takes initiatives like this to make a determined bid to achieve parity by actively promoting diversity in creativity. This article from British Vogue examines the rise of inclusive writing rooms and how it’s actively feeding into more diverse films and TV being produced.

As Natasha Lyonne, one of the creators of the Netflix series Russion Doll says:

“There’s only one way to guarantee that you find stories that haven’t been told before. And that’s by putting them in the hands of people who haven’t yet had the opportunity to tell them.”

And it’s not just the film and TV industry that’s focusing on gender diversity. In music, there’s been the ‘Girls to the front‘ (borrowed from Riot Grrrls) movement to focus on women’s safety and right to inhabit space in the mosh pit (and any anywhere else) at live events. To add its voice and power to the case, band The 1975 have said it will only play music festivals with equal gender representation.

But back to film and TV. How do you measure the strength of female characters on screen? One of the ways it’s done is through the Bechdel Test. This ‘test’ checks a film against three criteria to see how it fares on female representation. To pass, it has to have at least two women characters with names in it, they have to talk to each other and it needs to be about something other than a man. The Broad encourages you to have a look through the list of more than 8000 films and have a read of some of the related articles linked to on the site.

One of the best sites that champions women’s stories and participation in the American film and TV industry, and a fave with the Broad, is Women and Hollywood. It’s got so much news, most of it positive, about productions by, for and about women getting made, women trailblazing in the industry and the challenges still facing them in a historically male-controlled industry.

A Note on Australian 50/50 Programs

Have a read of my post from last year about The Nightingale, the amazing film directed by Jennifer Kent, which includes a discussion about Australian initiatives to boost women’s stories and the role of women in the local film and TV industry.

A Note On Breastfeeding At Work

Finally, a couple of things to read and check out this week. First up, have a look at this amazing photo of director Josephine Decker pumping her breastmilk at the Sundance Festival. She released it to give a dose of reality to what it’s like for a female director juggling pregnancy and babies on the festival circuit.

A Note on the Stella Prize Longlist

In Australia, the longlist for the Stella Prize was recently announced with 12 titles selected from 150 entries. If you’re looking for a book by a woman writer, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found in this collection.

A Good News Note on Women Directors

This article from Variety finds some good news to report on female directors making inroads into Hollywood and directing some of the biggest budget, blockbuster movies on the schedule. 

A Note on Women’s Salaries

And finally, there’s been a bit of buzz online about this spreadsheet of 2020 female salaries in tech, which is an anonymous list of paypackets for women in all different parts of IT, tech, design, software and so on. It’s mostly US, although there are a few UK, Australian and even remote positions, but it gives some transparency around female salaries can help women compare their earnings and could be useful tool to ask for a pay rise and to compare the gender pay gap. Go forth and get a rise.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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