The Film Industry Gender Gap

Barbara Soares

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The 88th Academy Awards that took place in Hollywood last Sunday, February 28th, brought up a matter regarding: why men are largely responsible for what we see on screen.

The Oscar nominations were announced on January 14th, and ever since people have been focusing on racial disparity. However, there is another under-represented group in the film industry, which accounts for half of the population: women.

The lack of diversity in Hollywood was proved by the Women’s Media Centre (WMC) analysis over the period of 2006 to 2015. The ‘WMC investigation: 10-year analysis of gender & Oscar nominations’ found that nominations of women account for just 19 percent of all non-acting Oscar nominations. A total of 327 women compared to 1,387 men.

Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Centre, noted in their study: “There is a clear connection between the low numbers of women hired for behind-the-scenes jobs in film and women’s low representation among Oscar nominees. If they’re not hired in these non-acting categories, they’ll never have a chance to be recognized for their excellence”.

There is a small increase at this year’s awards ceremony, as women represented 22 percent of nominees. However, the Oscars 2016 had no female nominations for cinematography, directing, music score, sound editing or mixing.

There is undoubtedly an issue of gender inequality in the film industry. Many talented women are left behind in this business, not being taken seriously at work and getting paid less than their male co-workers. Nevertheless, in Ireland the situation is changing right now; the movement to fight for gender equality has already began.

On the evening of January 27th, “Women Filmmakers in Ireland” had their first meeting in Dublin. The main idea was to make new contacts, acquaintances, and to come up with a strategy to change the disadvantaged scenario. Over eighty women were in attendance on the night: screenwriters; producers; directors; actors; costume designers; directors of photography and so on.

The event that took place in the Odessa club was organized by Alessandra Usai, from Italy, and Ornella Casado Bolivar, from France. They contacted people through Facebook and the website ‘meetup.ie’.

Alessandra Usai, producer and director, said: “When I was a kid I always thought there was no difference between men and women. I also thought we had the same rights and the same chance to get a job. I always thought if I didn’t achieve great results in my job it was because I was not good enough. Maybe I was wrong”.

The 35-years-old Italian filmmaker has been working in many projects since the year 2000 to get experience, but it was only in 2007 that she started her ‘own works’. Even Alessandra who has a degree in cinema, masters in documentary, holds an editor certificate, has done training in television, and so on, struggled in the beginning to get into the ‘mainly male’ film industry. It took many years until she was confident enough about herself and her work.

Alessandra admitted that following the path is not easy, but at least now she knows where she wants to go. “The film industry is hard and it’s hard for everybody. But now I can say for women it’s harder because women struggle also to get relevant experience, and they sure have more problems to earn from their work”.

Alessandra Usai
Alessandra Usai (left) in Milan for “Ladies of Science”. Winner Best Scientific & Educational Award Film Festival of the world Milano-2015

Last Wednesday, March 2nd, was the chosen date for the second meeting of ‘Women Filmmakers in Ireland’. The project started to take shape, as many women are well engaged in new productions for short films and documentaries, which will be one hundred per cent made by women.

Alessandra Usai said that the idea to create a group for women filmmakers was born in 2014, while she was working as a director and producer on the documentary “Ladies of Science”. The docudrama tells the story of two Irish women who lived in Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century, Mary Ward and Mary Rosse. ‘They were pioneer scientists when women couldn’t study and they were not admitted to the scientific circles’. The documentary ‘Ladies of Science’ won many awards including ‘Best TV Documentary Capra Award, Life Fest International Film Festival, Hollywood LA – 2015’.

“When I was working on this project, I realized that most of the people that were involved in the production as assistant or in the art department were mainly women; while the main roles in the technical departments were covered by men. It was strange to think that I was working on a story about women who struggled to get recognition for their work while at the same time I was also struggling to make my documentary, and being woman was not a help”.

The brave filmmaker went on saying that she started to wonder more about the gender inequality when she was looking for an editor for her documentary. Between fifteen editors applyied for the position, just one of them was a woman. “If you are looking for an assistant, probably you will be able to find loads of women interested. It’s true that men have more professional experiences than women in their CVs. But why? I guess because men are more confident about themselves and people (men & women) prefer to pay a man to do the work rather than a woman”.

Alessandra added, “The actual system doesn’t encourage women’s production. We just don’t have the chance to work on big productions, we don’t have the same chance to work with the same condition that many men can do”. By analysing the industry Alessandra explained that women can find training and internships easily, but when it comes to paid jobs it is harder to be recognized. “Many women give up, finding more stable work”.

Women Filmmakers in Ireland
The second “Women Filmmakers in Ireland” meeting. Film producer Kasia Jurkiewicz, from Poland (left); actor Valeria Bandino, from Italy; photographer Tamara Him, from Spain. Barbara Soares.

The second “Women Filmmakers in Ireland” meeting. Film producer Kasia Jurkiewicz, from Poland (left); actor Valeria Bandino, from Italy; photographer Tamara Him, from Spain.

The next ‘Women Filmmakers in Ireland’ meeting is happening next Tuesday, March 15th. At that meeting the group is having a brainstorming session to discuss which ideas and screenwriting they could develop. They aim to format groups of people at the same level of experience to produce short films based on the story of a woman or women.

“I created this group “Women Filmmakers in Ireland” because I would like to encourage other women to work as filmmakers. I didn’t receive much support from other women when I needed, but I believe we need to support each other. We need to realise that we have talent and we are not alone. We need to fight together”.

Those ‘fights’ are going beyond Dublin. On March 4th , the event: ‘Women in the Irish film industry: moving from the margins to the centre’, organised by Dr Susan Liddy, took place in Limerick.
As Ireland is attracting more Hollywood films and series lately due to the attractive tax incentives, we all hope to see many more women working on upcoming productions in the coming years.

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Barbara Soares