CAN US WOMEN FILMMAKERS & ORGANIZATIONS COLLABORATE TO MAKE REAL CHANGE?
Without dynamic, imaginative women-identified cinematic stories – largely directed by women – that are well saturated into the general public's viewing habits through this dominate cultural, entertainment form, women will remain subjugated. In a 2016 presentation at Experiments in Cinema I declared that as feminist filmmakers we expected to be much further along. Hours later, Laura Mulvey, attending virtually, said the very same thing.
In Europe through a push by the European Women's Audio-Visual Network, since the Sarajevo Declaration on Gender Equality, there has been a multi-country formalized effort to insist on equality for women in the AV industry throughout Europe. December 6th eight different groups hosted the annual report of findings. Included was a chart drawn from data showing the Behind the Camera roles for women in a presentation by Patrizia Simone. (See her chart posted on my earlier blog ). When I looked at some parallel US data (prepared by Dr. Martha Lauzen), I immediately envisioned a new extended chart. Here it is:
In all the separate roles of gains for women behind the camera in the United States, they do not match their counterparts in Europe. Dr. Stacy Smith, of the Inclusion Initiative at USC Annenberg, who also collects data in the US, though she uses a larger pool of films than Lauzen, has similar percentages for most roles, with one exception. Directing by women is only 8% in her study, a full ten points behind Lauzen, and 18 point lower than the European study.
In reading the Qualitative Study on the Place of Female Directors in Europe Update-2023, they underscore two things: We must deconstruct the stereotypes and shine more light on women filmmakers. We must also put in place more proactive structural movements. [bold, in report]. Policies and measures adopted that improve the persistent inequality are detailed. European collaboration is central in achieving equality for women and marginalized people in every European country. For instance, cultural ministers were essential in crafting the Sarajevo Declaration. The French Ministry of Culture now supports the annual report. It helps too in Europe that established women filmmakers like Agnes Varda and Claire Denis have traditionally worked with women cinematographers, Nurith Aviv and Agnes Goddard, respectfully.
An internet grab, this great image and overlayed comment look like they are captured from a documentary.
In the US the political structure is radically different. There is no Minister of Culture, hence no central department where these issues can be addressed. The National Endowment for the Arts may have Congressional restrictions that limit its leadership here. I have bumped into this problem before.
Many different service organizations – like the Women In Film groups – have sprung up to address numerous women filmmaker needs. Their programs vary and their focus is traditionally local or specially channeled to a specific need or two. There is no unified national focused effort or action. And almost none of these many NGOs are centered on systemic policy change which is the critical hurdle. It seems, too, the data collection is repetitive, wasting resources and energies. The end result of all of this is that the groups are busy competing against one another for dollars and prestige for their operations. The wider, more far reaching vision and work on how to address the systemic problem remain sidelined. The critical collaboration that has come about in Europe has not yet evolved in the US.
The forty-something and older women who lite up the list serv [MediaArts] a few weeks back are feeling underserved. Ageism compounds sexism. The extent of their responses warranted a first meeting to air out some of the problems. The Alliance for Media and Culture under Wendy Levy's leadership stepped up to hold that session Tuesday, December 19th at 11-12:30 PT. We will see if concrete actions emerge.
The Andy Warhol Foundation Writer Grants were announced during of the [MediaArts] forty-something discussion. They featured a graphic with all the grantees. While a simple look does not specify age, it does appear that the majority of the grantees are on the younger side, than older. Foundations and funders will have to adjust. In the US the older population grew five times faster than the total population, which grew by only 7.4%.
The chart I have made at the start of this blog reflects persistent dissatisfaction of women filmmakers. From my perspective there are whole areas in the creation and life of a film that for women are neglected. Critical writings, for one, academic study is another. Exhibition, too, is dire. Mainstream theaters showcase women directed works only 2.75% of the time. The art house community, is better, though heavily reliant on Hollywood blockbusters for its bread and butter. However, these mostly non-profits are still no where up to par for the number of women making independent, creative works.
The challenge: Are we collectively up to the effort and spending the time to create the necessary change. Are existing organizations able or willing to join forces – collaborate – for what will be a long haul to create a unified strategy and demand the necessary policies that will finally bring equity for women involved with cinema. Only then will women's cinemtic stories reach a wide audience that we all desire and deserve.