Major Australian Film Organization Screen NSW Announces A 50/50 Gender Equality Initiative

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It seems Hollywood isn’t the only film industry struggling with a gender problem, where studies show women are at a disadvantage in a huge way both behind the scenes in and front of the camera. While Hollywood certainly needs to lead the way on this, there are other countries whose film industries are making moves of their own in order to address the gender bias that still exists.

We saw not too long ago how the Swedish Film Institute implemented strict equality guidelines in order to ensure just as many female-driven films get funded as male-driven. It’s pretty common knowledge that a country like Sweden is far more progressive in its views on gender equality than even the US, so for the SFI to do this seems right in line with their views.

And yes, they have certainly surpassed Hollywood in the funding respect, which is ironic because such an influential and creative industry like film should be the shining beacon of progression and liberalism, yet we often see the opposite reflected in the US.

While there are plenty of arguments and opinions against implemented any sort of mandated quotas when it comes to addressing gender equality, the fact of the matter is it has been “voluntary” for quite some time and the needle doesn’t seem to be moving much. It’s not good enough to argue that the talent or desire just doesn’t exist among women, because we have seen over, and over, and over again just how baseless this point is.

Another country that has seen the gender bias and decided to do something about it, is Australia. One organization in particular has decided enough is enough, and have implemented a 50/50 equality measure across the board for women working behind the scenes in all positions.

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Screen New South Wales, is a company created to “assist, promote and strengthen the screen industry in [the state of] NSW so as to promote Australia’s cultural identity, encourage employment in all aspects of screen production, encourage investment in the industry, enhance the industry’s export potential, encourage innovation and enhance quality in the industry,” says a description on the website about what they do.

They have various funding programs (they contributed to the recent ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ film which was partly filmed in Australia) that help carry out the above objectives, and have now set the year 2020 as a target for their new objective of reaching gender parity in the projects that are financed through them. The Daily Life reports that this move comes after much unrest in the industry where various bodies have called on the need for action to remedy the problem.

“Across all these criteria the current funding is not being shared in a representative way. The ADG is concerned with diversity of all types, but is particularly concerned with the dramatic lack of equity in the funding of women and, in particular, female directors,” said Ray Argall, president of the Australian Directors Guild.

Here are some of the numbers as to how women fare in the Australian film & TV industry: 28% of directors and 16% of writers working on features funded by Screen NSW from 2012-2015 were female. There were more female producers, at 75%.

“This is an equity issue – of course it is – but for Screen NSW, its principally about supporting and enabling the very best work. And if females are so poorly represented, it means that we, as an industry, aren’t exploiting all we have to offer,” Screen NSW CEO Courtney Gibson said.

“The long game of this target is, for us, about leveling the playing field to ensure that women get the same opportunities as men and that the strongest work gets supported. And it can’t be achieved unless we just decide that we’re going to do something about it,” she added.

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Danielle McGrane at The Daily Life writes that the state of NSW isn’t the only one with a gender problem, but the country as a whole.

“It’s not just NSW which shows such a discrepancy between the sexes. Just 15 per cent of directors for Screen Australia-funded features from 2009-2014 were women, while 32 per cent of producers were female,” she said.

In her article she points to the recent ACLU investigation launched in Hollywood which is currently in the process of investigation Hollywood Studios’ discriminatory hiring practices toward female directors. It is clearly an issue (and a case) that is already setting a precedent for the gender bias problem within the industry.

The ACLU has stated that after it completes its investigation, whichh consists of interviewing a large number of female Hollywood directors who have suffered discrimination in their line of work, it will decide what the best course of action will be, which may not necessarily be a court case. They prefer to recommend a course of action that industry executives will take on board in order to fix the problem themselves, rather than create a huge legal storm.

Which brings us back to the issue of quotas. Doesn’t it seem far more reasonable for an organization to implement something like this than wait to be sued and be forced to change their discriminatory ways?

While it would be great to see more studios and companies in the US trying out gender equality quotas, we aren’t holding our breath. However, we do see small changes being made the more women are speaking up.

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At the recent Governors Awards in Los Angeles, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced the launch of a new plan which they hope will go a long way to bringing more diversity into the industry. And like the Screen NSW 50/50 measure, the Academy has also set the year 2020 as their deadline, for an initiative aptly titled A2020.

The Hollywood Reporter describes it as “a five-year plan to study practices at the Academy with the aim of improving the diversity of its own staff and governance while also bringing new voices into the organization. It is also intended to encourage and to push the industry to examine its hiring practices and to begin to make changes.”

In this particular initiative, “diversity” means age, race, national origin and point-of-view, as well as gender.

“When it comes to fair and equal representation in our industry, words are are not enough. We also have a responsibility to take action and we have an unique opportunity to do so now. This must truly be an industry-wide commitment,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

The fact that it took until 2015 for the Academy to nominate its first black female director for the Best Director award category indicates what a slow trajectory this really is. That particular director is of course Ava DuVernay who was nominated for ‘Selma’ in this year’s race, however it was still excluded from any of the Best Actor and Best Film categories.

Ava has spoken loudly and often about the treatment women in Hollywood face simply because of their gender, age or race, saying it is frustrating that only 4% of studio directors are women.

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“It defies culture in so many ways. It affects the way we see ourselves and the way we are seen by others. It gets into the DNA of how we treat each other, the policies we make, what we’re able to say and do to each other. For there only to be one dominant voice determining what’s said and saying it is something that all like-minded people who believe in dignity of everyone should be concerned about,” she told The Hollywood Reporter recently.

“That comes into play for women and for people of color. It’s not a problem that can be fixed by the word ‘diversity’, whatever that means. It’s a problem that’s going to take a multi-pronged solution and allies all over the place who say, ‘We want to make a change’,” she added.

It may be one of the most influential and biggest film industries in the world, but Hollywood still has a long way to go. Perhaps it will be smaller markets like Australia and Sweden that will set the precedent for what a film and TV industry looks like when it doesn’t discriminate based on gender.

Props to Screen NSW for stepping up to the plate for female filmmakers down under!

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