The Real Reason We Need More Female Voices In Film & TV

There are many blogs, websites and think-groups who talk about how they can solve the problem of gender bias which exists in mainstream film and television worldwide. It’s a conversation that involves not only what happens on-screen, but also behind. Why are networks and studios so hesitant to hire women in key roles such as director, producer, showrunner, host etc? And what will it take for more decision makers to realize that catering to half the audience (female) means hiring more women to bring something new and unique to the table.

It’s no longer a valid excuse for those within the industry to claim there aren’t enough women who are willing to take the job, as seen by the trending hashtag on twitter #hirethesewomen started by a group of disgruntled female directors in Hollywood sick of being passed over for jobs and being told there weren’t any viable female candidates.

Director Joe Swanberg of ‘Drinking Buddies’ fame and who is set to release his latest film ‘Happy Christmas’ starring Anna Kendrick, has a few ideas of his own why it is more important than ever to add women to the narrative in film which he shared with the Huffington Post.

“I suspect we’re on the cusp of a time where women’s roles in the entertainment industry are about to get a lot bigger. My feeling is, and this is a little grandiose, that men are out of ideas. We need women to step up in a big way over the next 10 years or we’re fucked culturally. We see what’s happening right now, which is that we’re just remaking, rebooting and re-franchising everything. That’s because we’re out of ideas. So if anybody is bringing new ideas to the table, they are really valuable right at this moment. Lena Dunham is obviously is bringing a lot of new ideas to the table, which is why people are responding to that in a big way,” he said. He makes a really good point about the re-boots.

Happy-Christmas

The thing that’s cool about Joe Swanberg is that he is a male director of a movie which explores the themes of a female protagonist talks about the challenges of being a mother, which Joe says stemmed from conversations he had with his own wife about her identity issues when she became a mom for the first time. He feels it is important this type of dialog is being explored in film adding another type of woman’s voice to the conversations that usually live on screen.

“There’s a lot of pressure women are under right now, because none of the old conventions have gone away, but there’s an expectation to work and be independent. There’s internal pressure too, to do both things.”

But while Joe may be the exception because he saw first hand from his wife how important it was to share women’s stories from his wife, it shouldn’t have to be the only rule when it comes to allowing women to occupy just as space in mainstream media and entertainment. American late night television has been a cultural icon of US media since the days of Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. Notice anything about those two names? They are both male. Even today, there is only one female late night TV show host and comedian: Chelsea Handler, whose show ‘Chelsea Lately’ will be ending in August.

But don’t worry, the TV gods have allowed ONE woman to take her place. Amanda De Cadanet, creator and host of Lifetime’s ‘The Conversation’ premiered her new late night talk show ‘Undone’ on July 24th, right after ‘Project Runway’. It is a show dedicated to women’s issues and dissecting trends from a feminine point of view. Oh an fun fact, 90% of her staff are women. Yep, she’s a woman who walks the talk!

Although Amanda has a solid history in TV both in the UK and now the US and having many great connections within the industry, she told the Women in Hollywood blog that she has had to fight at every point to get a show on the air because networks don’t want to go over the imaginary “women quota” that silently exists.

chelsea-lately

“Thank God for the few women in the entertainment industry who take a risk and who walk the talk,” she says about Nancy Dubuc, president of A&E who agreed to air her show. “This is a rarity, obviously, because there are no women other than Chelsea in late night, so we know this isn’t happening frequently. In fact, it’s happening so infrequently that we only have one woman who has her own show in the entertainment field after 3 PM.”

She went on to say how she tried for a year and a half to pitch a show to networks with no avail. Even going into some meetings with a male didn’t help her case. Even the fact that she literally has hundreds of thousands of women around the world who are loyal to her brand and her shows, it didn’t seem to make a difference.

“We actually went and pitched to HBO a late-night news show that was a very smart, engaged, progressive show, and they were like, “We don’t have room, we don’t have any more space for a show like that because we have Bill Maher.” But no one would directly come out and say there’s no spot for a woman. They can’t say that, right?”

Amanda’s type of content is something that is drastically needed. Honest conversations from women who want female viewers to feel empowered about their own lives. Amanda is very conscious of how important her shows are to her fans.

“I try to make things that are not elitist. There’s enough places in the world where we’re excluded. I do not ever want to be contributing to that. I want to be contributing to opening the doors and gates for women.”

the-conversation-amanda-de-cadanet

The common thread between Joe and Amanda’s comments are that they are advocating greater representation of women alongside men. It’s not about taking over, it’s about recognizing what half the TV and film audiences want to hear and see: stories which reflect their own lives, rather that just stylized, sexualized and male-fantasized plots.

Female directors are having a tough time getting recognition, so when Filmmaker Magazine named their “25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2014” list, we all breathed a little sigh of relief to know that 13 of those ingenues were female screenwriters and directors. Hallelujah! For up-and-comers it sends a huge message that these kind of lists and industry communities aren’t gender specific, they belong to hard-working talented people. It’s not about pity or giving anyone a handout, its about recognizing women have just as much to offer (albeit in a different feminine way) as men.

Over in the UK, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recently held an panel with 4 experts, 3 of them women. They discussed the most pressing issues facing the British Industry and gender disparity was certainly brought up. Director Amma Asante, Kate Muir (chief film critic for The Times), and Isabel Davis (Head of International at the British Film Institute) were joined by producer Atif Ghani.

Amma Asante said her advice would be to have a combination of self-belief and ruthlessness. Being a ethnic woman in this industry, she has had her fair share of sexism and stereotyping, but she hasn’t allowed it to diminish or slow down her creative process.

Kate Muir also agreed that any filmmaker, whether male or female, has to be ambitious no matter what. The example she used was Haifaa al-Mansour, the female director of Saudi Arabia’s first feature film ‘Wadjda.

wadjda

“The first film ever made in Saudi Arabia, made by a woman, and she just got out there and did it — and it was illegal, impossible, improbable. And if she can do it, then we can all do it.” This example speaks especially to women facing the odds: don’t ever give up.

Isabel Davis, who spoke highly of the British Film Industry’s new guidelines which promote diversity behind the scenes, said there are people who recognize the need to be proactive about encouraging more women to get into directing, but adds “the industry as a whole needs to take responsibility.”

So this issue can only be tackled if everyone plays their part: networks and studios have to be more aware of what audiences want (not just their bottom line) and be willing to take risks. Women and minorities need to continue pushing for opportunities and creating entertainment that audiences want to see. As for the audiences, we need to make decision about where our viewing time is going and what we spend our money on at the box office. Do we want to use our purchasing power to feed into the stereotypes and homogeneity, or do we want to use it to support women who want to tell our stories?

 

 

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