Over the past few years there have been many reports and articles investigating the way women are underrepresented in key areas of the film industry. Directing, producing, executive roles at top studios and even on-screen. Not to mention the controversy surrounding pay inequality between male and female stars which became even more apparent thanks to the Sony leaks in 2014.
But instead of focusing only on the problem, there is a movement amongst women in Hollywood to change the ratio by operating outside the narrow confines of the industry. There are women who are breaking down barriers like never before and effectively creating space for themselves and many others like them in an environment that hasn’t always been equal for them.
Geena Davis’ newly launched Bentonville Film Festival was created to give female filmmakers an even greater chance at breaking into Hollywood. The Athena Film Festival annually celebrates female filmmakers and has a particular focus on promoting female directors who seem to have a tough time being taken seriously by studios.
Crowdfunding has become another popular platform for female filmmakers to get their content out there to the masses and bypass all the political red tape that exists in the industry. One woman who is taking advantage of that with an Indiegogo Campaign and hoping to create an avenue that promotes women in film in a particular genre is Melanie Wise. She is the creator of the Artemis Film Festival which focuses on kickass female action films.
We chatted with her about her idea, why she feels it is important, and the struggles she herself has faced in the industry simply for being a woman.
Tell us about your background/career?
I was born in Detroit and raised in Silverhill, Alabama. I’ve been acting and producing professionally for over a decade. I was the lead actress of an award-winning horror-action film called ‘Hanah’s Gift’, which I also produced. I really love action and take special delight in doing fight action scenes!
In addition to acting and producing, I’m also a video and sound editor and I’ve edited or assisted the editing of a lot of my own films.
Action films were something that I gravitated to naturally since I stand six-feet tall and was a basketball player and licensed physical trainer. I’ve been a lifelong and passionate believer that physical action for women is a means to promote gender empowerment, which I think will become greater gender equality. Until women are portrayed as physically equal, they will continue being seen as less than men, in my opinion. Because of this philosophy, I founded the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival to celebrate images of female physical power and a greater sense of female empowerment.
I’ve been dedicated to making women physically stronger for many years through years of fitness instruction. I learned from this endeavor that when women exceed what they think is possible for them physically, their horizons of what they believe is possible for them personally expand greatly.
My involvement with women’s issues has included video consulting for the Stacey Lawson campaign for the House of Representatives in 2012 and my recent honorary membership to the ALL Ladies League, and international all-female chamber devoted to connecting and empowering women globally.
What is the Artemis Film Festival?
The Artemis Women In Action Film Festival is the first festival exclusively devoted to female action films. The festival will feature classic and present female action movies and honor the cinematic female action greats, including the men and women who pioneered them and those who contributed to the success of the genre. The festival will also include a competition for up-and-coming filmmakers as a means of celebrating and promoting lesser-known works, up and coming action stars, and encouraging people to create them.
Your IndieGoGo talked about you wanting to create social change through more empowering representations of women. Can you expand on this?
We believe that film has the power to entertain and awaken. We also believe that it reflects and affects. How women are portrayed in films affects how women in general view themselves and the world. Female action heroes can be a talisman for a more shining ideal of the roles possible to a woman. Instead of just a wife, dutiful assistant or weeping victim, they see reflected, the hero, the warrior, the leader.
We have the power to affect the next generation of young women. The legacy of the visuals we present in filmed entertainment now helps shape the self-perception and world view of our young women. I would love to give our young women positive female images so that they grow into strong, powerful women that positively affect our future. Again, we’re striving to awaken people’s awareness of the dynamic and powerful roles of women in our culture and throughout the world.
Female action films have made $3 billion since 2012, yet the genre is often overlooked and the role of women in film has been very slow to change despite this box office clout.
The inaugural Artemis Film Festival was already getting an overwhelming amount of film submissions from all over the world before it even launched. How does this make you feel?
Deeply touched. Inspired. To see how excited so many women and men are by the idea of a festival celebrating female physical power in film is uplifting to us. It confirms for us that this area of cinema, female action, is no fad or niche, but rather a strong and broad market that appeals to a wide array of people across the globe.
It indicates to us that there is a yearning to express and admire female dynamism. It gives us the sense the collective unconscious throughout the world is ready for a transformation of the image of the feminine from something that is considered passive to something that is extolled for its activity, creativity, and aggressiveness.
What are your fave female action films?
So many films, so little time! There are many that came before Linda Hamilton in ‘Terminator 2’, however this film really stuck out for me when I was young. It was one of the first large successes with a really powerful female lead. I just loved it. There was one thing that bothered me about this amazing character though. Here’s this really powerful, committed, dynamic role, and she is written with ‘mental problems’.
Where I really began to see perfection portrayed in female characters was in ‘The Matrix’ – there was really no difference between what the men and women were capable of physically. Absolutely genius. And now, we are getting to see female characters that display not only physical strength and power, but also depth, beauty, and compassion. So I am very excited about the films that are showing up over the last 10 years.
Why do you think female action stars are important for young girls and moviegoers in general?
We have the power to affect the next generation of young women positively, how they view themselves, and broaden what they think is possible in life. We can convey the message that they don’t need to sit back and wait for someone else to take action for them. They can be the heroes of their own stories—not just in film, but in real life. For moviegoers in general, a female action hero is a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes feel like an endless line of stale retreads of tropes and heroes in the male action film world.
Redefining how women see themselves will also redefine how they relate to men. Both genders suffer when one is ‘considered less’. To have a truly empowered male, I believe we need an empowered female to stand beside him. Both genders win when both genders move through life from a place of grace and power.
With the huge box office success of films like ‘Divergent’ & ‘The Hunger Games recently’, why do you think studios are still unwilling to put as much money behind female-driven action flicks?
As in any mature industry, change can be slow to come. I think studios have been cautious and felt more secure doing what has been done before—over and over again. And not all that long ago, female driven action films were considered box office poison. It does look like this past year’s action season made a dent – in the midst of a slumbering box office, it was women—women-led films, action films—that were the lone bright spot of studio action releases.
Perhaps they needed to be saved by female action heroes before they could acknowledge female action heroes! And now, the studios are planning several female led action films. In fact, it seems they will be coming down the pipeline in greater numbers – Black Widow from ‘The Avengers’, two more installments of ‘Divergent’, more of ‘The Hunger Games’, and all-female ‘Ghostbusters’.
How do you respond to criticism about your idea (if you’ve had any)?
We’ve had very little open criticism, amazingly. Anyone adverse to the idea of physically powerful women is living in a mindset that is bound to be consigned to the dust heap of history very soon.
For those unaware of the stats, how difficult is it for women to get a film off the ground compared to men?
The gender statistics are kind of staggering. Women make up less than a third of all speaking characters and fewer than 25% of all protagonists in film. If you just limit it to the top 100 Hollywood films at the box office, women made up on 12% of all protagonists in 2014 (15% in 2013). Think about that. In the top 100 films of 2014, there were roughly six male protagonists for every one female. I’m pretty sure women are more than 50% of the population.
If you consult American cinema, not too many women talk, there aren’t that many of them, and most women are basically appendages. Very much like going back in time to our war films, according to American cinema, all of our wars were fought by mostly white males!
And that doesn’t even begin to address the difficulty of getting a woman led film off the ground. I’ve worked in many jobs that were typically relegated to ‘men’s work’ and I never really felt like there was a glass ceiling per se. However, after spending several years working on the business end of this industry, I can say that being female in this arena was quite difficult. It certainly has felt and still feels like a ‘boys club’. I am always very appreciative when I few men who are welcoming of women. We really need to have women in every capacity in this industry – that’s when getting women led films off the ground will become easier.
With the reaction the Oscars got for excluding women and minorities from its recent slew of big category nominations, how do you hope the Artemis Film Festival and others like it will stand in the gap and create more opportunities to change the film industry?
By showing the deep passion and wide popularity of female action heroes, my hope is Hollywood will take note of what is hidden (and becoming less hidden!) in plain sight— people love and crave physical, strong female characters. By also highlighting the paucity of women in film, we hope they’ll see the absurdity of the way women are ignored on screen. Once they see that they are overlooking a deep and powerful market, they’ll take note.
Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
I have always been told I have a powerful physical presence. And in this arena, I have always felt very comfortable. In terms of moving into the entertainment industry, I can say that I’ve never really felt great power. I believe some of that is due of the environment I describe above. As a person, I think what makes me powerful is the ability to stick to stuff that is ahead of its time, the desire to confront and grow past my own weaknesses, my ability to really enjoy the power I see in other people, my ability to give a definitive and committed “yes”!
You can find out more about the Artemis Film Festival by clicking here.