As a filmmaker, journalist, and film programmer, I attend festivals all the time. Sometimes one of my films is playing; sometimes I’m there to review films. The most recent festival I’ve attended — and one of the best — was the Chattanooga Film Festival, for which I wrote a lengthy recap on for ScreenAnarchy.
Now, maybe you’ve heard about the ACLU investigation into Hollywood’s hiring practices. Maybe you’ve even heard that there’s a very real systemic bias against female directors. For reference, here are the stats taken directly from the ACLU letter to the Los Angeles EEOC letter:
- Only 1.9% of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2013 and of 2014 were women.
- Of the 1,300 top-grossing films from 2002-2014, only 4.1% of all directors were women.
- In 2014, women were only 7% of directors on the top 250 grossing films. This number is 2 percentage points lower than it was in 1998.
- Women are also excluded from directing episodic television.
- In an analysis of more than 220 television shows, representing about 3500 total episodes, women were only 14% of directors in 2013-2014.
- In an alarming number of cases, employers shut women out of television work entirely.
Those are only a few points within the 15-page letter, which details the discriminatory practices going on. Men and women attend film school in equal numbers; the problem arises when film school ends and the hiring starts.
While men are judged on their potential, women are only judged on what they’ve already accomplished. This is why you’ll see a guy who hasn’t directed any films, ever, be given an opportunity and $2 million for a first feature with a Netflix deal. I’ve seen it. Or why a man who’s only made an indie romance be given the keys to Jurassic World and two Star Wars films. It’s why only one woman has ever won “Best Director” at the Academy Awards.
Anyway, I have to say it again, lest I be accused of being misandrist: I don’t begrudge those lads their successes. I blame the blatant and subconscious barriers to seeing women as full human beings who also direct films.
A lot of this has to do with appearance and representation. If you never see a female director in the wild, do you assume that there are none? That women can’t or don’t want to make films? A lot of men DO make assumptions. And it becomes a vicious cycle that no one escapes.
Case in point, in Chattanooga, two things happened to me that would never happen to a director of the opposite sex. I was having the greatest time at this festival until the reality of being a woman was thrust upon me, once again. Normally, I can enjoy myself as an artist without having to worry about these things, but there are times when I just can’t escape how other people view me.
I was attending a pitch workshop, which required filmmakers to get onstage with a noted genre producer and pitch a script idea. There were a few other women in the audience, but I was the only one onstage within that 1.5-hour workshop. During my SECOND sentence, I was interrupted by a volunteer who just had to tell me about his own idea and how they are similar. (He wasn’t supposed to be participating.) Five minutes later, he did it again.
I kept my cool, but I was bothered, and I could tell that the producer leading the workshop was, too. After the pitch sessions ended, the volunteer came up to me and began telling me more about his idea… not that I wanted to hear it. Was he trying to be sexist by interrupting the ONE woman onstage, not once, but twice? Or was he overly zealous and excited and had no manners? It’s hard to tell, but I’m guessing both. It’s a rare thing to see a man be cut off in the middle of a sentence during a presentation. In any case, it was certainly rude.
Just a few hours later, incident number two occurred. This is the one that infuriated me. It was just after another awesome Chattanooga producer workshop, this time on what it actually takes to make a film happen on set. My husband had accompanied me to the festival, but other men often assume he’s the director. Spoiler alert — he’s my assistant. On the film I was at this particular festival with, he was my AD.
So, after the workshop, we’re milling about in the Palace Picture House deciding on our next move, whether it’s dinner or a film, or if we can squeeze in both. A guy comes up and starts chatting up my husband. He asks if he’s a filmmaker with a film here. I look up. “Hi. I’m the filmmaker. He’s my AD. We made For A Good Time, Call… in the WTF shorts block.”
The guy’s eyes glaze over as he looks at me, a woman with long blond hair who isn’t an actress or a makeup artist, or even just the girlfriend or wife of a guy with a film — the most typical ways that men see women at film festivals.
He then looks back at my husband and says, “So what’s your film about?”
My vision blackens with quiet rage as I feel the shock of being completely dismissed wash over me. The man I married actually answers the guy back; not having ever lived in a woman’s skin, he doesn’t know what this feels like. He’s not fully “woke.” The guy, who reveals that he had a short in the student film block, hands a business card to my guy and then heads off.
“That is NOT coming home with us,” I seethe. “That is going in the trash!” I snatch the card up and crumble it, throwing it across the room. I want to put the dude through a wall. And I hate myself for feeling this much anger. I’m pissed that someone like that made me feel so furious. But I also know that this is part of a much larger problem that women everywhere have felt through all through time, in every industry. I’m angry that tears are spilling down my cheeks as I grit my teeth and leave for some fresh air and hugs from friends. I’m livid that I was frozen in the moment and couldn’t even speak to tell that guy that his behavior was NOT OKAY.
Did he mean to make me feel that way? I don’t know. I DO know that there’s no reason for anyone to be so dismissive of someone else as to make them feel like less of a human being. There’s no excuse for it.
I wish I could impart some wisdom. The only thing I can offer is maybe if you see a woman wearing a badge or pass at a film festival or any festival, ask her if she has a project there. Don’t think she’s beneath consideration. And maybe if you see something quietly nefarious and dismissive happening, stand up for her. If men who acted like this listed to women, we wouldn’t have these issues. So dudes, please speak up. Set the example you want to see in the world.