The Oscar nominations are all the buzz after last week’s announcements. Even though 2015 saw some very strong roles for women in film (did you see Suffragettes?), as a whole the entertainment industry is still lacking in gender and racial diversity so we thought InPower Women should highlight a program that is trying to fix that. – InPower Editors
by H. E. James
I admit it. I’m addicted to Netflix, especially anything that’s related to murder or the law. Why? I wanted to be a cop when I was a kid, but circumstances led me on a different path. Watching murder mysteries on Netflix is an escape into worlds I will never know otherwise.
One world that I stumbled on is the world of the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, and it opened my eyes to the gender gap in the entertainment industry.
A creation of woman-owned Every Cloud Productions, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is distributed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The second episode hooked me when one character says, “Well, it will be a pleasure to serve a respectable lady with a strict routine who appreciates the quiet life,” and his companion responds by spitting out his drink.
The women who founded Every Cloud, Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox, create characters like Phryne and Myrtle in the Dressmaker, and we need more of these strong female leads in today’s film and TV industry worldwide.
In order to ensure that the Australian film and TV industries see more women in film like Fiona and Deb, Screen Australia has created Gender Matters. The initiative is based on research that shows a discrepancy in funding for projects with women in key creative roles or writer, producer, director, or main protagonist. It aims to inject $5 million Australian in funding directly into projects with women in at least three of the four main creative roles.
This initiative has potential to set the bar for gender equality in the entertainment industry around the world as audiences have more opportunities to see strong female characters in compelling and entertaining productions.
A Global Issue
Gender Matters cites statistics showing that women in film are underrepresented across the board in the four key creative roles, especially in film. In Australia, of the 37 films released in 2014, only 16 percent were directed by women. In a worldwide study titled Gender Bias Without Borders, SeeJane.org showed similar statistics in the film industries of major countries around the globe. The films were created by production companies from Brazil, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and many others. For the top films screened in the international markets, no U.S. films were helmed by female directors. Australia did a little better, seeing 8.3% of its films screened directed by women.
Strong female characters are better represented when women are behind the scenes. Screen Australia noted that 74% of its films directed by women featured a female character, while just 24% with a male director did. In the Gender Bias Without Borders study, the ratio was 37% to 30.2%.
Mind the Gaps
These gender gaps in the media exist for reasons not wholly in control of the women in the industry. In the U.S., where Hollywood reigns supreme as the decision-making hub, agism factors into the equation as much as sexim. Both male and female actors receive a similar numbers of roles well through their 20s.
Yet when female actors reach 30, the curve on the graph drops dramatically. For male actors, it continues to rise, not dropping until they hit the ripe old age of 46. Why the agism? Screen Australia points to simple bias in the industry as a reason, and this is echoed by the creator of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, Dr. Martha Lauzen. “There may be some bias at work,” she stated to Variety regarding major releases versus independent film.
The wage gap that gets constant press throughout the world, and rightly so, exists not just because of inherent bias in the industry, but also because of a reason cited in Gender Matters: Women can sometimes lack self-belief or self-confidence to see to their own career progression. Female actresses are as susceptible to this dynamic as any women in any other industries.
In her essay regarding the Hollywood pay gap, Jennifer Lawrence pointed to her own needs to get along in the industry, or “be liked,” as she put it. She’s correct in her assumptions that it could be her age. She is, after all, just 25. Or that it could be her personality. There are men, too, who are pleasing to the point of self-destruction. However, Lawrence’s resume is impressive. She has been in nearly 30 projects in her short career, and her first credit was an appearance on the celebrated show Monk. She is right in demanding better pay for her work than she gets.
If you have the experience, you should receive the pay and the work.
Leading by Example
No matter the industry, it appears that wage gaps in the U.S. are a fact of life. Men made nearly $900 per week compared to just over $700 per week for women in the third quarter of 2015. Even in nursing, an industry traditionally dominated by women, men earn more.
We women make up nearly half the world’s population today, and in Australia and the U.S., we outnumber men. There is power in numbers, and when coupled with initiatives like Screen Australia’s Gender Matters, we have a great ability to forge change in the entertainment industry, and perhaps beyond.
It’s up to us to be inspired by women like Phryne Fisher and the women who’ve brought her to the screen, who don’t take no for an answer.
About the author: Hattie James is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She recently completed her MBA and enjoys local ciders. Tweet at Hattie: @hejames1008. Find her on Linkedin.