There are moments in life where we read about institutionalized prejudices and then there are moments when we find ourselves in the middle of experiencing them. Recently, while working on a film set, I found myself wide-eyed and furious at the situation I was involved in. While I had voiced my desire to be the film’s director— and had been unanimously allocated the role by my mostly-male team members— once we got on set, all semblance of my creative authority vanished. Every directorial decision I made was met with questions of “Are you sure we should do that?” and “Well, don’t you think this would be better?” It was infuriating and stifling as an artist who had come to the process with a clear vision of how the story should unfold.
In addition, the sheer surprise behind the end-of-shoot comments of “Wow, you were a really great director,” felt like more of a slap in the face than a pat on the back. Of course I had been a really great director, I thought to myself. I knew what I wanted, I knew how to get it, I understood how camera angles and film rules and cinematography worked. I was experienced as both a writer and a crew member so why did my team not trust me to fulfill the role I had been assigned? It wasn’t until I noticed the difference between the way they talked amongst each other that I realized their trepidation had more to do with my gender than with my actual skill as a director. Female directors are essential to representing femme stories but like minorities, the Hollywood bigwigs are still terrified to hire them.
My situation is not uncommon and compared to many, that story is only the beginning as far as sexism and prejudice in the film industry goes. I know women who have failed to receive financial compensation upwards of $100 for their work, women who have been cut from film crews without any notice, even women who have worked with men that have no interest in working on films not written or proposed by other men. I want to say, “All this and at the college level no less!” but I know my surprise comes unwarranted. These small scale instances of institutionalized misogyny and discrimination are representative of a larger issue within the film industry.
Hollywood likes to point to projects like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Empire as a means of saying, “Look we’re trying,” while, at the same time, hosting an Academy Awards show that failed to nominate a single person of color. While at the same time, continuing to hire one female director for every twelve male directors; while at the same time perpetuating whitewashing, trans-face, etc.; while at the same time, continuing to hire less women and minorities; while continuing to pay women and minorities significantly less than they pay privileged, straight, white men. Even though statistics show that movies with higher levels of diversity sell significantly better than films with minimal diversity, studios and agencies continue to hem and haw over taking risks on new and different talent. If art is supposed to reflect what we value as a society, it should be representative of our diversity as well.
Featured image here.