Monday 24 May 2010

The Missing Voice Of Women In Film.

A couple of days ago I wrote an article Women, Men & The Film Industry. I am really grateful for the responses-- some interesting points were raised and are definitely in need of further discussion. However, I must say, I think at times I was a bit too vague about what I perceive to be the problem. So allow me to be a little more concise.

There is a voice that is MISSING from the world of film. And it is the voice of women.

Yes, Sofia Coppola made a couple of good movies. Yes, Kathryn Bigelow made THE HURT LOCKER. Both of these things are GREAT. But, they are exceptions. I am aware, also, that I am a male filmmaker. And I am aware that, industry-wise, I am not necessarily a 'success.' So I feel there may be many men like me, who have yet to carve out the careers we want--- so it seems odd to make a big thing about a 'lack of opportunities' for women when we ourselves are struggling for opportunities. That is a valid point and that is a discussion which I think we can have at some point. But this is an issue far bigger than my personal career.

For me to make a statement that we are missing the voice of women, that would of course insinuate that film is dominated by the voice of men. So what exactly is that voice saying? James D, in response to my previous article, said "Bigger films expect scantily-clad women and dashing men, but do women directors want to shoot that?". Another poster, Simon, said, "I think women are cut from the profession because the movies that draw in box office--predominately crap horror movies and romcoms--are unbearably sexist." I agree with these remarks. Of course, not all films are like that. But as generalizations go, these are pretty accurate.

I was holding an audition today for my next film. A friend of mine, an actress, is helping me cast. We were having a conversation about casting-- when she brought up, without my prompting or mentioning these blog articles-- a troubling experience she had recently with a man who was casting a short film. At the audition, he pushed her to do things that were not in the script, things of a more suggestive nature. And then, in the days that followed, he sent her many texts saying they should 'meet for drinks' to discuss the project. The more he told her about the project, the more troubling she found it.

The issue of the voice of women being missing in film, and the fact that so so many actresses have to deal with this bullshit in auditions and castings are NOT separate issues. They are connected, albeit at a distance. In the comments to the previous article it was great to see people engaging in a difficult subject, one that's hard to grasp and discuss because, it never really gets discussed. It gets mentioned, then passed over. I noticed in the comments, just like when I've talked about the issue with people face to face, there is a feeling that, "hopefully THE HURT LOCKER'S success will change things," or "Maybe actresses should be more careful," and these are very passive points of view. There's a feeling of helplessness. That for this issue to be taken seriously, Spielberg needs to deal with it, or Julia Roberts needs to start a campaign; rather than us exploring the notion that we play a part, as writers, directors, actors, bloggers, etc.

YES, the industry, even the viewers; tend to value scantily clad women. I won't lie, I loved Megan Fox in TRANSFORMERS. It wasn't because of her acting. But there is also a view that seems to permeate, a view that women, given the chance to direct, want to make Meg Ryan weepies, and movies about sisters coming to terms with grief. I think the point we need to wake up to is that, this is not entirely true. As it turns out, I, a guy, wouldn't mind making a Meg Ryan flick, and many women, as THE HURT LOCKER so aptly proved, have a lot more to say than the industry allows them.

I think, as an industry, we marginalize women - and, in the main, give them fluffy rom-coms to make. And we have a tendency to think that, if it's a big franchise or an 'important' movie, we give them to the men to make. I think this is wrong.

It is also true that nearly every young, upcoming actress, has had an inappropriate audition. Or maybe two of them. Or six. I have spent many years lecturing actress friends about their naivety, giving them tips on how to spot director's with bad intentions. But, actress naivety is not the problem. Just because you're a fresh, enthusiastic and beautiful 21 year old actress, it doesn't give men the right to abuse that. But they do, ruthlessly, every day-- across our industry. If any of you feel this is an exaggeration, perhaps I could get some actresses to give examples, even if anonymously, because the frequency of its occurrence would, I'm sure, surprise many of you.

My hope is that we can start to understand and begin to appreciate the depth of this issue. It's not simple, there are many layers to it. My hope is that, we can begin to see it as something that affects all of us and is caused by all of us. And my belief is that, by being more aware and by discussing it - we can begin to change things.

Care to share?


  1. Well said, then. Didn't mean to cause such a fuss, if, in fact, I did, which I doubt, but covering the bases here...

    Yes, well, men are sleazy pieces of shit in the industry, sometimes. At least from second-hand stories I hear.

  2. You know, I think this is the first time ever I've read a thoughtful piece—two pieces—that a man's written on these issues. I hope there's lots more to follow-- Because the issues are complex and there's so much to talk about, and there's ongoing silence about some aspects of the problems. The silences sometimes remind me of the silence there used to be around domestic violence.

    We women filmmakers need men as allies, and you've really brightened my day! Thank you.

    And I've loved reading the comments too.

  3. I think perhaps the feeling of helplessness and passivity from your commenters (myself being one of them) is that if the problem of why people don't make more films that accurately express the stories and voices of women was an easy fix, it might have already been fixed. Because entertainment and art is usually a reflection of society, most people (myself included) feel that society has to change first and then the movies will follow, as most major movie studios do not take risks on anything - including story, director, characters, or the actors cast.

    And people (at least in America, maybe in Britain too) are at a very low point right now where we see so much wrong with the world and don't even know where to start. How do we fix society? How do we get women's stories and voices heard in movies when they aren't even heard in real life? You make an excellent point - why AREN'T people like Steven Spielberg and Julia Roberts out there campaigning to get more strong female heroes characters like Ripley in Aliens or Sarah Connor in Terminator?

    But again, this is why I mentioned Joss Whedon in agreement with you - because we can't simply ask only women to create strong, independent female characters - we have to ask men too, so that everyone realizes what you've already realized: that the marginalization and victimization of women is EVERYONE'S problem, not just women's.

    Good on you, Kid.

  4. Most recently watched: Lords of Dogtown. A story of male voices, directed by a woman [Catherine Hardwicke].

    I confess I'm not 100% on how this links to the abuse of power in an audition situation. I guess it's to patronise and underestimate women by thinking they're only interested in 'women's issues' and films.

    Unfortunately because of history the power is currently tipped in favour of men in the movies, and because of their capacity to make a lot of money this status quo is propogated (cf previous points on blockbusters). That keeps men in the Directing and Producing seats; men who may view it as their rite of passage to behave in a manner that society at large no longer considers acceptable.

    I think Ann is right. The only way we can change this is to stop accepting the status quo. Whether by boycotting, or developing alternative channels, or as you are doing Kid - raising awareness. Everything counts; nothing can be changed overnight but when was it ever easy to do something worth doing?

  5. Thanks Kid, for opening up this discussion. Your insights and comments are very mature, and it does take men talking about this stuff. As I heard on the radio yesterday (in regards to something unrelated) Women didn't get to vote to allow women the vote, men did.

    For more on this topic, check out the Women and Hollywood blog. It's entire focus is this very issue.

  6. I think the problem appear already when the writer write the script. And I say this as a screenwriter myself.

    I once, as a test, wrote a classic situation with a princess and her faithful male bodyguard. And then switched sexes. It was the only thing I did. The result was pretty interesting. It went from cliché to original!

    I think it would be a good idea to write the whole story with only female or male characters and then cast the movie half males/females.

    I once read that Riply in Alien was written as a man. That would explain why it is one of the best female parts in movie history. No kisses, no tits, no man vs woman attitudes. And yet, it was a success.

    Why didn't movie industry learn something from this is for me a big mystery.

  7. it is truly refreshing to see something like this coming from the other side of the line.. i'm a south asian currenly based in the U.S. I do experimental video art and feel like this issue is so complicated and rooted in evolution of our societies, it is difficult to isolate issues as this and that (so - to respond to desiree - it is not a really not a mystery why the movie industry would not learn from some great films being made -- those are not what holds the economy, which lives on cheap sales & access of images and bodies of women (think pornography). It took me years to figure out what to do with the still and video cameras i held in my hand. there were times when i'd have to force myself to create some coherent narrative for assignments (which were pretty open to interpretations). slowly i came to realize my system was somehow not drawn to coherent narratives... it liked creating dreams of abstractions, endless durations of everyday banalities, a lot of magical ambiguities... in a way i learnt about myself through my video work, and i still struggle with it. i also realized that video & film is not the only medium i want to be working with. i realized that i don't necessarily need to be making 'movies' just because i'm holding a camera. i realized that i could be both behind and in front of the camera, and doing so brings in more issues to deal with. now i've come to get some idea about why it was such a difficult task to shoot. and later to edit a coherent piece. by the same token, i've realized that my mind is drawn more to video work and not necessarily a feature length narrative. I was fighting with a discourse that had no space for me. i was struggling to look for any possibility of carving out that space for myself. I also learnt that there a lot more ways to explore images and sounds than the ones presented to us in the mainstream media (& image) environments. there can be beautiful cinema, but there can be beautiful others other than cinema itself. there is novel, and there are profound proses and poetry. the focus & motivation should be on writing and not on the bulk. in other words, having a woman director or screenplayer behind a movie is good but doesn't necessarily the right direction to be heading towards. a woman is as much capable of reproducing what the male industry has been doing (& we see plenty of examples). it doesn't really matter who is turning the wheel -- the system is just the same. so while i don't mean to discourage women who are aspired to act or to make features, i also feel that women (as well as men) should invest as much exploring their personal sense of voice and sensibilities on the inside as much as they struggle to make it in the industry on the outside. and ideally there should not be a line dividing the two.


  8. Kid,

    I finally had a chance to sit down and read both pieces with the time and attention they warranted. Thanks so much for writing about this. and I think it's something that needs to be continuously written about.

    The first thing that stood out to me is something that you touched on in a roundabout way--the missing voice of women. Honestly, the voice of women is missing everywnere, not just in film--it's missing in many of the world's religions, in society, and in art. Films is a great way to bring forth the female voice b/c they are accessible to many.

    This also brings up another idea--what is "the female voice". I don't think we can say for sure it is one specific thing. I personally, as a female and an actor to boot, would love to see more women diredting films, but I don't know if their perspective at the core would be different than a man's---now before everyone jumps down my throat--let me further clarify.

    We live in a society that is so bogged down by gender roles that ofentimes men and women behave as they are told their gender should feel, think and behave, rather than just being who they really are at the core of themselves. I think if guys stopped "trying to be guys" and "liking things guys are supposed to like" we'd see guys directing some very different types of movies than what we see now. The same goes for women. Not all women want to direct "chick flicks" etc... (don't even get me started on that term). We all thing "girls behave this way, think this way, talk this way, like girly things" and vice versa for guys. Think about the limit this puts on our true self expression.

    Each one of us is born and equipped with a unique view of the world, that if we shared would be amazing! But it gets bogged down with ideas of who we are "supposed" to be based onthe body we were born into.

    So the whole point of me saying this, is that this leads up to the issue of what we really lose when we lose the "voice of women" in film--it's not just the woment who are losing out--it's the men too. The male diretors aren't growing. (hey there are some great male directors out there who aren't stuck in this gender rut and are just being themselves when directing, so I don't mean to generalize)

    What has become "the male voice" in Hollywood is that typical hot big boobed babe in heat character with the tought muscled guy shooting a gun...and that's sad for men too. Since when have we relegated men to that role and voice? Men have more interesting things to say other than tha.

    Same goes for women--women have more to say in their films than Sex and The City 2 or frumpy girl goes for hot sexy guy, gets threatened by hot babe, but gets "lucky enough" to end up with hot sexy guy... you get the picture...

    I think that with a lack of female voices in film, both men and women are losing out here.

    If people just stopped trying to be what they are told society sees them as, and were just themselves, imagine how many good movies we would have out there. They'd be in the majority I think.

    A great movie I saw recently which was directed by a film and featured female actresses as the protagonists, and showed female (burgenoning teen female seuxality) in a completely non exploitative way (which was genius to me) was the film Water Lilies... this is the type of film that can happen when people aren't bogged down by ideas fo what films are "supposed to be".

    don't get me wrong though, I enjoy the typical shoot em out blockbuster film just as much as the next guy or girl ;-)

  9. I also think that this gender division and stereotyping that people buy into contributes to the images of men and women we see. People in films have 0% body fat and look visually perfect... there are very few real people.

    Women do have much more pressure to look a certain way than men do, but men are starting to feel more pressure too I think. In the end, what seems to be a "female problem" if it doesn't get resolved is going to become a "human problem". We are all connected so what affects one eventually affects the other...

    I also wanted to add--I'm one of those lucky actresses who has not had a negative audition experience. maybe its because I am already overly suspicious and do a lot of questioning before I go on said audition. If it's at someone's house, I have someone come with me. If the person won't send me a script and gives me little info about the film, I just don't audition for it, period.

    I've had a few guys offer me their "cards" to do "modeling" and I just refer them to my agent. interestingly enough, none of them ever called my agent haha! that's a great way to weed out the creeps. or have a friend pose as your agent....either way works.

  10. making films is very hard. you have to be driven and fight for it. no getting around it. there is no secret hand shake that white men are given to get into the directing club. women need to want it badly enough. and there is no better time for women to be able to tell their stories. digital cameras & social media are leveling the playing field and empowering everyone to tell their stories. look at the stop action kindle commercials. what two people did with almost no money. amazing. same can be done in the film world. put your mind to it and just do it.

    Mary-Beth Taylor

  11. I found these resources aimed at getting the voice of women heard in film.

  12. As a female filmmaker for 20 years, I have to say that unfortunately Mary-Beth Taylor there is a "secret handshake". It is rather insulting to tell all us women-just try harder. If the system is unfair it doesn't matter how hard we try. Yes it is true we can do "something" but to see others with no talent other than being born a male be given entry level jobs in dub houses, TV stations as camera men and other entry level jobs 98% of the time it is sad and depressing. When I was in my twenties I wrote to a man in the same city as me who owned one of the first multimedia systems called a Flame system. I told him I was excited about it and was willing to volunteer to work for him for free to learn it. I wrote him the old fashioned way as the Internet did not yet exist. I never heard back. Meanwhile I saw then and I see now that when guy's start a business they look around choose whatever guy's, guy relatives are nearby to hire then as the company grows the guys rise up up with them. It takes an awareness of the accidental way you are elevating others to break out of it. I have met a few men that were very aware of this and helped me. I thank them. Another reason some men don;t hire women is they don't trust themselves to be faithful to their loved ones so it's "safer" to hire a man. As more women get elevated and bring more women with them we may one day see equality.