NYFA Celebrates Women’s Equality Day

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Women’s Equality Day is a holiday to mark the day in 1920 in which the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed, granting women the right to vote. Today, while “feminism” is a word that many people have mixed opinions about, most can agree that equality for women and girls is an enormous, continuing human rights issue around the globe.

Globally, according to OXFAM’s New Zealand site:

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  • 60% of the world’s chronically hungry are women and girls.
  • Two-thirds of all children denied school are girls, and 75 per cent of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women
  • Women hold only 21 per cent of the world’s parliamentary seats, and only 8 percent of the world’s cabinet ministers are women.
  • Only 46 countries have met the UN target of 30 percent female decision-makers.
  • One in three women around the world are likely to be victims of gender-based violence in their lifetime.

While there has been a lot of progress towards gender equality worth celebrating since the U.S. passed the 19th amendment, there is still a very long way to go to achieve true gender equality — even in the United States. For example, as NYFA showed in our Gender Inequality Infographic, only 30.8% of speaking characters in film are women. And even outside of the entertainment industry, there is still a gender pay gap in the U.S., with women earning roughly 80% of men’s salaries.

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Even in the face of this reality, the way many people view the movement for gender equality today is challenged by social stigmas and misconceptions. For example, the word “feminism” is often perceived as divisive. This is largely because the movement of feminism itself has changed a lot over the last century. In the 1960s, second wave feminism focused on a range of issues including reproductive rights, sexuality, and domestic violence. Today, third wave feminism focuses on the intersectionality of issues surrounding women’s equality, including race, culture, and gender identity.

Gender equality is not just a western movement anymore, it’s now a global movement. The idea of feminism today is that it’s a movement for all people, everywhere. Gender equality is human equality.

Let’s take a closer look at how gender equality intersects with the entertainment industry.

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The Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC Annenberg completed a study that focused on 1,365 content creators. The study found that 7.5 percent were female directors, 11.8 percent were female writers, 22 percent were female producers and less than one percent were female composers. The report concludes, “There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of girls and women on screen between 2007 and 2015.”

That’s not good news.

According to Dr. Stacy Smith, who led the study for MDSC Initiative, five films with female leads in 2015 were over 45 years old. But there were 26 movies in 2015 featuring leads or co-leads with males at least 45 years old.     

Women of color are also at a great disadvantage in the entertainment industry. From 2007-2015, only three African-American women and one Asian woman directed films listed in the top 100 films. Overall, only 5.5 percent of 886 directors examined for the study were African-American, and only 2.8 percent were Asian or Asian American.

In the last few years UN Women has kicked off its gender equality campaign HeForShe. The campaign aims for a solidarity movement for gender equality. Men and boys can engage through a targeted platform to achieve gender equality. This new approach recognizes that men and boys can be partners for women’s rights, and how they will benefit from equality.

In addition, Harvard University has launched their own campaign, Side by Side, which aims to promote awareness and action against gender-based discrimination on campus.

The entertainment industry is slowly moving in the right direction. However, we all need to continue to fight for awareness and progress towards gender equality both within the entertainment industry, and the world.

Become a part of the change by learning to create your own films at the New York Film Academy.

Feminism and Film Festivals: A Change In The Right Direction?

Last year was something of a breakthrough for women in cinematography in that female directors have made up precisely half of the entries in last year’s Sundance Film Festival dramatic film competition.

The news is inspiring, but also illustrates the massive disparity between the indie scene and Hollywood when it comes to gender equality. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that this isolated statistic is indicative of long term change—indeed, Stacy Smith (of the University of Southern California who carried out the Sundance survey) concluded that “There has been no sustained or meaningful change across the last 11 years in the percentage of [female] directors or producers at the Sundance film festival.”

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In total, over the last 11 years of Sundance less than one third of the professional staff who worked on films appearing at the festival were women. But if recent statistics mark a positive upswing in gender equality in film, how best can we sustain and build upon the trend?

A Focus on the Figures

To better understand the issue, more consistent analysis is needed; statistics on the gender divide in the industry are rarely current and surveys aren’t usually carried out on a large scale by professional bodies. While the numbers from 2013’s Sundance festival are both accurate and current, they weren’t drawn from a particularly large sample pool (the 50% figure relates to just the 16 films in the Dramatic Competition) and tell us nothing about the industry outside of the festival, as popular as it is.

Perhaps we should look towards Sweden, a country with a proud film heritage that is committed to analyzing and addressing the balance. The Swedish Film Institute, a semi-state funded body based in Stockholm, has worked hard over the last few years to make sure funding is awarded equally between men and women.

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The Institute has determined that currently around 29% of feature films which are awarded funding are directed by women (who also account for 40% of the producers and writers). Not quite equal yet, but also a lot better than the loosely estimated national statistics for the US.

What’s more, the Swedish Film Institute has constructed an action plan based on its findings to achieve total equality in film funding by as soon as 2015 through regular dialogue, constructive action and mentorship programs. They’ve already cracked that nut when it comes to shorts and documentaries; it’s only the feature films that need raising from 29% to 50% in the director’s chair.

At the time of writing, no such research or action plan has been commissioned by the American Film Institute.

Raising Consciousness Through Film Festivals

That all said, the Sundance survey (commissioned by the festival itself in part with Women in Film) should be applauded as a step in the right direction. More studies of this kind should be carried out by hosting festivals, not only to get a more accurate handle on the issue but also to avoid the shambles that was Cannes 2012 (in which the Palme d’Or competition was dominated exclusively by males).

In addition, there’s a somewhat cyclical effect to surveys such as these. The numbers are of great interest to film writers and bloggers, who disseminate the information to the public at large.

In turn, this fosters an awareness where one might not have previously existed and creates a desire to see more female-directed or produced works. It also inspires more women to take up a career in the industry, helping the diversity some of the best cinematography schools in the country are already keen to foster.

And that gives rise to festivals dedicated to the works of women. This year sees an impressive line-up of such events, including last month’s return of SIFF’s Women in Cinema which returned to Seattle after a ten-year hiatus.

The Wellywood Woman blog has recently updated its handy list of female-centric film festivals which are appearing globally around the world; be sure to check out the full list here.

Pushing Forward

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Of course, it’s not all about the numbers and blindly working towards a 50% gender split in films shown at festivals is not the only goal. As projects helmed by women—either as a director or producer—are in no way less likely to be profitable than those made by their male counterparts, it’s important that we promote a greater number of works by females at film festivals purely because it gives us as viewers more variance.

Variety is, after all, the spice of life; let’s demand more from our film festival organizers.


Enjoy this? You might also want to check out our Gender Inequality in Film infographic to dig into the numbers a little deeper.