Women step up the fight for gender equality

26 May, 2015 by Don Groves

Screen Australia research shows female writers, directors and producers are still sorely under-represented in Australian feature films, although women are better represented in the documentary sphere.

While there are an increasing number of women participating in management and production roles in TV, they are paid less and occupy less senior positions than their male counterparts.


The percentage of women on the boards of the five free-to-air networks and Foxtel is only marginally better than the ASX 200 average.

Those are among the revelations in the latest issue of AFTRS' Lumina magazine which is dedicated to exploring the extent and causes of gender inequality in the screen industry and possible remedies.

AFTRS CEO and Lumina editor Sandra Levy writes, “Who would have guessed back in the 1970s, in the heady days of feminism, that in 2015 a resurgence of activism was arising from the same issues of gender inequality, and that women were again fighting to have their voices heard and their rights respected? Certainly not me, I thought we had moved on from those early battles and that most of them had been won.

“In the screen sector, as Monica Davidson says in her keynote essay, men dominate creative leadership in Australian feature films and always have.”

According to Screen Australia, of the features shot in 2015, women produced 29%, wrote 20% and directed 16%. In documentaries, the ratios were 46%, 34% and 38% respectively, probably due to the fact that most documentary makers work solo.

Internationally, the proportion of films released in cinemas that are directed by women is tiny. Of the top 250 titles in Australia in 2014, 8% were directed by women. Overall, 37 Australian feature films and documentaries were released in cinemas in 2014, of which 16% were directed by women. In the US, women directors accounted for 6% of the top 250 and in the UK 14%.

“This situation hasn’t changed much over the last 40 or more years,” Levy says. “In 1971, 4% of directors were women and 10% producers. At this glacial speed it will be over 100 years before we can expect that half of the films being made will be directed by women.

“So, in spite of all the studies, surveys, reports, initiatives and positive discrimination they haven’t yet led to significant change.”

In her article, Screen Australia deputy chair Deanne Weir observed that of the 51 members of the boards of the FTA networks and Foxtel, 12 are women. SBS has four and Nine Entertainment Co has none.

At the FTA broadcasters women account for around 30% of the management teams. “The lack of women in senior roles at the broadcasters also influences how women are represented on screen, particularly in commercial news and sports broadcasting,” Weir says.

She acknowledges recent Australian dramas have provided more diverse representations of women, citing Offspring, Janet King, Love Child, Redfern Now, A Place to Call Home, Dance Academy,  ANZAC Girls, Wentworth and Top of the Lake.

Last year the British Film Institute introduced a quota system aimed at increasing representation both on and off screen. Producers are no longer  eligible to apply for BFI funding unless they can satisfy two out of three requirements:  to promote on screen diversity, off screen diversity, or social mobility.

“Given the challenges we have had in Australia arguing for gender-based quotas in corporate life, it may be some time before we get to a point where BFI- type quotas would be considered,” Weir says.” In the meantime, we need to continue to speak out strongly for equal female representation on screen and behind the scenes.”

Davidson’s essay is entitled Knocking on a Locked Door: Women in Australian Feature Films. The AFTRS Master of Screen Arts and Business graduate asserts, “Women’s ‘failure’ to attain parity as directors and producers in Australian film is a result of the apparent meritocracy, which cannot see past its own bias to reward the talent or experience of women posed for leadership opportunities

“There are countless possible ways to rectify this problem, some of which have been introduced here. Other answers could include improving access to funding, overhauling the exhibition and distribution systems that favour films made by men, challenging the falsehood that audiences only like films created by men and raising awareness about the gender disparity behind and on our screens.

"More loud and pointed communication is needed to encourage everyone to understand that there actually is a problem.”