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.”

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  1. It’s definitely a mistake to think there should be a 50:50 split of everything between the genders in the film industry, especially when countless evidence suggests the number of women in the industry are far fewer than men by choice. How about funding the BEST films, regardless of the gender of key creatives?

    The film industry is a tough one and both genders face endless rejection. To claim that one gender should be given special treatment over another simply because there are fewer by choice is discriminatory and unfair.

  2. In response to Hugh – yet again there is a failure to understand the key issue. The point of the Lumina discussion was to say that the best films should be financed and supported, but that is not happening BECAUSE of a gender bias which favours male stories and male storytellers over female ones despite audience or success. One gender is currently given special treatment over another – the male over the female – yet whenever this is questioned a knee jerk reaction of ” but it would be unfair to actively help women redress this balance.” The myth of meritocracy has harmed getting the best films onscreen and allowing women access as audience and creators to content which is about them.
    Hugh wrote:
    “the number of women in the industry are far fewer than men by choice.”
    Why do you think women choose to leave the industry – is it perhaps because it is almost impossible for them to be given access to opportunities? The conditions are male-centric and the culture positively geared towards advancing male careers over female ones. Again the fallacy of ‘female choice” is a oft quoted reason for the continuation of inequitable treatment rather than understanding that this choice is completely informed by the existing conditions.

  3. In response to Gabe – how can you conclusively say it is gender bias that favours male stories and male storytellers over female? You can’t. And you certainly can’t say that one gender is currently favoured over another, just because there are more films directed by men. Take a step back and examine your logic – or lack of logic. If women choose to leave the industry, they cannot possibly expect to succeed. As a man in the industry who has been given very few opportunities, I have gone out and made them myself. And I’ve never complained. The conditions and culture is most definitely not geared to favour men over women. And with massive advances in filmmaking technology in recent years, greatly lowering production cost, the individual’s choice determines success now more than ever. But still we have people who scream unfair – and others who believe and support their complaints. Please research the issue in more detail before posting further comments.

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