One of Australia’s most experienced screenwriters has criticised sexism in casting which she says discriminates against women who aren’t deemed attractive and those from ethnic backgrounds.
Kristen Dunphy says this bias in casting often works against the stereotypes which writers are striving to avoid.
A screenwriter for 20 years, her extensive credits include Essential Media and Entertainment’s upcoming SBS drama The Principal, Blackfella Films and Werner Film Productions’ ABC3 indigenous teen drama Ready for This, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, The Straits, East West 101, Wildside, Heartbreak High and G.P.
“Talented actresses who are overweight, unattractive, unusual looking or just plain ordinary are still rarely cast, unless the show’s a comedy,” she writes in the latest edition of AFTRS’ Lumina, which is dedicated to gender equality in the screen industry.
“It seems there is no such thing as a vital female who is not also young, thin and beautiful. It also seems ethnic women are thin on the ground- unless, of course, they’re young, thin and beautiful.
“This can be extremely frustrating for those writers who work hard at creating real women for the screen.”
She contrasted that situation with the UK, where actresses such as Olivia Colman are in great demand. When she first saw Colman in an episode of Broadchurch, she thought, “There is no way a woman as plain as her would be cast in a lead role in this country.”
Dunphy has not experienced any discrimination because of her gender in the Australian screen industry, which she credits to the female writers who preceded her and the female producers who hired them.
But she observes, “Screenwriters in general cop a raw deal in this country and since women still tend to be poorer advocates for themselves than men their position is potentially weaker still.
As proof of that, she acknowledges, “Without my husband’s teaching career, we’d have long ago lost the house and sold the kids into slavery.
“A writer working on ‘turnaround’ on a long-running series may earn a consistent income for a period but it will never be secure.”