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Behind The Screen: an exploration of gender bias in the film industry

Feb. 15, 2020
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Behind The Screen: an exploration of gender bias in the film industry

Women’s rights and film are two things I’ve been passionate about for as long as I can remember. As I child, I spent a huge amount of my free time making videos in iMovie with my friends. In fourth grade, when I saw the documentary My Name Is Malala, I became much more aware of women’s rights and was incredibly inspired. I loved that there was a powerful way to raise awareness through film and storytelling. As a young girl living in Los Angeles, I became particularly aware of the #MeToo movement and was struck by the abuse of power and the difficulties women faced as actresses in the film industry—and so I began to wonder what life was like for women on the other side of the camera. I started researching and quickly found some dramatic statistics and inequities. I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the film industry’s significant gender imbalance when it comes to women being hired for crew roles. Of the 100 top-grossing films in 2018, women accounted for only 18% of producers, 14% of editors, 5% of writers, 4% of directors, and 3% of cinematographers. Additionally, the higher the film budget, the lower the percentage of women in crew roles being hired to work on the movie. I decided to interview people in the film industry to find out why the numbers are so low and to figure out what, if anything, could be done to address this gender gap. My goal was to gain an understanding of the gender bias that women face in their jobs, how it impacts their careers, and ways to improve the numbers.  

I made my film as an independent studies project when I was in the eighth grade. I had never made a student film before, but I felt passionate about telling this story. I made the film using the tools available to me: iMovie, a point-and-shoot camera, and some lights and audio equipment borrowed from my school. I found people to interview by asking teachers and parents for recommendations and then asking the people I interviewed for more recommendations. Each person I interviewed knew a lot more than I did about how to use a camera and make a film, so I would always ask for suggestions, and I ended up learning a lot as I went. My first interview had blurry footage, uneven audio, and no B-roll (I didn’t even know what that was), but it made me work extra hard in the editing process to piece together a watchable interview, and I made sure to always use two cameras and check that everything was working before doing other interviews. Synching the audio took hours and iMovie was extremely limiting, but I am proud of the final product and especially grateful for how much I learned in the process.

Although the topic I covered in my documentary is heavy, I actually came away from the experience feeling incredibly inspired and hopeful. I interviewed so many smart, determined women who have faced a variety of challenges and still persevered. Having this as a first project could have discouraged me, but it ultimately made me even more determined to be a filmmaker. I loved learning about people’s experiences—good and bad—and the more I found out, the more curious I was. It was interesting hearing from the men that I interviewed about how different their experiences were from the women, and how little they’d had to consider these questions. It just wasn’t an issue for them in the course of their careers. 

When I first pitched my film concept at school, I was asked whether I could name three female directors. Although I knew a lot of male directors, I could only name one female director.  After making my film, I’m happy to say that not only can I name many more female directors (and writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers), I have so many incredible women to look up to and hopefully even work under one day soon.