Forever Fearless: Reflections on The Film in My Mind: Women Filmmakers Forum
Film Feature by Dean Pettipher
Almost one year since the day Jennifer Lawrence wrote her heartfelt essay regarding gender inequality in Hollywood, focused more specifically on the pay gap tragedy, one wonders what might have changed as a consequence of this stern call for justice. Additionally, the following questions become increasingly less blurred in front of the camera for at least a brief opportunity for keen eyes to catch a worthwhile glimpse of them: Just how bad is it? How entrenched within the film industry are the challenges uniquely and, by most appearances, eternally faced by women? Can such inequalities ever be truly and fully addressed? There remain at present no simple answers to these queries, or at least there still stands defiance amongst those in power, who, out of personal comfort within the present system, or as true believers in the notion that women are fine where they currently sit, seem content with doing nothing, if not little beyond nodding along in apparent agreement in order to avoid unwanted confrontation, while, in practice, taking no practical action to back up the sentiment lazily put on display to world.
Only one question, asked out of sheer frustration and despair, has a clear answer: No.
You are most certainly not alone. In the aforementioned essay, Lawrence wrote, “I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue,” and asked, “Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t ‘offend’ or ‘scare’ men?” Even though, in a moment of humility or perhaps just simple awareness of her circumstances, Lawrence conceded, “It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable,” the Women Filmmakers Forum at the 24th Annual Raindance Film Festival, which took place on Thursday 22nd September, highlighted that many, if not all, women, even those in comparatively far less high-profile and financially lucrative positions within the movie business, do endure the quintessential gender inequalities to this day. On a more uplifting scale, such women are no less afraid to at least hint that more needs to be done to address those concerns. Furthermore, they remain no less determined to continue doing what they love, whether the issues are dealt with or not.
The panel featured Georgina Bednar as its host, who is known for her work as a producer for multiple art forms, a curator, an artist and a member of the Women’s Equality Party. By her side sat three women who were all well-established names in the business of film, theatre and/or television. From left to right sat Marnie Dickens, an up-and-coming screenwriter best known for the film entitled Thirteen (2016), Suhalya El-Bushra, a scribe for the theatre and the silver screen enjoying a great degree of success in both fields with the National Theatre and the BBC respectively, and Nicky Bentham, a film producer whose most notable credits include Moon (2009). Together, they formed a charming ensemble that sought to celebrate success stories in the wake of difficulties faced by women alone and both genders, while noting the troubles that are far from over in a manner that remained sensitive and understandably light-hearted throughout the discussion. Such a tone was not too dissimilar to that witnessed with Kate Winslet, who consciously distanced herself from the public debate over the gender pay gap in the film industry, while making it clear during a 5 News interview in 2015 that she is certainly a supporter of equal pay in principle, noting that every situation is different, by stating, “I understand why people feel strongly about it, especially if they’ve been in a position where the situations have been so extreme and perhaps differences in pay have been extreme enough for them to feel as though they have a right to say something. Good for them for speaking up for themselves. Absolutely.” For many reasons, including the fact that neither Kate Winslet nor the panellists at Raindance alone have the power to address gender inequalities like the pay gap and might unfortunately risk the careers that they have worked tirelessly to build if they dared step even an inch too far in standing up for themselves on such issues, as well as the notion that simply talking about it in public will not fix the problems either, the crucial point to make while more practical solutions slowly form in the background is to never forget that the inequalities still exist. So long as the debate maintains even a shred of honesty about what really takes place behind the glamour and the glitz, there remains hope for a definitive solution.
The discussion warmed up with each member of the panel sharing a brief recollection of how they broke into film, theatre and/or television, which unsurprisingly came down to working one’s way up the career ladder either through the academic course of University or the more practical route of starting out as a Runner. Both routes appeared to rely upon persistence and collaboration with a host of individuals, with a particular focus on agents and creative mentors. Once the baseline was established, the questions posed by Bednar led more towards topics specifically linked in the collective psyche with women in film. Notable mentions, albeit they are not unique to women working the movie business alone but of course other industries too, included having a family while holding down a career. A consensus was quickly established over the importance of the support from family and friends that undoubtedly helped to fuel the drive towards keeping the artistic ambitions alive. Family would never cease to be a major consideration in a balance that was unanimously noted by the panel as a constantly shifting one that can quite easily plague the mind with feelings of extreme guilt in the wake of the potential cost of even the tiniest necessary sacrifices, resulting from anything an avid filmmaker could think of; whether it be travelling a great distance with the production company on a temporary basis, or being bound by enormous pressure to dedicate a great deal of time to writing and refining the perfect screenplay.
As the Q & A session drew near, the panel carefully acknowledged that while there was a will to change circumstances resulting in vast gender inequalities for the better, the barriers amounting to an unconscious bias and even outright discrimination against women remained defiant. Nobody shared any substantial specifics, nor did any of the audience members ask for them. All knew in silence what they were, or at least what they could be. All that mattered was that such concerns were not forgotten, forever known, forever taken seriously. Ultimately and rightly so, audience questioning veered towards praising and taking whatever counsel they could from a group of inspirational women who faced amplified uncertainties every single day and were still here in the cinema, taking a moment to reflect on how far they had come with others, in the hope of illustrating that success as a woman in film was possible, before returning to the pursuit of what they loved to do for a living, no matter what tried to stop them. There was no doubt that they would continue to seek out ways to play a leading, integral and hard-earned role in giving life to great works of film, theatre and television. Forever determined. Forever fearless.