There’s been much discussion recently about the pay disparity between male and female actors in Hollywood. But less is known about the professional challenges faced by women in Australia on the other side of the camera – those working as producers, directors and writers in the local screen industry.
This week, the local screen industry’s primary government body, Screen Australia, announced a new three-year, $5 million program, Gender Matters. It recognises that stories by and about women are at risk of being left behind by the highly competitive Australian entertainment industry.
Members of Screen Australia’s dedicated taskforce include an impressive range of women who have achieved success in the screen industry, including Offspring producer Imogen Banks; Redfern Now’s Miranda Tapsell; Sue Maslin, producer of the recently released The Dressmaker; and YouTube sensation Natalie Tran. The taskforce’s members will act as industry champions and advocates for great stories by and about women.
In a significant step towards addressing widespread gender disparities, the program will offer funding to projects that include women in at least three of four key creative roles – director, writer, producer and protagonist – from which they are often absent. Currently, in feature films, women make up 32 per cent of producers, 23 per cent of writers, and just 16 per cent of directors.
Gender Matters also includes measures designed to create sustainable, stable industry infrastructure for women, and to offer support via professional opportunities, placements, marketing and distribution support for female-led productions.
While some of the screen industry’s pressures are universal, others are particular to women creators. Gender Matters is not an act of tokenism. Instead it recognises that women face additional barriers to opportunity – such as inflexible work hours, insufficient parental-leave schemes and unspoken discrimination in many areas of the entertainment world.
Breaking down those barriers to participation, particularly for early-career screen professionals, is crucial. As Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason says, “Men, for whatever reason, are often told, ‘Yes, you can do it’, and they have an in-built belief that they can.”
The same is not true of women, who will more often be reminded that they, ‘Can’t have it all’. “Everybody should be able to get as close to ‘having it all’ as possible,” Mason says.
Gender Matters will reward productions that prioritise inclusivity and representing women and their stories. “We’re trying to encourage more people to create more stories,” says Mason, acknowledging that women’s success or lack thereof in the screen industry is not solely determined by their talent or ambition, but often by factors that are linked to unconscious biases.
When women access creative opportunities, the work they produce is often highly successful, critically and commercially. Think of the success of films such as The Sapphires and The Dressmaker, and shows such as Offspring, Wentworth and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
The Gender Matters plan “Makes sense morally,” says Mason, “but even more than that, it makes sense creatively. If women – the majority of the population – are being encouraged to tell more stories, that’s a great creative outcome, and culturally it’s good. Commercially, it’s pretty daft to ignore 51 per cent of the population.”