We had a chat with Filmmaker and President of WIFT (Women in Film and Television) NSW, Megan Riakos about the work she’s been a part of to shift structures within the film industry to allow for the improved diversity of practitioners. Megan will be joining a host of industry professionals at Diversity in Australian Media’s upcoming Diversity in Practice panel discussion, which will be looking at how organisations can practicably implement change to encourage diversity. This panel is programmed as part of this year’s Vivid Sydney Festival.
WIFT Australia has recently been created, what are its priorities? What are some upcoming activities?
WIFT Australia was created to unify the voices and interests of all female-identifying filmmakers working in the screen industry across Australia. It’s so important that we have a strong presence in the industry and that we have a seat at the table where we can have a meaningful conversation on the issues affecting women. Our main advocacy initiative at the moment is Raising Films Australia, supporting and advocating for parents and carers in the screen industry. We currently have an industry-wide survey out exploring these issues and are interested in hearing from anyone who currently works or has worked in the screen industry.
What are the main challenges that women face in our industry?
Where do I begin? Gender inequity is complex, but broadly speaking there are three areas that contribute to it:
1.Workplace culture, gender stereotypes and unconscious bias:
One example is the difficulty in female-led films getting finance and distribution, (despite the financial case put forward that these films have stronger box office returns) shows that structures and unconscious bias play a role in sidelining projects by women.
2.The lack of women in key creative roles:
Only fifteen percent of features are directed by women, which means not only are women’s voices behind the scenes stifled, their perspectives do not reach audiences – the very place where cultural change can happen.
3.The lack of flexible work practices and the affordability and accessibility of childcare:
This makes it difficult to combine work and caring commitments and in conjunction with our society’s current distribution of domestic and caring responsibilities– greatly impacts women’s participation in the industry.
You also founded Raising Films for parents in the film industry. How will supporting parents be advantageous to a production?
Women graduate film school at an almost equal rate as men, but ten years later and the drop off is huge. This brain drain is due to a number of reasons but caring responsibilities (both for their children and/or ageing/disabled partner or parent) is a big part of it. Not only are we losing the years of experience and education that these women have, it also means these fresh, vibrant stories that are a big part of our culture are not getting the opportunity to be represented on screens.
The past few months have been rife with prominent men in the film industry being accused of sexual harassment. What do you think would be a way forward out of this seemingly age-old problem?
The short answer is a culture change. Culture change on a personal, policy and industry level. The #timesup and #metoo movements have created an opportunity for a frank discussion on what behaviour has been allowed to go unchecked and what we are no longer willing to ignore. It has kick-started an education process that arms people with knowledge about their rights, as well as remind them of their responsibilities and how we can speak up as ethical bystanders when we see harassment or bullying happening to others.
At the moment, sexual harassment policies are being developed for our industry. Tracey Spicer’s NOW Australia will soon start providing vital support for those who have experienced sexual harassment. But there is a long way to go. Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight but I see amazing work being done to make sure that it happens.
How important is intersectionality while addressing gender inequality?
I see gender inequality as part of the bigger issue of diversity in general. The structures that maintain the male-dominated aspects of the status quo are often the same ones that affect many other disenfranchised groups, creating conditions that end up marginalising all of us. Having said that, the barriers affecting each group (and those who might intersect into several groups) and the effect of this exclusion have their own nuances. We need to not only fight for equality of our gender, but for a more fair, transparent and diverse industry as a whole. To do this, we must acknowledge the times when we do have privilege and use those moments to listen, learn from and include those from other backgrounds. We must build an industry that is gender- balanced AND diverse, or we’ll simply be perpetuating the injustices that we have felt, against others.
What are some short-term changes the film industry can make to level the playing field for women and parents, both in front of and behind the camera?
The easiest way to make change is to invite women and those from diverse backgrounds to seats at your table. Are you a festival? Do you have gender parity in your judges, panellists and films? Are you hiring for your production? Do you have meaningful diversity of culture, ability, age and sexuality included in the cast and crew you hire? Diversity is good for culture. It brings fresh stories to the screen and it is good business. If you don’t have a good representation of diversity in your organisation, try to understand why not and take steps to correct this. There are plenty of organisations around to help you. It might take a little more time to set it right, but the investment is worth it.