Gender Matters, Crucial First Step Towards Improved Diversity & Equality in Australian Film & Television

by Karin GottschalkLeave a Comment

Screen Australia, the federal film, television and, increasingly, online content funding agency, recently announced Gender Matters, a AU$5 million initiative intended to correct the gender imbalance in the Australian industry.

Of that total figure, 3 million is earmarked for immediate injection into searching for new female-skewed production companies and projects with 2 million going towards career development and business support.

Projects seeking funding will need to satisfy at least three out of four criteria:

  • Female producer
  • Female director
  • Female writer
  • Female protagonist

Besides the above, industry roles where women are grossly underrepresented include cinematography, audio recording, sound design, movie and audio editing and a myriad of other technical and design jobs. No specific mention was made of these in the Gender Matters announcement.

Regarding the Gender Matters initiative, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason stated that “We need to support women to build a range and breadth of skills in this industry.”

“To make a real difference to women’s participation in the industry,” he elaborated, ”there needs to be a holistic, integrated approach to people, projects and business infrastructure that is sustainable and self-generating.”

Screen Australia will make development funding or seed capital available in five different ways:

  • The Women’s Story Fund: an initiative to stimulate awareness and increase industry activity around storytelling by women, focusing on bold, original and compelling fully-formed story concepts.
  • Enterprise Women: business support to create industry infrastructure around women, encouraging mentorship schemes, placements, slate development, workshops, events and proposals for strategy and business development.
  • Attachments for Women: in circumstances where Screen Australia invests more than $500,000 in a project, attachments or reverse attachments are proposed to provide valuable production experience for women who want to break into the industry as creatives or crew.
  • Matched Distribution Guarantee Support: of up to $300,000, to enhance the distribution and marketing of quality Australian films with significant female content, encouraging close partnership with distributors on female-driven projects.
  • Assessment criteria changes: to be made across Screen Australia, aimed at encouraging projects that promote gender diversity and removing the barriers faced by women who take time out of the workforce, including added consideration of gender diversity in overall slate assessment.

A Gender Matters task-force consisting of established female producers, directors, writers, actors and other creatives will oversee the Gender Matters program and work with the Australian movie and television industries to deliver the program streams outlined above.

Rumor has it that cultural diversity will be be the next discrimination issue to be tackled after the lack of gender diversity in the industry, though so far the nature of that cultural diversity has not been defined. Multitalented performer Candy Bowers has covered some aspects of cultural diversity on considering the Gender Matters program in her article Let’s Get Cracking, Ladies: A Call To Arms On Screen Australia’s New Initiatives For Gender Equality.

One thing is for certain. Despite a small number of female Australian producers, directors, cinematographers, actors, writers and creatives attaining national and even international prominence over the years, gender-based discrimination has been entrenched from the beginnings of the industry in 1906.

Discrimination and disadvantage also exist against people with a range of other diversities including age, education, disability, ethnicity, social class, financial status and whether one is a member of the LGBTI community. One area where the Australian industry has had a good diversity record for several decades now is in indigenous filming and television production for release via public broadcasters like SBS, the ABC and Imparja Television.

Color me jaded, but one thing I know from human rights work is that announcing and even funding the beginnings of an anti-discrimination program does not guarantee overturning deeply entrenched systems of belief and practice in the dominant culture or even making much of a dent in it. Lip service comes cheap and is all too prevalent. Initial investments must be followed with more.

Real action and lasting results take a great deal of effort, and most especially buy-in from those who are the dominant culture, men. More specifically, white, Anglo-Saxon, well-to-do males of a certain background and accustomed to certain rights and privileges.

Every barrier I and others of my acquaintance have faced within the Australian film, television, media and advertising industries over the years has come from the direction of the non-distaff side of the Australian population.

Males in the industry, regardless of ethnicity and cultural background, have tended to maintain a tight grip on power and their entitlement to maintain that power. This plays out federally amongst national industry funders and broadcasters as well as at state level amongst funding organizations within each state.

I note here though that Screen NSW has set a target toward gender equality in the film and television industry in the state of New South Wales, according to a recent article.

I have experienced direct interference in movie projects from male federal politicians at the very highest level and have been subjected to male senior university staff crushing career prospects after fighting against all the odds to get potentially award-winning, career-defining productions made.

It does not take too much concerted effort on all fronts to destroy a blossoming moviemaking career. Blacklisting for being a little too uppity by achieving too much too soon can last years and have a devastating effect on one’s personal and working lives.

One aspect of the Gender Matters initiative that gives cause to hope, then, is its emphasis on helping build female-led, all or mostly female teams. We need real female leadership and active female mentoring, face-to-face training and nurturing to compensate for decades of hardcore exclusion, sexism, the demanding of sexual favors or outright betrayal by males in the industry.

I have some hopes that Gender Matters may be able to make a positive difference, but I am not holding my breath. Real change will take far more than $5 million dollars, three years and statements of good intent.

And there is far more at stake than issues of gender. Poke your head out any door in any Australian city or suburb and note the broad multitude of human beings whom Australian movie and television productions fail to recognize exist at all.

Gender Matters is an important, crucial initiative for radical change in the Australian movie and television industries. For it to succeed, it demands that women organize ourselves into female-centric production teams that encourage the very best in each team member.

These teams then need to deluge Screen Australia, the state funding organizations, broadcasters, cinema chains and other outlets with top quality, original production ideas. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope that we in Australia can learn from movie industry equality initiatives in other parts of the world, and then surpass them.

Some recommended reading: 

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NEWSFLASH: 2015-12-23

Screen Australia’s funding has been viciously slashed yet again, for the third time in three years. And the funds the agency had been looking forward to from the sale of its studios complex in the suburb of Lindfield (within short travel distance from my home office/studio) have been shunted by the federal government into two Hollywood feature films, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus projects and Thor.

These foreign movies will be receiving AU$47.3 million from the Australian federal government, including the AU$35 million from the sale of Screen Australia’s Lindfield complex and the AU$10.3 million from the latest cut to the Australian screen industries. A further AU$3 million is to come from yet more vicious cuts to Australian arts sector funding.

Further details are available in ‘Screen Australia horror cuts in squalid backroom shakedown’ by ArtsHub.

Gender Matters


Via Screen Australia:

Screen Australia is proud to launch a strategic plan to help achieve a greater gender balance in the screen sector.

Screen Australia has undertaken research to understand the barriers that are stopping women in the screen industry from progressing and try to put mechanisms in place to loosen those barriers. Because as statistics show, close to half the students graduating from film schools like AFTRS are women, so the imbalance does not appear to be in education or training, but rather the progression of careers from there.

In answer to this, Screen Australia is launching Gender Matters, an ambitious $5 million suite of initiatives that seek to combat inequality onscreen in three years.

And by the end of 2018, Screen Australia aims to see production funding go to creative teams (writer, producer, director and protagonist) that are at least 50% female.

An industry taskforce made up of ten women in the Australian screen industry has also been set up to help develop the project and includes Maslin, Weir, Lang, television producer Imogen Banks (Offspring) and The Sapphires actor Miranda Tapsell.

Jocelyn Moorhouse and Sue Maslin. | Photo Credit: Screen Australia

Jocelyn Moorhouse and Sue Maslin. | Photo Credit: Screen Australia

Maslin is optimistic.

“The thing I love about the Screen Australia approach is that it’s multi-pronged,” she says. “There are many different kinds of interventions, because there is never going to be a silver bullet solution here.

“I’ve been in the business now a long time, for over 30 years, and I’ve seen women programs, women training courses, women film funds come and go, and we’ve not seen any impressionable change, (because) you can’t just approach it at the supply end, you have to look at the business end. That is, the marketplace that is dominated by male exhibitors, distributors, and broadcasters. We’ve got to get them into the conversation and into the solution.”

Maslin is calling on men and women alike, at every level of the industry to be part of the solution and act now.

Read full article at Screen Australia “Gender Matters”

(cover photo credit: snap from Screen Australia)

Karin Gottschalk

Karin is a documentary moviemaker, journalist, photographer and teacher who conceived and cofounded an influential, globally-read, Australian magazine of contemporary art, culture and photography. While based in Europe, contributing to the magazine and working in advertising, she visualised a future telling the same sorts of stories with a movie camera and audio recorder. Now back in her home base in Sydney, Karin is pursuing her goal of becoming an independent, one-person, backpack multimedia journalist and documentary moviemaker. Mentorless and un-filmschooled, she is constantly learning and sharpening up her skill set.
Karin Gottschalk

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