April 27, 2017

Heather Webb: Women Have a Voice and Can Make It Heard

WIFT-T in Brasil: Highlights from the Women in Audiovisual Symposium and an interview with Executive Director Heather Webb

On March 30th I had the pleasure to be invited to present about WIFT-T’s impactful career development initiatives at the Women in Audiovisual symposium in Rio, Brazil, presented by Agência Nacional do Cinema (ANCINE).

It was a full-day event featuring various presentations on gender parity and diversity initiatives. It also included the sharing of research and best practices by speakers from Brazil, Canada, and Sweden. Other keynote speakers were Carolle Brabant, Executive Director, Telefilm Canada; Ellen Tejle, WIFT Sweden Board Member/A-list campaign initiator; and Isabel Clavelin, United Nations Women in Brasil.

While in Rio, I was interviewed by the Brazilian newspaper, O Globo. Here’s an excerpt of my interview, translated from Portuguese:

Tell me something I do not know.

Women had 30% of the speaking roles and directed only 7% of the top 250 top-grossing films in the United States last year. It is a picture of the disparity between men and women in the audiovisual industry.

Is the audiovisual industry, in general, sexist?

The word macho is very strong, but there is, in fact, a large gap between the number of men and women working in the industry, both in front and behind the camera. There is also a disparity in the number of leadership positions held and in the salaries paid to women holding the same positions as men.

Why does this gender bias happen?

In part, because there is an unconscious bias that leads people to hire those who look like them or who are already in the market, historically that’s male and white. It is important to have equality, inclusion, and diversity in the industry, for women, indigenous people, people with disabilities or men from minority groups because today the content on the screen does not reflect society.

Is this picture changing?

Over the last three decades, the situation has not changed much, but over the last three years, we have seen the issue of gender equality become a global concern. With this, we have received news of many initiatives aimed at giving a boost to women in this market. Despite representing 50% of the world population, women do not have 50% participation in audiovisual productions.

What are these initiatives that give a boost to women in the industry?

Sweden has been leading this movement. Sweden’s national film agency has set a target of targeting 50% of its funding for women-led projects. Other countries have followed the same line. There are similar initiatives in the UK, Australia, and now in Canada. We are very excited and we expect actions like this to give more space to women.

How does Women in Film & Television work?

It is an organization composed of men and women who work in screen-based industries, including film, TV and digital media. The goal is to support women to advance their careers. We do this through professional development programs, mentoring, networking, and events that show the world the creativity of our members.

What will be the impact, for productions, of the greater participation of women?

Women are still portrayed less as the protagonists of films or as multidimensional characters. The gender inequality behind the cameras is reflected on the screen. So it is important to have women telling and directing stories.

Can women who are not part of the audiovisual industry embrace this cause?

Certainly. Studies show that women account for 50% of the paying audience in the cinema. As a representative part of the audience, we all have a certain power, simply by choosing the films we are going to watch. Indirectly, this kind of information reaches even the festival organizers and industry funders. Women definitely have a voice and can make it heard.