Aussie screen industry making big strides in female representation

Aussie screen industry making big strides in female representation

"The percentage of women in all key creative roles in feature drama production has increased from 27 to 52 percent," in past four years.

Today’s data from Screen Australia reveals that it’s on track to meet its new Gender Matters KPI at the end of 2021/22, a goal that includes having at least 50 percent of key creative roles across projects receiving funding held by women and female-identifying creatives.

Joanna Werner, a Screen Australia’s board member and chairwoman of the Gender Matters Taskforce, says they’ve been pushing to get more women in screen projects because data still confirms that men dominate key creative roles.

“We want to… ensure our female and female-identifying practitioners are equally represented in our industry,” she said.

“While we are encouraged by the result overall, the KPI has been lifted by high levels of participation by women in development applications, and these high levels are not yet carrying through to some areas of production.”

“In industry-wide data that tracks participation over an eight-year period, [we see] men continue to dominate all key creative roles in feature production, and writer and director roles in television drama, online drama and documentary.”

Werner, who is also a three-time Emmy nominated producer, believes that things are shifting, albeit slowly. 

“Systemic change is not something that happens overnight,” she acknowledged. “We recognise that there is still more progress to be made as we continue to work towards achieving gender parity.” 

Screen Australia’s Head of Development, Nerida Moore, agrees that change is slow, but the latest figures will hold industry figures to account.

“While the first year results for development are promising, the process of developing a project can take anywhere upwards of five years for a feature drama, and around two years for episodic content to move into production,” she said.

“We want to continue to see strong results across every application area and hope this in time converts to more female-led projects being made.”

Moore also maintains the importance of tracking development data in the industry.

“Screen Australia puts consideration around what stories are being told and who is telling them at the centre of our decision making,” she continued.

“The inclusion of development data in the Gender Matters KPI shows our commitment to ensuring women are not an afterthought or quota for inclusion that needs to be filled on projects when they reach production – they are present every step of the way.” 

What the results have shown

Between 2019/2020, women made up the majority of key creative roles in Screen Australia development programs, with particularly high participation rates of women in online drama development (72 percent) and television drama development (62 percent). Joanna Werner believes the results over the last four years indicate a positive future for women in the filmmaking industry. 

“What’s heartening to see is that over the last four years, the percentage of women in all key creative roles in feature drama production has increased from 27 to 52 percent,” she said. 

But it also shows areas that need to improve — specifically, when it comes to production. Women face more barriers when projects move through to production. Documentary production is also another area which saw a decline in female numbers, with the latest data showing a fall to just under 50 percent women. But Joanna Werner is not entirely pessimistic. 

“There have also been some fantastic female-led documentaries created including Brazen Hussies, a documentary about the Australian women’s liberation movement which is due for release in cinemas later this year, and MuM – Misunderstandings of Miscarriage, which recently premiered on Stan.” 

There’s also good news in the feature drama production area, where women represented more than 50 percent of all key creative roles. In fact, writer roles for online drama productions reached parity with women representing 52 percent of writers in 2019/20, a huge spike from the 6 percent in the previous years.

The biggest leap was seen in the number of female writers who were working in feature dramas; between 2016/2017, a mere 17 percent were women. Last year, it jumped to 45 percent. Nerida Moore is convinced that audiences are beginning to value ‘authentic stories’ told by women.

“As Screen Australia addresses the issue of representation of women behind the camera and encourages parity in creative teams, we expect this to flow on to the stories that are being told on our screens,” she said. “It is worth celebrating that these were stories made about women, told by women that proved to be both culturally significant and commercially successful.”

Joanna Werner is positive about the future of filmmaking for women in Australia, and is “buoyed by the strong female-led projects coming through in our applications.”

But she acknowledges these measures are just the beginning of a continuing battle to ensure fair and equal representation to whose story is told.

“While we have seen improvements across television drama in the industry data, the underrepresentation of women across many key roles, particularly writer and director roles, means we aren’t seeing enough meaningful change in the sector.Women are still being underutilised in key creative roles. This is not something one agency and one Taskforce can solve. It’s a cultural change the entire industry needs to embrace and act upon.”

Female representation is another important aspect of diversity and inclusion in the filmmaking industry. That’s why Screen Australia has also revealed data on the rate of female-identifying persons who are cast as  protagonists in feature films. Across television, feature and online, 62 percent of the protagonists in successful applications were female.

COVID impacts 

Despite the huge disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Screen Australia continued to fund projects in development and production. It also unrolled several funds (Temporary Interruption Fund and COVID-19 Budget Support Fund) to help productions keep on keeping on. Joanna Werner believes the funds will ensure women in the industry are not left behind. 

“The effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, on the screen sector are vast,” Joanna said.

“The entire industry, like many around the world, is navigating this difficult time together and working towards getting practitioners back to work and ensuring productions can begin again as safely as possible. It’s important we break down any further barriers to female participation that these challenges may create.” 

The future looks encouraging for the nation’s filmmaking industry, as it continues to be steered by women like Joanna Werner and Nerida Moore.

“Australian audiences can not only support female-led stories at the cinema, but with their remote controls and by watching online. We have many exciting projects in the pipeline,” adds Joanna Werner.

“At Screen Australia, gender equity, inclusion and diversity are at the heart of all the agency’s funding decisions. We want to ensure the momentum this initiative has worked to build continues. We have seen, particularly over the last few years, audiences embrace authentically told stories and we look forward to continuing to champion excellence and equality,” said Nerida Moore.

Photo above: Daniel Boud

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