Student Filmmaker Calls for Gender Equality

Feb 20, 2017

Only one woman has ever won an Oscar for best director in the 87-year history of the Academy Awards. Just think about that for a minute. Why does this happen? Why are women only roughly 17 percent of directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors in the film industry? That’s insane!

This issue has bothered me for a long time, especially because my dream is to direct movies one day. I brought up this issue once while I was hanging out with a group of three of my male friends. I was surprised by their response. They told me, “The reason that women don’t work in that industry is just because they’re not good at it.” They went on to compare me to a male friend of mine who also makes movies and hopes to go into the industry as well. And it didn’t stop there. They claimed he was better than me despite the fact that I had even beaten him in our school film festival. These were my friends, yet without even seeing my work they assumed that someone else was more skilled than me, just because of my gender.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in making movies. When I was 12, I had watched nearly every Tim Burton movie and was convinced that one day I could make something like that. I carried a little video camera around all the time - this was before the time of high quality iPhone film footage - and filmed my Barbies or animals I saw outside. When I entered middle school, I got my first school-issued laptop and that’s when I learned how to edit for the first time. I never realized I wanted to direct films until the summer of ninth grade, when I filmed a short video on an iPad one afternoon in my garage with the help of my little sister. 

After filming, I realized that I had accidentally shot the entire thing sideways. I was left with two choices: reshoot the film, or come up with a way to cover it up. I decided on the latter. I renamed it Sideways to make it seem like I had planned for it to be shot this way as an artistic choice. Anyway, I entered it in the Maine Student Film and Video Festival and despite all odds, it actually placed. That’s when I realized, “Whoa! I think I really love doing this.” 

I want to study filmmaking in college, and it’s my dream to make my own movies one day. I’ll spend hours writing a script, thinking up a plot, or entire nights editing, and even though I might complain about the workload, I still enjoy it and will spend any amount of time and effort necessary to make it come out the way I want. Sometimes I like to look back at Sideways and think it’s crazy how far I’ve come since those days of terrible jump cuts and shaky shots. 

I first started to research the lack of female directors after watching a documentary called Miss Representation in my sociology class.  It’s a film about gender stereotypes, and one immediate problem I realized was the lack of women in the film industry to begin with. Roles like directors and producers are usually seen as ‘male’ jobs and are continuously presented as such. One of the reasons I love movies, TV shows, and media is their potential to change the way people look at the world. Media helps define how people see themselves and others. This power in the right hands is amazing, but it can also be used to maintain the status quo. If time and time again, young women never see other women in these kinds of jobs, either in life or on screen, they will not see themselves doing these kinds of jobs. This creates a dangerous cycle. 

The media helps us shape how we see ourselves and the world around us, and it can be dangerous if this “world’ we are seeing is only from one perspective. Diversity is what makes the world the wonderful and innovative place that it is, and diversity in the film industry gives us new and interesting stories and ideas. A good movie makes us care. It makes us see the world in a different way even if it takes looking through a fictional person’s eyes to do it. 

As a high school student I don’t have a lot of power to change the world. What I can do, however, is work with what I have. I love documentary filmmaking and exploring issues around me. My most recent project, a winner in the 2016 Maine Student Film and Video Festival, was First a Boy, a documentary about young transgendered men and the issues they face in their daily lives. The latest project I have planned will be a documentary focusing on the lack of women in the film industry. I’ve learned that films open eyes and change perspectives.

There are things we can all do. We can support movies directed by or starring women; we can talk to people about this issue and get them to notice how women are portrayed in film and the potential impact on young women today. I’m proud to be a female director. We all have stories to tell, and we shouldn’t use a single-lens view to tell them.

Emily Kaye is a senior at Marshwood High School in South Berwick.