While the bright lights of film and TV have recently focused on issues faced by women in the industry, the need for evidence-based research that can drive sustained change is more important than ever.
Dean of the School of Media and Communication, Professor Lisa French, has been at the forefront of research into the inequitable status of women in the screen-related industries for many years.
She is renowned internationally for her research, writing and effective lobbying to improve female representation in all fields associated with the screen industries, and is well-known in the film and television industry.
French’s research Does Gender Matter? and Women in the Victorian film, television and related industries went some way to providing Screen Australia with the evidence it needed to commit $5 million to a suite of initiatives aimed at addressing gender imbalances in the Australian film industry.
One of those initiatives is the Gender Matters Taskforce for career development and investment in projects. French has a seat on the Taskforce that takes its name from her research.
As the only Australian academic on the Taskforce charged with increasing the presence of women in film and television, French said she was concerned by evidence that shows women’s participation in the industry not only not increasing, but in some cases actually declining.
“Research in 1991/92 showed that 22 per cent of directors of feature films in Australia were women. In 2018 that has dropped to just 16 per cent,” she said.
French said leadership and a long-term approach to creating sustainable careers and businesses in the industry was required, focusing not just on high profile directors and producers like Jane Campion, Gillian Armstrong and Sue Maslin, but across other crafts.
Her analysis of the AFI Awards in the 2000s showed that Australian women were punching above their weight, with women writers winning ‘best original screenplay’ 50 per cent of the time, but they were (and still are) only 20 per cent of the workforce.
French and RMIT worked with Screen Australia and Gender Matters to present Brilliant Pitches Workshops in July.
These pitching sessions, which included a day for students to participate, supported women to gain important skills needed to enter the industry. She also called for other entry-level initiatives like mentoring, networking opportunities and new filmmaker schemes that would “maintain the momentum”.
French said that working with industry to improve the situation was crucial.
“In the School of Media and Communication we want to be famous for innovation for industry, collaboration and gender equality. Working with the film and television industry to improve the situation for women ticks all those boxes.
“That’s why RMIT’s strength in industry engagement is so important.”
The Gender Matters Taskforce has also addressed the issue of safety for women in the industry, releasing a Sexual Harassment Code of Conduct .
Beyond RMIT, French continues her work at an international level, as co-Chair of the International UNESCO UNITWIN Network on Gender, Media and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
The Network aims to promote gender equality and women’s participation in the media on a global scale through research, education and advocacy.
By teaching media, journalism and ICT in relation to gender, the network effectively operates as a think tank and bridge builder between the academic world, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making across 19 participating countries.
French said the collaboration with colleagues from other countries, and hearing some of the issues they faced in relation to equal representation of women had been eye-opening.
“There needs to be equality for everyone to be able to express themselves and participate in media and other parts of society - it’s a human rights issue.”
Story: Karen Phelan