Being a Woman in Film School…

   For the past two days I have been more than prepared to flex my feminist muscles; whether that be because I’ve been watching the Suffragette trailer 29 times a day to prepare for the premiere this Friday or what, but I have been on edge. And SO luckily for me, there have been many instances I’ve come across (mainly during classes) that I’ve been forced to witness and experience the idiocy of those bigoted minds around me. I’ve decided to share these moments to not only to bring awareness to the small, misogynistic situations I already have to deal with but to hopefully start a conversation on the matter. 

   This past Tuesday my professor asked if anyone had seen any movies recently. A girl in my class raised her hand and said she saw The Martian (still on my list of movies I have to see, mainly for my #1 girl Jessica Chastain). We talked about the movie a little bit and towards the middle of the conversation, this girl said she didn’t like the main character (Matt Damon) too much because she couldn’t relate to him, and that she liked Gravity better because Sandra Bullock was more relatable. I then had to endure 20 minutes of watching this girl get absolutely torn apart (by ALL male students) about how wrong her opinion was. They said how Gravity was shit because it “didn’t have a storyline”, to which I loudly responded “Or was it because it starred a woman?”. Not to my surprise, this question went unanswered and the belittling of this girl’s opinion continued. For lack of a better term, I was fucking pissed for the rest of the class. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but watching a female classmate be attacked by her male peers for not relating to a male character is absolutely ridiculous. If a male student were to say he couldn’t relate to Sandra Bullock in Gravity because she was a woman, this statement would be passed as normal and understandable, probably with a lot of people agreeing with him. But when a woman says she can’t relate to a male character, she’s torn apart, belittled for stating her opinion and told “not all characters are meant to be relatable”.

   Today, a male peer asked me if I was able to act in one of his projects (since we’re limited for resources, we mostly all use each other for actors in our projects). I said I would and asked what the story was about. He didn’t have a a clear idea yet, but to summarize, it starred a man who wanted to live his life but his needy girlfriend was holding him back (being an obvious female, I’m meant to play the needy girlfriend). I flat out told him no. Even if these are short 5 minute projects to build a portfolio, I was not about to play the dumb sidekick to build the male character up. I said she needed to be a well developed character and have an actual purpose for the story in order for me to act in it. He was flabbergasted. “Calm down, we don’t even have the full idea yet”. I stood my ground and said female characters are important too. Not to brag, especially since I’m not an actual actor, but I was pretty fucking proud of myself. I imagine this is how Meryl Streep or Jessica Chastain act in very important filmmaker meetings; demanding the respect of a decent female character. This may be a small production course in film school, but that is exactly why I felt I needed to demand a character with a PURPOSE.

   This is where our filmmaking careers start. This is where we learn what we are good at, what works and what doesn’t work. This is where we build a portfolio and collect ideas for films we want to make. And when a man who is in his second year of film school is pitching ideas for short films with a big, strong man and a small, annoying female at his side, and the (mostly male) production professors are singing their praises, telling them how great the idea is, they’ll continue with this mentality– the mentality that movies starring men with adoring women all around them (like the only job of a woman is the build the male character up) are the movies that need to be made and seen. And what’s sad and terrifying is, they’re mostly right. The predominantly male Hollywood system will buy these ideas from them and let them make films that’ll add to the list of movies containing meaningless female characters. They’ll be allowed to make their directing debut with millions of dollars backing them up. When the movie flops, they’ll move onto their next (guaranteed) job with no repercussions. And the cycle will go on.

   Already being subjected to this kind of misogyny, only halfway through my second year of film school, is honestly terrifying to me. I was already aware coming into the business that I will have to work twice as hard to get half of what my male peers will have, but the fact that I already have to deal with the idiocy of men that think their opinion is the end-all-be-all, men that greet me with “Your skirt is too short today.” and “Where’s my hug?” is revolting. And don’t give me the “It’s mean to be a compliment” bullshit because it is not. It’s degrading. But as a 19 year old girl with dreams of making movies that’ll change the world, I guess I’ll just have to pull myself up and deal with it, because it’s not going to stop. This is just the beginning. I will be surrounded by men like this for the rest of my life and all I can do is put on a smile and deal, while simultaneously demanding the respect I know I, and the rest of my female peers, rightly deserve.

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6 Replies to “Being a Woman in Film School…”

  1. I have no idea if I’m posting this in the right place. I read your blog or a good portion of it (Indiewire says it was lightly edited wtf that means) and I was struck by what you say has happened at film school. I hope you’ll continue to espouse your spirit and also, to make short films and other media that propel your point of view. I’d also like to say, and though I’m one lone voice, I have friends, many friends, in the industry and we do not share your male classmates ideas of women. There has never been, and there probably never will be, a 100% level playing field, for anyone, anywhere in the world. But, if we work, we can certainly improve many, many things, filmmaking opportunities for women, for one.

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    1. I appreciate you taking the time to read what I had to say. It’s comforting to know there are and will be decent people in the industry willing to help out and support female artists. Thank you for commenting, it really means a lot.

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  2. Indiewire wouldn’t let me post my comment. Said it “looked spammy.” Well okay then…

    I graduated from film school last year. I also dealt with the crappy scripts with zero female leads or terrible ones, or classmates who didn’t believe I was a cinematographer because I was a girl. Aghast! A lady in our midst. The ratio of female-to-male in classroom and on set were often pretty extreme, but I worked with some amazing people whom I plan to work with again in the future.

    So far, professionally, I’ve not experienced too much sexism–I guess I’ve worked with great crews. Check out that Tumblr “Shit People Say to Women Directors” and you’ll know how prevalent the sexism can be.

    Things will get better, however slow that change might be. Continue to not be afraid to stand your ground. I worked on a indie film this past summer, and when I went to the early meetings I told the fellas who wrote the script that it was a literal sausage fest, and that they forgot one of their only lead female characters halfway through. And you know what? They changed the script, and it was better because of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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