Ending the Boys' Club of Online Film Culture
Female industry professionals on power in parity, equality in cinema
Last year Austin found itself in a peculiar place in the world of film criticism. Often seen as an oasis for those who felt like outcasts in the film journalism industry, that facade broke in September when certain male writers were outed as toxic colleagues for women. It was the dark secret no one wanted to hear, the lurking shadow that women didn't want to admit existed in an industry for which they otherwise felt an incredible amount of passion.
This small spark is when the community realized it needed to hold a mirror up to itself, exploding in October when the #MeToo movement started to form, and emphasized later as Time's Up – aimed at ending gender disparity in the film and TV industries – was established. Women throughout the industry started speaking up, and their collective voices empowered the community to demand it do better. Hopefully gone are the days where a woman is asked to be the token voice in an otherwise all-male collective of journalists. The space for female film criticism to stand on an equal platform with the male voice has begun to expand.
The battle is not yet over, though. At SXSW this year, there are a handful of panels intended to engage with female media critics and industry professionals. That list starts with "The Female Voices of Film Twitter." Spearheaded by Alicia Malone from Fandango, who also hosted a similar panel last year, the panelists are some of the most influential in film journalism: Monica Castillo from The New York Times, Jen Yamato from the Los Angeles Times, Amy Nicholson from Variety, and Jacqueline Coley from Rotten Tomatoes.
According to Malone, "Over the past few months we've seen a surge in women speaking up on social media. It's been powerful to watch so many ladies reclaiming their voice and their power, telling their stories and connecting with each other through the #MeToo movement."
Yet the experience of talking about film person to person is very different when that conversation moves online. "The internet remains a tough place to be a woman," said Malone. "Women face more discrimination, sexism, and trolling than their male counterparts, particularly in areas considered to be male-dominated, like film. So how do you navigate this, how can you use social media to establish a brand for yourself, and how can women help to amplify each other's voices?"
It's particularly difficult to magnify each other's voices when they're all fighting for a space in a dying industry. Film is a niche career that's crippling due to a diminishing audience, and while streaming services and social media platforms have given an incredible opportunity for diverse voices, the eyeballs just aren't there like they used to be. But out of the 132 films programmed at SXSW, female filmmakers are dominating the slate, including the Narrative Feature Competition, where eight out of the 10 films are either directed or co-directed by women.
"What I'm really looking forward to, to turn the page, is when it's not a big deal," said Coley. "I'm looking forward to the moment when it's not a big deal to have four women on the lead of a film, when it's not a big deal that there's gender parity, because that's all it is. By having 50 percent of the films female [directed] at SXSW ... it's not extra, it's not less, it's just what it should be, considering that's 50 percent of the audience."
Coley, who began her career writing for Black Girl Nerds, also faces additional discrimination that white females on the internet will never experience. "Let's put it this way – it's sort of like existing as a woman on Twitter, but then there's an extra flavor," she said. "If I have a viral tweet, I can guarantee you if it got over 100 retweets and likes there will be something racist in the comments."
Just as timely among the other panels as the Twitter discussion will be "CherryPicks: Why Does a Critic's Gender Matter?" Powerhouse speakers Miranda Bailey of Cold Iron Pictures, Samantha Mathis of Paradigm Talent Agency, Ann Powers of NPR, and Claudia Puig of the L.A. Film Critics Association will be discussing how the media's predominantly male voice has impacted representation in the critical landscapes, in both film and music criticism.
Females must fight to be heard in a multi-tiered problem that affects the media industry, and "CherryPicks" will cover this topic and how the lack of female voices in criticism is due to a larger deficiency in representation as a whole. When you open a book on the history of film or music, it's dominated by men. The presence of the feminine voice has been a whisper until recent years, and it will be just as much of a struggle for women who critique to be seen until equal representation becomes the norm.
Panels like these, and the all-female speakers on them, will provide the environment needed to fully explore the different experiences women face online. They showcase that it's not impossible to give every woman, of any race, a platform to speak on. We celebrate this, but we can also dream of a future where we don't have to – where having a diverse group of women speaking on a panel isn't something worth applauding.
That said, it's still special when you can get together with like-minded individuals who are open and willing to listen to your experiences, and even share their own. It's easy to feel alone in a space where you are told you don't fit in, but there's power in community. While no experience is the same for every woman, it's comforting to know there's someone out there who understands, who feels compassion for you.
Coley said, "As much as they call 'Film Twitter' male dominated, whenever we all get together it's heartening to see how many powerful women we have in this space. It's the real-life interaction that solidifies [the] community."