Pushing for gender equity in film

“Dear Women” is a short film by the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre that encourages women to tell their stories as filmmakers.

When the 91st Academy Awards air this Sunday, a woman will not win the Best Director award. A woman will not even have a chance to win the award — no female directors received a nomination. Only five women have ever been nominated for the Best Director award at the Oscars, and only one woman has ever won the award.

There are many reasons cited for why this year’s female-directed films were not nominated, but Best Director wasn’t the only category that saw zero nominations for women. There were no nominations for women in cinematography, film editing, score or visual effects. Only 25 percent of nominations, which is up from last year, for behind-the-scenes awards went to women.

Women In Film, an organization that advocates for the careers of women working in the screen industries, said the Oscar nominations “reiterate that we still have real work to do to achieve parity for women across the screen industries — particularly for female directors, whose extraordinary work this year has notably been all but forgotten by Awards acknowledgement.”

Recognizing the need for gender parity, the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University is striving to push for gender equity in its film program and in the industry.

ASU film student Maedeh Moayyednia said she initially had doubts about her own abilities when she moved to Arizona from the Middle East to pursue film editing.

“I read an article about how society teaches women to be perfect and teaches men to be brave,” she said. “We have learned if you’re not perfect, you’re not good at all. I realized that I just have to stop thinking if I am perfect or not. To be good enough, I just have to be brave enough. I just have to do the work. Because I am good enough.”

Led by Rebekah Cheyne, senior media producer for the school, a team of alumni and students, including Moayyednia, worked together to create “Dear Women,” a short film encouraging women to tell their stories as filmmakers.

“We prepare filmmakers to be industry leaders, so our students are already at work shattering the ‘celluloid ceiling’ as a matter of innovating how to make and tell stories for a global community,” said Tiffany Ana López, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “The more diverse and equitable the work, the greater its market and impact. Our film students show us what they want and need to succeed in their careers, inspiring the advancement of initiatives like our ‘Dear Women’ campaign.”

The video, which will be released publicly this weekend and screened in L.A. at ASU Film Spark’s Hollywood Sun Devil mixer and pre-Oscar party, represents ongoing efforts in the school.

“Far from being a call for change, this video is a reflection of the change that has been going on for a few years,” said Jason Davids Scott, assistant director of film in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “We’ve started our own social media campaign, ‘Dear Women in Film,’ to highlight the contributions of women in the entertainment industry, past, present and future, connecting our current students to this essential legacy.”

For the last two semesters, equal numbers of male and female students have successfully applied to the school’s upper division film and media program, and since 2014, women represent the fastest growing population of film students.

As part of an initiative called SAFE Set, Scott is also working to develop learning materials and a digital interface to train students in best practices on a film set to avoid abuse, discrimination and harassment.

Last year the school established the MarVista Strides to Inclusivity Award to recognize female students who find unique ways of breaking gender barriers inherent in the industry and fulfill their artistic visions without restriction in the hopes of a better tomorrow, inclusive to all perspectives and opportunities within the film and media industry. The school partnered with MarVista Entertainment to award $500 award to the winner.

ASU Film Spark, an initiative of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, focused its spring weekend seminars on women in film. Earlier this month, Hollywood producer Susan Cartsonis visited ASU’s Tempe campus to lead a seminar on television and feature film producing. Writer/director Amy Adrion and casting directors Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood will also lead seminars this semester.

The School of Film, Dance and Theatre values the creativity, personal experience, vision and voice each student brings to the program, and pushing for gender equity is just one of the ways the school projects all voices.

“We’re all filmmakers,” said Macy Kimpland, who graduated from the school in 2018 and worked on the “Dear Women” video. “But we’re also all different. Every single one of us is different. Every single one of us has our own life experiences and our own stories. And that’s what makes us storytellers.”

Follow “Dear Women in Film” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Pushing for gender equity in film was originally published in ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts