Jane Williams travelling film interview about diversity in the media at the Houses of Lords.
Jane Williams is a director, producer and writer. Her work ranges from filming in the gardens of Buckingham Palace to going undercover to investigate racism on the streets of Britain.
Along the way she has arranged major search and rescue operations for stranded celebrities, built a Jacuzzi out of a whiskey barrel, and danced an Argentine tango.
Jane is currently making ‘Pilgrim Home’, a documentary about the English origins of the Mayflower Pilgrims who are remembered in America at Thanksgiving.
The media industry is hard on everyone, especially women. I’m a ‘doer’ so I rarely stop to reflect on what it means to be a female director in this business. A look at the statistics has forced the issues back into my focus.
In Europe, 4 out of 5 films are made by a man and in England only 1 in 5 of those films have a gender-balanced cast. Ahead of this year’s OSCAR ceremony Fortune Magazine reported that top actresses make about 40 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. This is ironic in an industry considered liberal.
There is also general industry mistrust in the ability of women to deliver big budget films. Such attitudes help explain why many women Directors, like myself, seek to eke out a living in micro budget documentary filmmaking.
The media might not directly tell us what to think, but by omission it does influence what we think and how we think about it. The balance both on and off screen is currently weighted towards men.
As a woman, and a member of half of the population, it is important that my voice is heard. I am also a storyteller and a truth seeker. I’ve fought hard to retain the idealism of a teenager and want to achieve and see positive change – be a role model.
This need was echoed when I spoke to Lord Holmes of Richmond, MBE. It’s a peerage title he earned, not inherited, as a lifelong campaigner for equality and inclusion. Lord Holmes told me “If you don’t see or hear people who sound, who look like you, who come from a similar background as you, why would you possibly think you could do that? Role models are so essential”.
Until recently my own career progression felt like the feminism of the last century. It was a time when women thought that to succeed they had to ‘act like a man’ and adopt stereotypical male characteristics. Consequently I would be found drinking and staying out until I was last woman standing. This was coupled with a pressure to provide a witty repartee to rival that of a professional comedian. I was never any good at either.
By the time I was in my 30s, I began to see there was an alternative route. A better balance was required in my own life and being myself was perfectly fine. My film shoots weren’t going to be revered for their wild parties. Instead they would be civilised and nurturing, with carefully chosen food and accommodation. Essentially more ‘mothering’ in a job that often demands that you be ‘married to your work’.
I began to make different choices. If I decided to leave a celebrity alone for the evening, contrary to etiquette, it wasn’t going to kill either of our careers. Turning your back on a industry culture known for its long hours takes strength.
Passion and experience would propel me forward as I walked my own path. Naivety would protect me from the difficult journey that lay ahead.
Diversity in the media and arts has always been a problem. I want to be assessed and valued for my talent alone, but the fact that women directors are so poorly represented proves that there must be barriers.
“I think that people often say that talent will always come through but this is fundamentally flawed. Talent is everywhere; opportunity isn’t, because of structures, systems, institutions and organisations” says Lord Holmes of Richmond, Britains most successful Paralympic swimmer.
These barriers need to be opened. Does being a woman make me see the world differently? Probably. Do women’s views need to be represented in society? Definitely. Is this a good time to be a woman in the media? Certainly. We still have everything to play for and our own future to create.
‘Where are all the women directors?’, a report on gender equality in the European film industry by the European Women’s audiovisual network.
‘Cinema & Society, Shaping our Worldview Beyond the Lens’, an investigation on the impact of Gender Representation in United Kingdom Films by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media.
‘Thinking Outside the Box’ report on diversity in broadcasting.