Women and the Irish film industry

 

Sir, – I write in response to Una Mullally’s article (“A century on, Abbey still gives women a bit part”, Opinion & Analysis, November 2nd) which highlights the woeful under-representation of female playwrights in the Abbey’s centenary programme.

Unfortunately, this dismal picture of exclusion is not the exclusive preserve of the theatre. It is also echoed in the Irish Film Industry, which is overwhelmingly male-dominated and lacking a strong female voice and vision. My own research suggests a mere 13 per cent of produced screenplays in the period 1993 to 2013 were written by Irish women.

When women are missing behind the camera there is often a knock-on effect in front of the camera. So only 24 per cent of all produced films from 1993 to 2011 with a male writer had a female character at the heart of the narrative. In comparison, 63 per cent of produced films with a female writer lead with a female protagonist.

Having more women writers and directors increases the likelihood of more female-centred stories. And, importantly, it sends out a strong signal to girls and young women that there is a place for them in Irish cinema – that their vision and their stories are valued.

The statistics I offer here are, of necessity, partial. No official statistics are forthcoming from the Irish Film Board. How many women apply? How many are refused? How many try again? What kinds of stories are women telling? We haven’t a clue.

Even though the Irish Film Board is funded with taxpayers’ money, and Irish women make up half the population, support continues to be primarily directed to male writers – end of story.

We are supposed to be telling stories about ourselves to ourselves and others and yet the majority of our stories are told by men and are about men. Has the status quo become so normalised that we just accept the gender imbalance as “the way it is”? Accept that women aren’t too bothered about screenwriting or are incompetent when they do have a go?

There are ways and means to tackle the current imbalance but it looks as though the Irish Film Board is not concerned enough to act.

As we face the 1916 centenary, it is timely to acknowledge how far Irish women have come but also to reflect on how much unfinished business remains. Unless we want to look back with regret in another hundred years, self-belief and defiance are qualities that Irish women may well need to cultivate. Biding time and asking nicely does not appear to be working. – Yours, etc,

Dr SUSAN LIDDY,

Department of Media

and Communications,

Mary Immaculate College,

University of Limerick.