Una Mullally: We need more gender balance in Irish film
Ifta nominations reveal still too few women involved in Irish film and TV industry
Saoirse Ronan: one of only three women to be nominated for the best actress Ifta. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA
In the aftermath of the launch of the Time’s Up campaign, the red carpet “black out” of the Golden Globes, and the continuing discourse about women’s experiences in the entertainment business, the Irish Film and Television Awards announced their first batch of nominees for the year.
The Iftas are now split in two, between the Film & Drama Awards, which take place in Dublin on February 15th, and the Television Awards, which take place in April. The Film & Drama Awards are in three categories: film (with awards for feature film, director film, scriptwriter film, actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, feature documentary, short film live action and animated, international film, and international actor and actress), drama (drama, director, scriptwriter, lead actor and actress and supporting actor and actress) and craft/technical (cinematography, costume, editing, makeup and hair, original music, production design, sound, and VFX).
The gender breakdown of some of the categories was as follows: scriptwriter film (five men nominated, no women); scriptwriter drama (four men nominated, no women); actors in leading film roles (five men, three women); cinematography (four men, no women); editing (three men, one woman); original music (four men, no women); production design (four men, no women); sound (nine men, one woman); VFX (five men, two named organisations); costume design (four women, no men); and makeup and hair (seven women, one man).
Most notable was the fact that despite Irish film being on a constant upward swing these days, just three Irish actresses in leading roles in films made up that category, as opposed to five male actors in the equivalent category. Those women nominated are Sarah Bolger for Halal Daddy, Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird and Ann Skelly for Kissing Candice. The list shows that, in 2017, Irish film as a whole didn’t reach the very low bar of having a large enough pool of women in lead roles in films to choose from to make up an awards category. Think about how low that bar is. Of course, there were women in leading roles in much smaller films that may not have got a look in, but not many.
A couple of people pointed out the gender imbalance in favour of women in the areas of costume design and hair and makeup, and women also occupy a fair number of casting director roles. This imbalance needs to be addressed, but it’s also worth pointing out that professions that are female-heavy in film (such as costume, hair and makeup, and casting) also pay less than directing the film itself, or playing the lead in it. Women also make up a good deal of producers in the industry, something women sometimes half-joke about that being due to them doing all of the work.
Aine Moriarty of Ifta told the Journal, “there was just not a level of script written for women, it was a very low number of scripts written for lead women in the past year”. Lead roles for women don’t just appear. We have to examine who is writing our stories (or who is getting to write our stories), and who is being funded to bring those stories to production.
As it happens, many of the key Irish films slated for 2018 are written and/or directed by women. There’s Nora Twomey’s stunning The Breadwinner, based on the author Deborah Ellis’ novel which tells the story of a girl in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan dressing as a boy to support her family. It is a remarkable film, and Oscar-worthy. There is Kissing Candice, the debut feature film from Aoife McArdle whose stylish and sophisticated eye has created, among other things, gorgeous music videos for James Vincent McMorrow. There is Highway, Alexandra McGuinness’s follow-up to Lotus Eaters. Mary McGuckian writes and directs A Girl From Mogadishu based on the testimony of Ifrah Ahmed, a woman who left Somalia and became an activist against gender-based violence. There is A Mother Brings Her Son to be Shot, Sinead O’Shea’s documentary about a community in supposedly “post-Troubles” Derry. There is Carmel Winters’s Float Like a Butterfly which tells the story of a Traveller girl, Francis, trying to pursue her passion of boxing. There is The Little Stranger, Lenny Abrahamson’s new film adapted from the 2009 Sarah Waters novel and also written by Lucinda Coxon. And there are co-productions, such as Vita and Virginia being made with Blinder Films, about the love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
Lure of stories
What is noticeable about many of those films is how central female characters are to them. We are drawn to stories that speak to us. The more women making films, the greater the variety of stories we will get to watch.
In reaction to the Ifta nominations, Annie Doona, chair of the Irish Film Board was unequivocal. After congratulating the nominees, she said in a statement, “I would like to express my disappointment at the gender imbalance that has emerged in the shortlists for almost every category of award . . . It is vitally important that the stories Irish films portray represent a contemporary image of Ireland in all its diversity, inclusivity and originality of voice.” Doona said that the upcoming female-driven titles “prove that this imbalance is shifting and it is a shift we will unyieldingly support”.
The Ifta awards reflect the industry, and it’s the industry that needs to change. One of the reasons this doesn’t feel depressing right now is due to the strides the Irish Film Board is making to achieve better representation of the talent and potential filmmaking talent that’s out there, as they strive to achieve 50/50 gender equality in the sector, parity in funding, and initiatives to encourage female talent. If only other sectors followed their lead.