Talking is not enough – Panels on Women in Film at Filmfest Munich
Within the past few year’s, events circling around women in the movie industry became an important part of film festivals worldwide. In Germany it is the female director’s association Pro Quote Regie that managed to establish this discourse which is now, two and half years after their first event at Berlinale, an integral part of festival life all over the country. While there seems to be a general agreement on the importance of this issue, it is shocking to observe the tiny, almost invisible steps the German movie and television industry is taking to change the status quo.
During the panel “Paying Women – The Gender Pay Gap in the Film Industry” at this year’s Filmfest Munich representatives of the BFFS, the German actors’ federation, Pro Quote Regie as well as sociologist Professor Corinna Kleinert talked about the gender pay gap in movie making.
BFFS board member Julia Beerhold cited the findings of the German collecting society responsible for actors and actresses (GVL) that detected a gender pay gap of 30% in the years of 2000 to 2016 in respect to men’s and women’s average income. Beerhold also talked about a small study conducted by herself and several colleagues of the BFFS who counted male and female parts in German prime time TV and discovered a serious imbalance at the expense of actresses: Aside from movies focusing on nuns and comparable heterogeneous female groups, German television still offers a lot less acting opportunities for women. “We just want to be present the same way we are present in real life”, Beerhold said to emphasize that her aim is not to favor women over men but to mirror reality in regard to female presence in every day life.
In the field of directing the situation is no better. Barbara Teufel of Pro Quote Regie talked about a gender pay gap of 36% while mentioning even more disconcerting numbers as for example only 15% of German movies being directed by female directors. “We are not making ‘female flicks’. We are just women making movies”, she said, adding that of course women had a different perspective on life and therefore told different stories. Referring to Beerhold’s report on the struggle of German actresses, Teufel explained that more female directed films would also lead to more (interesting) parts for women in acting.
Trying to explain the gender pay gap in the movie industry, Professor Corinna Kleinert shared her own findings on wages and salaries, explaining that professions in the freelance sector, as directing and acting usually are, tend to show especially grave imbalances in respect to men’s and women’s salaries because of the unregulated market. Continuous gender monitoring was necessary, as she explained, to build strong proof for the existing imbalance as well as strengthen initiatives challenging the status quo for example by establishing social standards in the industry.
But is gender monitoring really enough?
At their own event, “Come Here, Honey” (a reference to May Spill’s movie “Go for it, Baby”), Pro Quote Regie staged an unfortunately rather absurd panel discussion on the findings of a gender monitoring funded and conducted by the German Federal Film Board (FFA). In the beginning Nadja Radojevic, former board member of WIFT Germany, presented a quick overview of the study’s findings, leaving no doubt to the necessity of a women director’s quota in TV and movie production. The discussion following this introduction nevertheless managed to circle around contra arguments instead of ideas how to improve the situation of female filmmakers.
As always in this kind of panels in Germany, the representatives of the film board and German television, in this case Christina Berg of the FFA and Petra Felber of BR public television, worked hard on playing down their responsibility in the matter while at the same time arguing for its importance. The German critic’s association VDFK represented by board member Dunja Bialas joined this strategy, claiming to strongly support Pro Quote Regie while not ever mentioning the nature of this support. Instead Bialas distanced herself strongly from the idea of a quota. Explaining why the association abstained from a special price for female directors she talked about the risk of a “gender ghetto”. Women might tackle slightly different topics, she agreed, but not at all would they create more differentiated female characters in their stories.
Apart from panel host Barbara Rohm, the women on the panel did not present themselves as convincing supporters of the quota while the only male participant, diversity consultant Robert Franken, was very outspoken. “You are all sexists and racists”, he told the audience to emphasize the omnipresence of unconscious bias and added: “I really don’t understand why we are tiptoeing around the quota like that.”
And it is difficult to understand indeed. The FFA just changed their funding guidelines making it even more difficult for female-headed projects to get public money. Projects applying have to have a budget of at least 2.5 million euros and an expected audience of 250.000 cinema viewers. Taking into account the FFA’s own study proving that big budget productions do rarely ever hire female directors, Dunja Bialas pointed out that these regulations do highly disadvantage women (though she didn’t seem to be interested as much in the issue of female directors as in the German critics’ ever present eulogy on German cinema as a whole). In the end it was Robert Franken again who came up with what seemed to be a promising approach: “Ask women why they don’t apply for certain jobs and then work on exactly that.”
If only those people who are in the position to make an actual change, would be interested to challenge themselves, their colleagues and their unconscious bias. The FFA as well as German public television repeatedly promise to tackle the issue of women in the movie industry in the near future (whatever that means), but chances are high that this is still part of the talking, the establishment of a discourse, and not yet an actual step on the path towards equality.