Australia’s female film crew workers have experienced ‘confronted’ and ‘shocking’ levels of sexism, according to one of the country’s leading filmmakers, with new research finding nearly 90% of female operators have experienced discrimination or of sexual harassment.
Released Thursday, the study on discrimination in the film industry was conducted by Dr. Amanda Coles and Dr. Justine Ferrer of Deakin University’s Department of Management. The first of its kind, A bigger goal focused on the working experiences of Australians film crews, including cinematographers, camera operators, focus shooters, clamshell loaders, and personnel who use steadicams, underwater cameras, and drones.
Analyzing data reported to Screen Australia between 2011 and 2019, the report found that film crews for feature films and scripted TV series were 80% male.
The second part of the research analyzed 640 responses to a 2021 survey of camera staff from the Australian Cinematographers Society.
Nearly 90% of professional camera operators who responded reported experiences of discrimination or sexual harassment. Half of respondents said they had experienced or witnessed racism on a film set.
“I’ve heard handfuls grading all the women on the set bodies, scouts making racist comments about having to scout black men,” one respondent said. “Cameramen who said they preferred to work with men bring women to tears. Blatant homophobia when there’s queer content on screen…all it takes is one offhand comment to remind those of us who do part of the minorities that we are not welcome.
Cinematographer Ari Wegner, who was nominated for a 2022 Academy Award for her cinematography on The Power of the Dog, said the industry must act on the report’s findings.
“For things to improve, we must first have a clear picture of the current situation – as difficult as it is,” she said in a statement.
“This report offers shocking statistics as well as tangible recommendations, which I hope will be heard and acted upon…Australia is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in transforming the film industry – if we choose to act.”
The president of the Australian Cinematographers Society who commissioned the study, Erika Addis, said that while the findings were specific to camera departments in the film industry, she thought they likely reflected the wider industry.
“While its findings are shocking, they also provide a roadmap for the future,” she said.
Job insecurity, the reliance on short-term contracts and unsociable long working hours are commonplace in the film and television production industries. But for women and those who identify as LGBTQ+, culturally diverse, or living with disabilities, another layer of challenges confronts them daily in the workplace, the report’s authors said.
Yet in an industry where reputation and reliance on peer endorsement are crucial to contracts, few were prepared to directly confront instances of bullying, harassment or discrimination.
More experienced women, less paid
While all cinematographers/cinematographers reported periods of underemployment and income insecurity between 2011 and 2019, the report found that women doing the same work as men were paid less and had shorter careers.
Men “have steadily progressed into prestigious decision-making, technically demanding and creative roles behind closed doors” at much higher rates than women.
And as budgets increase, the likelihood of a film or TV series hiring a female director decreases.
Female directors of photography (DOPs) were the most likely to work on low-budget feature films (21%) and Australian TV series (19%), and least likely to work on feature films with over-budgets. $2 million (14%).
In the big budget films (over $14.3 million) made in Australia over the past decade, the DOPs were all male. And among the 26 cinematographers who reported earning more than $156,000 a year in the industry, there wasn’t a single woman.
But these figures are not the result of women in the industry being less qualified than their male counterparts.
The study found that 73% of female DOPs had more than 10 years of work experience, compared to 69% of males; and 95% of female DOPs had a relevant degree or higher, compared to 67% of males.
In recent years, a series of Australian filmmakers have won international acclaim for their work, including Wegner, Mandy Walker (DOP on Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis), Zöe White (who filmed The Handmaid’s Tale) and Bonnie Elliot (series Apple TV+, Shining Girls).
If Australia hopes to further develop a world-class film industry and attract international projects to its shores, it must establish a culture of fair, diverse and inclusive work, the report concludes.
The report made 19 recommendations, including: mandatory compliance with the Australian Screen Industry Code of Practice on Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Bullying (which is currently voluntary); rolling out a major industry-wide campaign against bullying and harassment; and a national, independent and tailored incident reporting and victim support system.
Carolyn Constantine, cinematographer for Australian comedy-drama Bump, said a cultural shift was needed to ensure a sustainable and healthy industry.
“We want to make sure that [talent] pool is more diverse than it has been,” she told the Guardian. “Thus, what is reflected in front of the camera is also reflected behind the camera.”