Jill Soloway’s Manifesto To Female Filmmakers Is A Wake-Up Call To Hollywood

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By now you are probably well acquainted with Jill Soloway and her Golden Globe-winning series ‘Transparent’ on Amazon. She is living proof of a generation of female filmmakers whose tireless work to get noticed is paying off in leaps and bounds. She’s also a role model to many other women, and with her award-winning series shown on a new media platform, Jill’s success is a message to all female filmmakers to not limit yourself when it comes to find ways to get your work out there.

But is that easier said than done? The short answer: yes. It’s important for us as a site dedicated to female empowerment and feminism to laud the women who make untrodden paths possible for more women in their wake. However, it’s also vital that we share how difficult it still can be in order to reiterate why the fight is important.

Aside from breaking new ground as a writer and director, she is the co-creator of a female-driven digital media platform called Wifey.tv which is a site dedicated to sharing content created by and for women. The tagline ” be the subject, not the object” gives you a clear idea of their mission, and also a glimpse into what is still largely missing when it comes to the representation of women in Hollywood.

At a recent Cinefamily event where she promoted Wifey.tv, and presented 6 short films to the audience, she gave an introductory speech to remind the filmmakers present that the fight to have in increased female gaze in the film industry is no joke.

She started off by saying it wasn’t until recently that she became aware of the lack of female voices in film, adding that she would often say it is not men’s fault they get all the directing jobs, after all they have less to do than women so they probably have more time on their hands.

But once she realized that the male gaze is a privileged perspective in film today, she realized where the root of the issue lies.

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“In the Roger Ebert documentary [“Life Itself”], he talks about films being an empathy machine, so whoever the protagonist is, they’re going to have empathy and when men are making movies about men, they’re creating more empathy for the male gaze. So the male gaze, because the men are subjects, necessarily divides us, divides women into either/or —the madonna or the whore, the slut or the good girl or the many, many ways in which women are divided to be seen as objects when the male character is the subject,” she says.

“That divide is kind of a wound that’s really harming our entire planet right now. The divided feminine is the issue. The wounded masculine divides us to feel power and when we reclaim that, we repair the divided feminine by speaking and having voices and by picking up the camera.”

She also made a point of saying that it’s not her emergency alone, but that every female filmmaker should know and share the same sentiment.

“When you pick up the camera and share your voice, it heals the world. It’s not funny anymore what’s going on with us. It’s immoral, the way that we are kept from our voices. It’s not just a matter of our numbers. There is a real all-out attack on us having subjectivity, so I just beg everybody to be relentless in their pursuit of their voice, and also to be aware that even with all of the success I have where you’d feel I’m confident and I could do anything, I’m still constantly ashamed of myself,” she said.

These female voices need to cover all bases, as in there needs to be an increased female presence behind the camera, in the writer’s room, making executive and key production decisions, and of course in front of the camera. But is there a difference in the way these female voices are breaking through in film vs TV? Yes!

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Oscar-winning British Actress Emma Thompson recently gave an interview with the Radio Times in the UK saying sexism is worse than ever. This coming from a woman who is one of the very few in her age bracket still making badass movies, occupying lead roles, and being nominated for awards.

She believes the world is in a “worse state than I have known it, particularly for women. I don’t think there’s any appreciable improvement and I think that, for women, the question of how they are supposed to look is worse than it was even when I was young. So, no, I am not impressed, at all. I think it’s still completely shit, actually,” she said, pointing out how the double standards that Hollywood places on women who age (unlike ageing men whose roles become increasingly more interesting) add in yet another barrier to diversifying the female gaze.

“When I was younger I really did think we were on our way to a better world and when I look at it now, it is in a worse state than I have known it, particularly for women and I find that very disturbing and sad. So I get behind as many young female performers as I can and actually a lot of the conversations with them are about exactly the fact that we are facing and writing about the same things and nothing has changed, and that some forms of sexism and unpleasantness to women have become more entrenched and indeed more prevalent,” concluded Emma.

She is spot on about “writing the same things” over and over again (and which other notable actresses such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep have also voiced their opinions about) which is why Jill’s speech is the solution to changing the dismal way people like Emma Thompson view the industry.

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Unlike the medium of film, TV seems to be far more women-friendly at the moment, and it is certainly leading the way on the female revolution. Variety magazine’s Cynthia Littleton recently wrote an epic piece on women like ‘Orange is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan, Lena Dunham, Mara Brock Akil and many others are finally joining pioneer Shonda Rhimes in adding decidedly female-driven stories and characters, but that appeal to a wide audience. The response has been so overwhelming Cynthia reports the number of female writers in the Writers Guild has increased over the past few years (but are still outnumbered by men), and in some cases female writers are even earning more than men!

“With more women at the helm of shows, there is little doubt that the hiring hurdle for women, particularly as episodic directors, will decrease over time,” she says.

“The spread of women throughout key roles on so many shows is becoming so commonplace as to have become the new normal.”

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Jill Soloway is living proof of that “new normal” especially as her show is one that deals with a subject that has normally been very taboo and restricted for women. But now her, and Jenji’s OITNB are dealing with sexuality in a way that is more empowering and diverse.

Women are shamed for having desire for anything – for food, for sex, for anything. We’re asked to only be the object for other people’s desire. There’s nothing that directing is about more than desire. It’s like directing is female desire over and over again, and film is the capturing of human emotions and somehow men were able to swindle us into believing that that is their specialty. All they told us our whole life is we’re too emotional to do any real jobs, yet they’ve taken the most emotional job, which is art making about human emotions and said we’re not capable of it,” she said, effectively shutting down any moral high ground excuse that may be directed toward women. 

As for insecurities and a fear of failure, those aren’t going to magically disappear, but the magic happens when you work despite your fear, because until we live in a world where women directing blockbuster films to great box office success is not making news for gender reasons, and until studio executives start listening to the voice of the audience who pay to see films directed by, written by and starring women, the need for female filmmakers is more real than ever.

“I’m always plagued by insecurities. The insecurities are always going to be there. The world, the matriarchal revolution, is dependent on female voices and speaking out loud. Please keep making things,” she concluded.

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