Although the celluloid ceiling is slowly breaking, gender inequality continues to be a pressing issue for the industry. Join us for a closer look at the profiles of a handful of filmmakers that have made a name for themselves combating stereotypes.
Earlier this January, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University published its annual report. Its principal author, sociologist Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, once again examined the state of women’s employment in film to gauge gender equality in the US entertainment industry. Taking data on the top 100 grossing films of 2020 to compile a gender breakdown of employment in film, the report revealed that women accounted for only 16% of the directors and made up an even smaller percentage of writers and DPs behind the blockbusters. Although the ratios keep growing year over year, for many filmmakers the celluloid ceiling continues to be an insurmountable barrier. Some are openly discriminated against because of their gender, but much of the sexism in the industry is latent and indirect.
Ideas on how to make the film industry more inclusive have recently been appearing with ever greater frequency. Events promoting female-led filmmaking are growing increasingly popular, among them the now necessarily virtual HER Docs Festival, which we already wrote about on Papaya.Rocks. A similar initiative has now become a key part of the 2021 edition of the Papaya Young Directors competition, open for submissions through February 15. The team behind the contest joined forces with three women’s rights organizations to develop the Women’s Stories subcategory. In this new section, contestants will have the opportunity to produce content for Camera Femina, Kosmos dla Dziewczynek, and Kuchinate African Refugee Women's Collective. How can they prep for writing a treatment that would properly emphasize the needs of women? The six profiles of female commercial filmmakers we’ve compiled below might be of some inspiration in that regard.
The Australian director made a name for herself with the celebrated Dream Crazier commercial, narrated by tennis champion Serena Williams. Its universal message brought the film widespread acclaim and nearly three millions views in just twenty four hours after it premiered at the Academy Award gala. The success of Kim Gehrig, whose celebrated commercial explored the hardships of being a female athlete and overcoming one’s own limitations, should come as no surprise. The filmmaker has long been viewed as a trailblazer with an innovative, fresh perspective. Her credits include collaborations with Honda, GAP, Lurpak, Sport England, and Apple, with each of these productions showcasing a different aspect of the filmmaker’s seemingly boundless creative spirit.
The American filmmaker is best known as the director behind multi-award-winning feature films (Pariah, Mudbound, The Last Thing He Wanted) and TV series (Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, Empire). Although it’s evident that she’s most interested in longform storytelling and creating evocative characters, Dee Rees is not exactly unwilling to dip into the marketing realm. The filmmaker was responsible for the Walmart ad that premiered during the commercial break in the 2018 Academy Award gala. The Box is a neat, condensed blend of sci-fi fascinations, VFX, and top family entertainment tropes.
She began as an artist working with performative art, experimental installations, and other contemporary art projects, but Fleit soon realized she felt just as good with authentic, unbridled storytelling. Credits of the New York City-based artist include productions for UBS Bank, Peanut, Bumble, and Paskho, but our favorite project from her is the commercial she did for the legendary automotive brand Cadillac. The Art of Daring, which you can see below, exemplifies her particular style, its hallmarks including explosions of vibrant color, unconventional lighting arrangements, and the use of abstract forms. .
Although it’s been some time since she won the third edition of the Papaya Young Directors competition, Iwona Bielecka continues being a force in the industry. Her phenomenal ad for O2 earned her the trust of a number of renowned and popular brands: the fashion designer duo Paprocki & Brzozowski, Dove, Sprite, and Force, and it seems that she’s just getting started. The Wheelchair Hour, the campaign she created with Auto Świat Academy, drew critical acclaim at the prestigious Cannes Lions gala. We decided to complement this brief profile of the director with a film she produced outside the advertising industry, in which she delves into the enigmatic realm of Instagram influencers.
Her films are characterized by a particular rhythm, a playful approach to form, and an insistence on seeing the diverse beauty in the least expected moments. The London-based filmmaker’s credits include a number of highly-acclaimed commercials (for Jigsaw and Nivea, among others), films produced for the fashion industry (Stella McCartney, Adidas, Whistles), and music videos (Sigrid, Nothing but Thieves). But it was her unconventional production for Coppafeel, a British foundation working toward raising breast cancer awareness. See the bold, unorthodox PSA encouraging breast self-examination, which was the first-ever advertisement to show a naked female areola on British television, below.
The second Polish filmmaker to make the list is a finalist of the fifth edition of the Papaya Young Directors competition, which she openly said helped her spread her wings professionally and brought her access to projects previously beyond her reach. “The school helped me get a start in the film world, but advertising and music videos are two separate fields, to be honest. Without this experience I might not have received certain offers, the music video for Wolność chief among them,” explained the filmmaker in an interview. Last year, the director behind The Halo Effect, a celebrated documentary about kids in juvenile halls, unveiled her music video for Mówią mi by Igo, one half of the popular Bass Astral x Igo duo. The footage was shot last fall after protests broke out across Poland in the wake of the parliament passing a new, stricter anti-abortion law. The director saw the demonstrations as a universal cry for freedom and an outpouring of attendant emotions.
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