In its almost century-old history, this year was the first time, more than one female director was nominated in the best director category at the Oscars.
As a woman filmmaker, women in cinema have been my agenda for some time now. And in one of my recent meetings for the program, ‘Gender in Cinema’ as part of WOW – Women of the World Festival, British Council Nepal and organised by the Film Development Board Nepal, we were discussing the themes for a panel discussion. I suggested an interaction on why the Nepali film industry still struggles trusting women with money. The only women producers are the ones who are backed by male colleagues or have had a very long-standing in the industry.
Even as world cinema opens up to women makers and women stories, it’s almost impossible for a woman to get her project funded, and more so if the woman is a newcomer. I thought this was an important issue to bring up as we celebrated women artistes of the industry. A colleague, however, seemed to disagree, she said she didn’t see gender or that she didn’t like differentiating between men and women. Why do we have to label ourselves as female filmmakers in the first place, she questioned.
Now this wasn’t the first time I’d heard this argument and I know for a fact that her comment was well-intended because until a few years ago, that’s how I thought too. But here’s the thing, when we turn blind to gender we are doing more harm than good. How are you going to work on the biases if you don’t see them in the first place?
I wasn’t here to be a ‘female filmmaker’, I just wanted to be a really good filmmaker.
When I began my filmmaking journey, I too hardly ever thought about gender bias. I wasn’t here to be a ‘female filmmaker’; I just wanted to be a really good filmmaker. My parents – both educated and working – never showed any discrimination between their two daughters and a son. My sister and I have never been told we couldn’t do something for being girls. Growing up, I thought there was no difference between men and women, that gender discrimination was a thing of the past. But as I slowly grew out of the protective life my parents had built, I began learning that society had different norms. It took me quite a few years and multiple rejections in this industry to stop and think, to acknowledge that what was happening with me was in fact gender discrimination.
At the same event, Plan Nepal and Docskool released a study that showed there are only 11 women directors for 193 men directors. And I am not surprised because at this point I have attended multiple meetings where I have pitched an original idea to a potential investor and they have looked at my male colleague to respond. I have met with the top media firms in Nepal, sat in meetings trying to convince them to produce stories around women, and have been told they would be risky ventures. One senior producer had told straight on my face that I looked too small, not young but small to be a director.
In my initial few years, I really resisted accepting the discrimination. I thought if I earned my degrees, worked hard, and wrote honest stories my gender wouldn’t matter. But the bias is inescapable. It’s systemic and systematic, and it took me some time to accept that when I say, I don’t see gender it’s nothing but willful ignorance.
Now, I am not suggesting my colleague or anyone who thinks like this is doing it consciously, most of us aren’t. Some of us have been privileged enough to not go through what other women do and some have worked hard to create a life that is maybe a little away from the everyday reality of women in general but just because we don’t see it every day doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. What it might mean, however, is that we’re running away from the truth because as corny as it might sound, the truth hurts. Because we don’t want to accept the discomfort the truth will bring, and most importantly it will make us question the very foundation of our being. It will make us question our fathers and brothers and husbands and boyfriends. It will make us question our mothers and sisters because in the hundreds of years under the patriarchal system, we women too have internalised its rules.
The same study from Docskool showed that only five out of 102 women characters in Nepali films were shown to have a mission beyond romancing their male counterparts. They also found only one out of seven characters were women and that men characters were given 18 times more dialogues compared to women. These numbers are a stark reminder that we can no longer afford obliviousness because that is the biggest obstacle to the cause of gender equality.
And while a post-gender, post sexuality world would be a beautiful place, that’s not what our world today is. Whether in the cinema or real-life women are reminded of their gender and its social implications every day, multiple times a day. It happens when my mother comes home after a full-time job and is expected to plan for dinner or when my sister has me on-call throughout her subway ride every time she stays late for work and when I am attending a meeting where I have to explain to my fellow filmmakers – male and female – that we need to allocate more attention and resources to women’s stories.