There’s an inherent contradiction these days for marginalized filmmakers: if you want to promote diversity and equality as “normal,” as what is should be, then you don’t want to emphasize the margin. You’re a filmmaker not a female filmmaker, not a black filmmaker, not a queer filmmaker…etc. But because this industry is woefully non-diverse, we find ourselves claiming these adjective add-ons in order to distinguish ourselves, which inherently makes us different and not the norm.
I’m thinking about this as I prep for the premiere of my debut feature film Acid Test next year and how I want to market both the film and myself. The story itself is steeped in aggressive feminism, and I am a female filmmaker wanting to promote women in film. Many of our keys were women: DP Kerianne Parker, AD Anna Tran, Line Producer Hillary Felice, Wardrobe Courtney Sandifer, and Makeup and Hair Amore Monet. And we also had a bunch of women PAs in the grip/electric and camera departments. Statistically, this makes our project stand out from the norm, but the question is whether that really makes it different.
The women on my crew were of two minds about this. On the one hand, any time a male crew member would remark how different our set was, we pushed back and asked “Why does it have to be different?” Some of the comments back were about communication and respect on set. I heard the phrase “You’re not swinging your dick around” which honestly made me question the professionalism of these other male filmmakers but it also spoke to a stereotype that often plays true: men project confidence even when they have little experience and they get ahead by using their aggression and asserting dominance. If the guy acts like he knows what he’s doing, everyone around him believes that he does. It’s only when the work turns out bad that people start to question that attitude.
Most of the crew members – male and female – on the set of Acid Test did not have much feature film experience and/or experience in the position they held. We were all first-timers, and as indie-filmmakers that’s often how you get people to crew up because they want the experience. But I heard more comments about some of my female keys, doubting their abilities to handle this experience, and while some of it may have been a legitimate fear of working on a “train wreck” of an indie film, or jealousy at not being hired, some of it seemed to be sexism. Maybe unconsciously sexist, but sexism nonetheless.
The women worried that being labeled different was somehow less-than or that different was somehow something that could not become normal in the future. Yet, we also acknowledged how different it felt to be on a crew with all these women. I started my period on Day 1 of production, and my keys quickly followed like dominos. There was something joyous about having other people like me who could relate, that we could actually talk about this stuff openly, laugh about it. Having a crew filled with people from the margin, seeing it work, proved our belief that it could work. That we weren’t less-than. And maybe we did it in a more stereotypical feminine way full of collaboration, respectful communication, listening, no anger, no aggression, no assertion of dominance. Is it part of my gender, personality, or is it simply professional?