At this year’s Oscars ceremony, like so many others before it, women were almost entirely shut out of the writing and directing categories. Last year, only four of the highest-grossing U.S. films were directed by women.
With such a glaring gender imbalance, it’s critical for film schools to encourage female students to achieve success in an industry where they will face many obstacles — which are even more challenging for women of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
UT’s radio-television-film department requires every student to take three introductory media studies classes. This semester, all three of these courses are screening films and television shows almost exclusively written and directed by men. To make core classes more inclusive, professors should screen more content with women in leadership roles behind the camera.
By failing to adequately represent women in cinema, the RTF program isolates aspiring female filmmakers who would benefit from learning about successful women in the industry.
“Because I am interested in cinematography, which is a field that statistically has less than 5 percent female representation, I often feel as though my own talent isn’t good enough simply because of the gender I identify with,” radio-television-film junior Madeline Johnson said. “When I see badass women like Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig and Issa Rae who are thriving in the film and television industry, it makes me feel like I can do the same.”
One of these core classes spends one week each semester featuring prominent female filmmakers in screenings and lectures. After this week, screenings go back to putting women on the periphery. “It makes (students) think that women in cinema are niche or special instead of central,” said radio-television-film lecturer Jennifer McClearen. “They don’t become central to the foundation of the curriculum.”
A common justification for lack of female representation in foundational media studies courses is the notion that women haven’t been writing and directing films for as long as men have. “The canon is used as an excuse a lot of the time,” McClearen said. “The history of film is very male-centric. But there were women directing alongside the whole time — they’re just not celebrated and not brought to the forefront.”
RTF professors have a responsibility to bring this overlooked history of female filmmakers to prominence in core classes, which will help end the cycle of everyone studying the same catalog of films that were largely written and directed by white men.
While the department offers a wide range of media studies courses that feature more representation of female filmmakers, students with upper division standing are free to choose which subjects they want to study. Not every student will choose to take classes that highlight the work of female filmmakers. For this reason, the core classes that all RTF students have to take should feature a more balanced catalog of films.
Film schools are in a unique position of power, because they have the ability to affect the way students think about issues such as representation. “Film schools are places where change can happen,” McClearen said. “If we’re centering these things in our curriculum, it can make a change later on when (students) are in positions of power, or making their first film and thinking of who they’re hiring.”
By devoting more time in core classes to the study of women’s work, RTF professors will encourage female students to pursue filmmaking despite the hardships they will face in a male-dominated industry. Making female filmmakers a central part of the media studies curriculum will also create a more inclusive culture as students go on to positions of power in the industry. This way, Hollywood’s next generation of filmmakers will be more mindful of making space for stories we haven’t seen yet.
Waltz is a radio-television-film senior from Dripping Springs.