A new production company focusing on empowering roles for women is in the works. Called ‘We Do It Together‘ (WDIT), it has the backing of Queen Latifah, Jessica Chastain, Juliette Binoche, Freida Pinto and over a score of other diverse personalities on board. A big announcement like this is bound to cause two reactions. The first is more akin to when people point at pride-parades and Black History Month and say “hey why isn’t there straight-pride and White History Month?” The second reaction is this – FINALLY.
We have a representation problem and that much is clear from even fifteen minutes of prime-time programming (ads included). The film and TV industry has definitely made leaps and bounds in how it portrays, characterizes and develops its female characters. Writers and filmmakers have begun to invest the same amount of energy in crafting women’s roles as they would men’s roles – because conceiving women as ‘pretty faces’ and ‘source of man-pain’ are signs of lazy writing and that’s not going to fly with audiences anymore. But the truth is that our Jessica Joneses and Katniss Everdeens and Princess Bubblegums are in the minority. We still have a long way to go. Don’t believe me? Let’s get into the numbers for a minute.
A survey of 2009’s top grossing films revealed that “32.8% of the 4,342 speaking characters were female and 67.2% were male.” Last year, the Washington Post said “most female characters showed up in domestic roles, the type society labels traditionally feminine. Nearly a third wore ‘sexy attire,’ compared to 8 percent of men. Twenty-six percent flashed skin, while nine percent of men did the same.” And in spite of having a strong character like Princess Leia, even Star Wars – the biggest movie franchise ever – had speaking roles for women that came up to an embarrassing 63 seconds. The Indian film industry too has an unacceptably low percentage of women in production. When only 9.1% of directors are women, it’s not surprising that the depiction of gender in Bollywood is oriented to a decidedly male point-of-view. All of this is responsible for what researcher Stacy L. Smith has called an “epidemic of invisibility.”
As if taking a cue from Jada Pinkett Smith’s pre-Oscars message (asking people of colour to “make programs for [them]selves“), WDIT is going to address that invisibility, by creating a much-needed, long-overdue space for women and the stories they want to see.
Today, solid characters like Jessica Jones, Imperator Furiosa and the inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary have proved their mettle with audiences worldwide. Audiences are also beginning to understand the power of their demands for better media. Could there be a better time to launch a project like this, when conversations about diversity, about nuance, about inclusiveness are really peaking?
To end, I would like to invoke Dev Shah from “Master of None“, Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series that also launches right into the representation debate.
“Indians just aren’t at that level yet,” he says, mourning the lack of opportunity for actors of colour. “Yeah, there’s more Indians popping up now and then, but we’re like set decoration […] There can be one, but there can’t be two – Black people just got to their ‘there-can-be-two’ status.” Now swap the ethnicities with genders, or sexual orientations. That dialogue still holds.
To have an actual body like WDIT that’s not just articulating representation politics but filling the vacuum – that’s something special, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it.