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Women in film: Female students express difficulties in the male-dominated field

Alice Tsui, a senior film production major, reviews a take on the set of her senior thesis, “Lulu’s Lunchbox.”

Hoping for a better college experience for his child, freshman film production major Ilayda Cetinkaya’s father recommended she fly 14 hours from Turkey to the U.S. to join the American film industry. He believed that the industry would be more even and fair to women. But, Cetinkaya said, they were wrong.

A study conducted by the San Diego State University film research center reported that women account for 14 percent of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers. In the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, some women such as Cetinkaya have dealt with the inequalities between men and women in this field.

“My friends in Dodge are not sexist, but sometimes, unintentionally, I feel like they can’t take direction from me because I am a woman,” Cetinkaya said.

In high school, Cetinkaya worked on films in Turkey. During her high school productions, she said she felt the same discrimination as a woman that she feels now.

“Whenever I would approach people to do projects together, they would respond to you by saying  ‘You can do wardrobe, maybe,’” Cetinkaya said. “They don’t do it to say ‘Women can’t do it,’ but you definitely feel the distrust all the time.”

She said she remembered feeling belittled when she was working with a male grip, and he kept insisting her camera shot would not work. Then, her male partner pitched the same idea, and the grip said it was brilliant.

This confused her at the time, but her male partner explained it by saying, “I hate to break this to you, but it’s because you’re a female.”

“It’s not because I’m sensitive and can’t take criticism. It’s because it’s unfair and has nothing to do with my character, just my gender,” she said.

Graphic by Lorig Yaghsezian

Women make up a total of five percent of directors in the U.S., according to the  study by the San Diego State University film research center. This is a fact that Cetinkaya, as well as many other females in Dodge College, are aware of.

Alice Tsui, a senior film production major with an emphasis in directing, also became interested in film in high school.

Her first audition did not go according to plan, she said. She was not chosen as one of the four directors for the show. Tsui said that this drove her to prove her worth.

“There’s no doubt about it,” she said in regard to women having a disadvantage in the film industry.

Out of a class of 20 men, Tsui said she is usually one of the three female students. She believes that this makes it difficult to be taken seriously.

“I am not accusing any professors of being sexist, but I am constantly feeling as though I have to prove myself to my professors more than the men do,” she said.

She said she relies on her love of directing to outweigh the negative aspects of being a minority in this field. Tsui admitted that in other cases, whenever things got hard for her, she would never finish them and simply run away, but directing was different for her and held a different importance.

“If you’re not assertive in this industry, you will be walked all over and that’s what I’ve seen time and time again,” Tsui said.

She said that her biggest issue with working in film is that whenever something happens in class, such as a student in her group rejects her idea or a professor calls her out in class, she is not sure if it is because of her gender or something else.

However, like Cetinkaya, Tsui said she is optimistic for the future in film and believes that society will move into a more progressive industry.

“In film, women have already started to move away from the stereotypical sexual object,” she said. “That is why I am hopeful this stigma will change because people are appreciating minority and women’s work now.”

However, Catie Kovelman, a sophomore creative producing major, said she was seen as a sexual object by one of the male workers she was doing an internship with. He kept asking her to be “friends with benefits” and persisted even when she rejected him multiple times.

This made her realize that since she was one of the only women, some of the men viewed her as their “sexual object.”

“I reported him, and he apologized to me, but I still don’t feel better about it,” Kovelman said. “It was hard to experience that firsthand.”

Being one of the only girls on set is hard at first, she said, because the men don’t take her seriously.

“People are often surprised by me,” Kovelman said. “They say, ‘Oh, you’re a little girl. What are you doing here?’”

This is not a setback in her mind, she said. She said her main goal is to always push harder and to make sure that she proves people wrong by showing her strength.

“Men think they’re being polite when they ask if they can help us, but we don’t always need their help just like sometimes they don’t need ours,” she said.

However, Kovelman, like others, is optimistic for the future of women in the film industry, but is concerned about how society is going to get there.

“I believe we will get there one day, but I’m not really sure when or how it will happen,” she said.

Another woman who makes the conscious effort to make it in the film industry is Ashley Kron, a film production major with an emphasis in directing.

“It’s clear from day one,” she said. “It’s as if someone says, ‘Welcome to the industry’ and you look around the classroom, and there’s not much female representation at all.”

Her biggest concern with women in film is that since so few women are directors, not enough women-centric stories being told.

“It’s frustrating sometimes when a lot of male professors can’t necessarily connect with your script, and I just feel like they are not justified to be talking about my script,” Kron said.

The male perspective:

Watching his wife go through much more difficult experiences in the same profession, cinematography professor Bill Dill expressed his disdain for the patriarchal stigma in film and what women face in the industry.

“All my classes are predominantly male,” he said. “We’re in 2017. This is absurd.”
Dill’s wife was recently working on a project in Kosovo, a country in southeastern Europe, and could not be reached. There, her male grip was questioning her authority about a shot she wanted to do.

“I can’t believe a grip would challenge a cinematographer,” Dill said. “Not even that, he was also emotionally abusive toward her and pointed out her physical weakness as well.”

Dill said that she persisted and finished the job, but Dill believes that was an obstacle she would not have faced if she were a man.

In the Oscars, there has been at least one female winner in all categories except cinematography. This is why Dill believes that cinematography is a part of film that will be hard to integrate.

His biggest piece of advice to female cinematographers is to be persistent and to not give up, he said.

“I just want females to not be discouraged,” Dill said.

Juan Bustillo, a sophomore political science and screenwriting major, also sees the unfair treatment of women in the industry.

“Film is such a hierarchial field,” he said. “Men, a lot of the times, just try to take charge.”
Although there is a large imbalance in the film industry today, Bustillo believes that Dodge College has done a good job at blurring the lines between genders.

Many films he has seen in class are women-led, he said.

Bustillo said he has tried to help the situation as best as he can. Since he is on the writing part of production, he puts strong female characters in his scripts.

“Because it’s a male-dominant field, it’s on the men to pass the microphone to the women,” Bustillo said. “Hire a female producer if you’re a director, or female writers to help tell stories about women.”

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