Filmmaker Jan Dunn offers a summary of the Women and Power talk recently presented at POW Thanet 2019 and hosted by Oasis.
It was a pleasure for me to be invited to speak with a panel of such great local women at the POW Thanet event discussing Mary Beard’s book Women and Power. I was in good company being joined by CEO of the Turner Contemporary Victoria Pomery, Costume Designer Cynthia Lawrence-John, Managing Director of Pie Factory Music Steph Dickinson, Cinematographer and Anthropologist Lenny Whitehall and Artist/Sociologist Rebekah Sunshine. The discussion was being recorded for a podcast and delivered to a full live audience to boot in the boutique style intimate setting of Margate Radio. It seems only appropriate that a round table discussion should find a way to present itself as a POW event considering the book had its own origins in the form of two public lectures given by Professor Beard during the London Review of Books in 2014 and again in 2017. We agreed to reference the updated publication which includes the worthwhile Afterword following the worldwide #MeToo campaign since the book’s initial release. A campaign that showed what can happen when women’s voices come together to be heard, instead of being silenced as highlighted in the form of the original ‘Manifesto’ as Mary Beard subtitles her book, calling for a long overdue change.
I kicked off as host by wondering aloud how I might relate Mary Beard’s academic Manifesto to my own contemporary existence as a film director. In theory a good start given the horrendous statistical disparage of women versus men getting directing gigs when it comes to the medium of film. As Lenny and Cynthia agreed, a situation that has long been an open secret within the film industry itself but fortunately for us all it has now been made more public since the #MeToo campaign brought a closer interrogation of the film industry particularly. We talked about how that campaign had been driven by the downfall of Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein after revelations around his behaviour towards women began to grow. All because he had the power in the first place to misuse it. We discussed these contemporary “voices” of women having a space to reach a heightened state because of the modern phenomena of social media. A tool that could not be accessed by the silenced voices of the classical women in Mary Beard’s book who were silenced in all kinds of ways ranging from being told to “shut up” and sent to her room to weave by her son in the case of Odysseus’s wife Penelope to the extremes of Philomela having her tongue cut out by her rapist in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The #MeToo campaign meant women were shouting from the rooftops by use of a hashtag. We agreed it took the #MeToo campaign to add power to the formidable but unheard #50/50 Campaign run by my industry’s trade body DirectorsUK to re-address the gender balance in film directors before it could be taken seriously and finally acted upon. Victoria Pomerey also agreed she has noticed a change on a national level as far as the curatorial end of the world of art is concerned too.
We continued to discuss whether #MeToo and the aftermath brought on by it is going to make any difference in the longer term. Interestingly eighteen months on, actress Emma Thompson has very publicly resigned from her involvement in a film made by one of the Hollywood studios merely because after the furore created by that campaign the studio heads have still gone ahead and hired one of the offenders exposed in the #MeToo campaign. The talk concluded with all panellists offering anecdotal stories of experiences in a culture where in leading, we have all had to break through the silencing and with a hope that at managerial levels in all our areas of work at least a change has started, all be it a bit slow.