A sense of panic overwhelms me as I look around; three men are smoking by the van, a few more are lugging around heavy equipment and a crowd is gathered around the cameras, pointing here and there with their big hairy fingers. The grunts, the banter, and the smell of smoke help me realize one thing: I am the only woman on this set.
This not-so-shocking discovery, although very familiar, manages to unsettle my nerves. It isn’t the elusive smiles and direful gazes as I make my way to the encircled crowd that contort my features into a hollow pout. It isn’t the apprehension of waiting for one of them to ask if I was lost, to comment on my abrasiveness or to doubt my strength. It is the absence of my gender that fills me with a sense of sadness, emptiness and, above all, shame.
As a filmmaker, I am deeply immersed in a world dominated by men, and continue to find myself to be the only woman at almost every job I take on. And although I have been doing this for a few years, I have yet to adapt to this misogynistic world. How can I still be the only female cinematographer, nevertheless the only female working on a film set?
The film industry has been driven by men since its’ birth and books depicting the history of Hollywood are filled with Stevens, Richards, and Mikes. Sadly, this phenomenon has spread over the oceans and continents and has entitled men with higher positions and bigger salaries in every production house in every corner of the world. And it has been no exception for me.
In 2010, I dove ten feet deep into Hollywood but because I was too young, too excited and too ignorant I failed to notice the pungent stink of sexism and the imbalance that tipped and shattered the scales of gender equality. It wasn’t until I left that internship and moved on to a more solid career that I looked back and realized the reality of the industry. Now, more than half a decade later, I find myself in similar situations over and over again, but I refuse to give up.
I’ve wanted to make movies since I was eight years old and now that I have finally made that dream come true I can’t imagine my life any other way. Being on set provides me with purpose and sustenance. It lies in the rush of getting the perfect shot and the pleasure in seeing my hard work come to life. The hours are long but they never seem long enough; the creativity that flows through my blood fills me with adrenaline and leaves me yearning for more as we turn the lights off and pack up our cameras. My feet ache and my shirt is drenched with sweat, but I wouldn’t trade my job for anything else. And as usual, people are immediately taken aback by me the moment I arrive on set; Are you here by accident? Shouldn’t you be planning and scheduling instead? How will you carry around that heavy camera? Every question baffles me and I am left with no choice but to think; Am I not allowed to be creative because I am a woman? Am I unable to carry my equipment because I am a woman? Am I not good enough because I am a woman? However, actions speak louder than words and a few days into work everyone begins to respect and appreciate my vision, my input, and my strength. I am not of any less value than my male peers, so why should I be discriminated against in the first place?
Is it the way my breasts make my shirt a little tighter, or my narrow shoulders that make me a bigger liability on set? Or is it that my perspective is more insightful and my willpower greater than the rest?
I am a woman and I am not sorry for my high pitched voice, my skinny jeans or ponytail. I am a woman and I am not sorry for not living up to your assumptions of weakness and deficiency. I am a woman and that does not give you the right to look down on me.
Am I the only unapologetic exception of my gender? No. Hundreds of women are speaking up about discrimination at work, including major Hollywood stars Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence. Is it too late? No. We still have the opportunity to change the false foundations the opposite sex has laid out for us and we can start with our voices. And that is exactly what I did and continue to do on set; my words reflect my determination and skills and my tone is that of confidence and courage.
I am hoping that you do the same.