When I made Unicornland, a series about a woman exploring her sexuality post-divorce, I committed to the cause of promoting #womeninfilm. Our 60% non-white cast and crew was also 70% female, and included many independent female rising stars.
Through producing and promoting the series, I have had many fascinating conversations with the female cast and crew about how their gender has affected their careers in film. This is the third installation in a series of interviews with the female cast and crew of Unicornland:
Q: How are women and minorities treated differently in the film/theater world? What techniques do you use to navigate double standards?
NANA MENSAH (Actor/Producer/Writer, “Julianne” in Unicornland):
It’s hard to speak to the absence of something. The doors of opportunity are well oiled and they close without sound. I don’t know what I haven’t been up for, but I suspect my numbers might be higher if I were a man.
That’s the thing. We’ve passed civil rights and equal pay, and discrimination is more nuanced now. There are so many systems set up to screw us. It’s hard to put your finger on what is happening, so discrimination is pervasive because we just don’t know for sure what’s happening.
My good friend Lori White—formerly of Upworthy—is very big on salary sharing. We need transparency so we know when we’re getting dicked over.
LAURA RAMADEI (Actor/Producer, “Annie” in Unicornland):
Every project is a product of the people working on it, so I can’t make generalizations. That said, when working in male-dominated environments, I have a heightened awareness of my behavior. I want to watch myself to make sure I don’t play “the girl," and it’s flirty. The risk being that I’m perceived as less effective or assertive.
But I feel like a powerful entity, no different than a man. I’m one of the boys… until I’m not. The moments I find weird and challenging are when my gender is brought up outside of my control. For instance, when someone I’m working with professionally comes out as thinking of me as a sexual being. I don’t have trouble saying no, or having a delicate conversation with them, but it does make me under value myself and their reasons for wanting to work with me: “Do you think I’m a smart producer, or do you just want to be around me for this other reason?”
MARCI MUDD (Designer/Art Director, Production Designer on Unicornland):
Everyone goes through a period where they are direct and speak from emotion. Women are punished for it and have to learn to work around it, while men get away with it. It’s very important as a woman to learn a certain amount of diplomacy. You can’t be as direct. You have to be assertive, but also reign it in. Ease into the power trip, not bulldoze. For women, it’s survival.
There’s also more foul language and vulgar jokes on male-dominated sets. It’s stereotype, but totally true. On my last film—and part of it was the content of the film—there were a lot of vulgar jokes flying around.
ERICA ROSE (Director/Producer/Writer, Assistant Director on Unicornland):
With the election and the rage around that—the nasty woman movement—there are a bunch more female-driven stories about female sexuality that are rising. The Girlfriend Experience presents a character who’s unlikeable, divisive, but in control of her destiny. She always has agency.
Also Elle. While I don’t think the writer and director quite captured what it is to experience sexual assault as a woman, the film presented this idea that you don’t have to be a victim, and you can still feel sexual desire after assault. It’s an interesting narrative/dialogue that I’d never seen before in film.
Broad City and Issa Rae’s new show Insecure bring more ostentatious views of sexuality. They show that teenage sensibility that men have been able to proclaim with every teen movie ever made. Now we see women masturbate and take a shit. We can do that on camera too—and it’s comedy which is really powerful.
ELLEN ROBIN (HMU/Stylist on Unicornland):
I was doing a large installation for an event with an all-female team. This guy who was hanging around kept going on about how sexy it was to see all these women working with power tools. I shot him down: “Why is it sexy? We’re getting work done.” That kind of thing happens all the time, and I have no problem making someone feel uncomfortable by calling it out.
I handle my feminism on a moment to moment basis, on a professional and personal level.
DIANA OH (Performance Artist/Writer/Musician, “Samara” in Unicornland):
I signed onto Unicornland because it shows women's bodies as subjects not objects. It sets out to view the ugly, vulnerable sides of women's sexuality, so that we can be viewed as more human. As a woman, and a Korean-American, I have played a lot of convenient stereotype character roles with no depth. Showing women not just as characters but humans is a win for everyone involved.
ARINA BLEÍMAN (Director of Photography on Unicornland)
Feminism is getting a wider release in the liberal media which is a step forward, but with this election season it is clear that we must defend the progress made and cannot remain silent about how much more work needs to be done to bring down the patriarchy that is so deeply ingrained in the foundations of this country.
I participate in monthly meetings for women in film and television, and a big topic is how the higher the budgets, the fewer women we see in positions of power. This must change. Hearing the statistics can be disheartening, but the numbers are changing. We must continue to have an open conversation about gender equality in both film and the world.
CLEO GRAY (Actor/Producer, “Veronica” in Unicornland):
When Crystal Arnette and I produced Serials at the Flea, we looked at the numbers [of the cast and writers involved] and realized that only 20% of the writers over three years were women let alone writers and actors of color. And that’s not for want of trying—it was hard for Crystal and I to fill spots. Every week, 13 white guys would come forward. We had to push hard for diversity, but by god it’s worth the extra work.
You have to commit to solving these issues because our efforts now directly affect future generations. If we don’t show stories of/by women and people of color in these groups, then future generations of artists will be discouraged, and will not apply. If these artists aren’t advocated for early on, they’ll never get to a place where they feel confident and ready.