Screen Australia Exceeds Gender Parity Targets, Extends Program

Babyteeth still 1 - Venice Film Festival - H 2019
Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

The Gender Matters scheme, aimed at increasing the number of female writers, directors and producers working in the industry, is to be extended for another four years.

Australia’s national funding agency Screen Australia will extend a program aimed at achieving gender parity in the production sector by another four years after announcing that the Gender Matters initiative has exceeded its targets in its first three years. 

Gender Matters was launched in 2015 with a target of having at least half of the key creative roles — being producers, writers and directors, as well as protagonists in narrative dramas — in the projects Screen Australia finances occupied by women. In three years over 56 percent of the SA projects funded had women in key creative roles. 

They include projects to be released this year like Rachel Griffiths’ debut as a director, Ride Like a Girl, and Shannon Murphy's Venice Film Festival competition entrant Babyteeth, as well as Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy and Punch, and TV drama’s Stateless, produced by Matchbox Pictures and Cate Blanchett, and See Saw Films’ euthanasia-themed series The End

Over the three-year period, a headcount of the producers, writers and directors attached to the funded productions reveals 49 percent were women. The prevalence of female producers drove up the average. 

There were also key increases in specific roles, including 27 percent of directors attached to feature films being women in 2018-19 compared to only 10 percent in 2016-17. However the low base indicates there are still challenges in the march toward gender equity. The number of female writers on features also improved, but is still below parity at 27 percent, while the number of female directors attached to documentaries has increased every year since 2016-17 and exceeded parity (51 percent) in 2018-19. Fifty-eight percent of funded dramas in the last year had a female protagonist. 

Screen Australia finances roughly half of film and TV dramas and documentaries made in Australia by volume. The agency said that its productions have a slightly higher female participation over the last three years than wider industry trends. 

Screen Australia board member, Dance Academy producer and the chair of the Gender Matters task force Joanna Werner said the results were an “incredible milestone” that indicated “systemic change,” but added “this by no means the finish line to achieving gender parity, particularly in writer-director roles.”

Screen Australia head of development Nerida Moore said Gender Matters has “fundamentally changed the way we make funding decisions at Screen Australia. It put consideration of what stories are being told and who is telling them at the center of our decision making”.

Screenwriter and Stateless showrunner Elise McCredie was encouraged by the visibility of and support for female filmmakers.

Stateless has predominantly female heads of departments,” she noted, adding “in the past couple of years I believe there’s been much greater awareness of gender equity in both crewing and the composition of writers rooms.”

Over the next four years the gender parity KPIs will be extended to projects provided with development funding as well as production funding by Screen Australia and will focus on 50 percent of women in the roles of writer, director and producer. 

“Our original Gender Matters KPI encouraged collaboration and was successful in increasing the amount of women in individual creative teams,” Werner said. “With the new KPI we are focusing on the volume of female key creatives working overall. By rolling development funding into the new KPI, we are seeking to ensure gender representation is being considered right from the early stages of a project.”

“Now our challenge is making sure that women are sharing equitably in the $44 million of funding Screen Australia’s Content Unit disperses each year,” Moore added.