Why is “female” in front of “filmmaker”?


vghsphoto1Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at http://ishouldwritethisdown.blogspot.com/ on12/15/09 HERE. Lauren has graciously shared her writings with Ms. In The Biz.  Thank you Lauren!

It’s been a continually uncomfortable decision for me to call this a “Female DP’s blog”. Some days I want to keep it that way, other days I don’t. It’s an almost daily internal argument.

Reasons to nix the “girl” part:

My talent, style, creative choices and skills as a director of photography are not dictated by my gender. I pride myself on serving the story, not my gendered worldview. I can use my experience and unique perspective as a woman to create an approach, if needed. It sometimes lets me look through a different lens than a man might. But it doesn’t mean I am subject to (or victim to?) a specifically defined and solely “female aesthetic”. …Whatever “female” means here.

I don’t want to be judged more or less harshly because I am a woman. I want to work at a professional level, so I want to be critiqued fairly at that level. As my friend Elle says regarding her critiques of filmmakers, “I’m an equal opportunity hater.” Don’t judge my work through the “girl lens”.

I want to champion women working in Hollywood. But that needs to be separate from my work. When it comes to cinematography, I don’t want to be defined as a feminist cinematographer, a feminist filmmaker, a fem-anything. I just want to be a really damn good cinematographer. Adding a defining adjective like female or feminist just separates me and adds preconceptions and constrictions. I am a cinematographer, not a female cinematographer, because that implies that my scope is limited to whatever definition is given to “female”. (Then why all the fuss about being a female DP? I’ll get to that in a second.)

And there is some sort of stereotype of femfilmakers going around (even perpetuated by femfilmmakers themselves) that women traditionally make arthouse or romance films, are subject to an apparently over-powering “female aesthetic” they have no control of (that makes it impossible for them to make films like Kill Bill… see previous stereotype link), and “aren’t interested” in making big budget films or films that are traditionally seen as “male”, because those aren’t the movies they want to see. (See Elle’s brilliant response to the article I am referring to here. Who gave these women permission to speak for the rest of us? Why do even women imply that one trait found true for them is indicative to the entire sex?)

It’s as if there is one narrow definition of what “feminine” is, and that defining point trumps all other aspects of a femfilmmaker’s talent, personality, and work. I DON’T CARE if Mandy Walker is feminine on set, and that she has a carrying case for her lipstick on her camera. I want to know why the hell she did or did not choose to go anamorphic, or what freaking stock she’s shooting on. That would be like interviewing Roger Deakins for ASC and asking him what kind of aftershave he uses before he goes to set, and if it makes him smell manlier, and does that help him preserve his masculine aesthetic? WTF.

Here I am dying to shoot Westerns or the next Banlieue 13. The first film I ever made was a James Bond short when I was 12, my favorite movie this year was Star Trek, and one of my goals in my career is to utilize that imax camera motorcycle mount from Ultimate Arm. Not every female filmmaker is the same. We are not a niche, or a genre, or a single demographic. While I think we need to support each other, I don’t want only one or two women speaking for femfilmmakers as one mind. I am sick of our oh-so-feminine physical appearances being described in interviews about our films. Actually, I am sick of vapid interviews that have nothing to do with filmmaking. I am sick of “femininity on set” being a huge fucking deal. We don’t homogenize, segregate or patronize male filmmakers this way.


What makes this worse is that women perpetuate this themselves. I don’t want to add to this.


Reasons I continually decide to leave the “girl” part up:

The number one search term that leads people to my site is “female cinematographers”.

There is literally no place for people to go to when looking for resources and info on female cinematographers. They are told everywhere they turn, that camera department is still a boy’s club. It sure is. But that hasn’t stopped me and other women. And there are a lot of women out there still facing discrimination and the gender label who are looking for a voice out there that is saying “I feel this way too. You are not alone. This is what I am doing about it.”

I know this because I get emails.

I’ve gotten emails from Canada, Australia, Spain, across America… all saying the same thing. “Thank you for writing. I’ve experienced the same thing.”

A lot of interviews with female cinematographers read the same way: “I don’t think about gender. I just do my job well.” I believe this. It’s the only way to really get ahead… if you’re hung up on being the girl on set, you’re gonna separate yourself subconsciously whether you want to or not.

(Yeah, I am incredibly proud to be a woman. I am not going to apologize for it, ignore it, or forget it. But I am not going to use it as a banner that puts a wedge between myself and other filmmakers. This leads back to exclusivity.)

I follow this mantra on set. But here, on this blog, this is where I can think aloud about it. Because it’s there. The gender thing is there, whether we like it or not. Women in film experience it everyday. And I think a lot of them stay silent about it, because they don’t want to draw attention to it. I don’t know about them, but I get a lot of conflicting feelings, anger and confusion over the gender crap, and sometimes I find liberation, humor and strength. I think it’s worth talking about, and would love something like my blog be a sounding board, a place people can talk about it and figure it out, without having it define us.

That’s the big thing. I don’t want to be defined by it. I want to question it.

So I put the “Female DP” label on this blog for 3 reasons:
1) Community- I want other cinematographers who are girls to know they are not alone.
2) Dialogue – I want to question what “female cinematographer” really means.
3) Audience – I am basically catering to a specific readership/googlesearch.

This blog is my learning process as a cinematographer. And I happen to be a girl, so my experience might be relatable to other girls. But it’s not limited to that. Any new cinematographer runs into the same problems I do.

I don’t write this blog to make a BIG DEAL out of being a GIRL (and I am not saying we should all “become men” and forget our female identity entirely either). But we still live in a world where “female” precedes “filmmaker”. So I am writing about that too. I do want to make a big deal about the fact that there aren’t many female cinematographers at all. I do want to draw attention to the fact that my insignificant little blog is one of the top results on Google search for “female cinematographers”. That the definition of “feminine” in Hollywood still has a lot of problems. That the current Hollywood system is a no-win situation for women both on set and in the audience. That no woman has ever been nominated for a cinematography Oscar. That it’s still incredibly hard and almost IMPOSSIBLE for some women to move up in this field. Take one of my readers, who was told women were too unstable and emotional to work on film sets because of their periods.

So yeah, I’m sticking with GIRL CINEMATOGRAPHER on the blog for now. Not as a definition or identity… but for the seekers on Google Search who are wondering if what Hollywood is telling them is, in fact, complete bull.