If you could ask for anything, what would it be? A million dollars? World peace? Or, maybe a trip to Mars!
No, really. Think hard. This is not a trick question. We dare you to examine what YOU truly want. This means (gasp!) daring to be selfish. Self-centred. Full of thoughts of YOU, YOU, YOU.
Sacrilege! If you're a woman, you had better be thinking of others, supporting your partner, nurturing your family, and sacrificing your needs on the altar of Selflessness. Right?
Look, nobody's advocating for women to become egotistical monsters. But if we're being honest with ourselves, the thought of asking for what we want – what we truly want – can be an uncomfortable proposition.
And that's a major problem.
In Canada, Women in View (a non-for-profit dedicated to gender and cultural diversity in Canadian media) released a report in 2015, citing that women represented only 17% of directors; 22% of writers; and 12% of cinematographers credited on feature length films that received investment from Telefilm Canada in 2013-2014 (a government cultural agency).
You may think, “Hey, that's not so bad!” Except that women make up just over half of the population in Canada. That's one glaring gap. One that should not sit well with anybody.
How do we close this gap? There will always be debate as to what constitutes the solution(s) to this issue. Some will be in our control. Others not so much. Let's focus on the former.
For some of us, we may not care to admit it, but sometimes the biggest obstacle to our own success (however you define that as), is ourselves.
(This is not to negate the real systemic social, cultural, and political issues that conspire to hinder women's successes. As a woman, and a person of colour, I am acutely aware that I will face barriers and obstacles in this industry due to ignorance, conscious and unconscious biases, and any one of the dreaded “isms.” But in an effort to take back our power, I offer only my humble opinion below, which is absolutely open for discussion!)
Therefore, before you ask someone to believe in you, you'd better make the ask of yourself: Do you believe in YOU?
“Of course, I believe in me. What kind of question is that?” Well, how do you show that you believe in yourself? If you direct, do you direct? If you write, do you write? If you want a foot in the door, have you even knocked on the door?
Be honest with yourself.
Knock on the door. Make the ask.
Last spring, I had to ask myself this question as a writer and filmmaker. The truth is that it had been more than several years since my last short film. And while I had continued to write scripts, I wasn't putting myself or my work out there enough – at least, not as much as I'm sure the next guy was. In short, I wasn't asking myself to succeed.
What did I do? I asked myself to take a risk. I wrote a new short film – the first in years. I attached my dream team to the project. I applied for private funding. We got rejected for that first grant. But instead of taking this as a sign that I had no talent, and would never work in this industry, I applied for public arts council grants. (In Canada, we're fortunate to have government-supported national and regional funding for media artists and media arts projects, such as short films.) We ended up receiving two arts council grants. Yay!
The funny thing is... boldness begets boldness. So, I made another ask. I asked a friend of mine, a very talented filmmaker/producer, if she would team up with me to apply for a national (Canadian) professional development program focused on feature films. Guess what? She said yes.
But that “yes” was only the start. From there, I worked harder than I ever had, writing a feature film script in a month – finishing just in time to submit to that program's deadline. There was no time to second guess; I just had to do it. The result? We were accepted into the program, and have made excellent connections and progress since.
(Again, I recognize that we are privileged as Canadians to have such opportunities and programs. But even if you live in a country without these privileges, find a way to connect with mentors, support one another, and create your own film/artistic community if you don't see yourself represented.)
Was all of this luck? Magic? No. It was hard work. It was daring to make “The Ask” of myself – before asking the same of others. It meant fighting the good fight against self-doubt and insecurities. Terrifying on the best of days. But if I could do it, you can do it too.
Knock on the door. Make the ask.
And if that door slams in your face (and it might), knock again. Better yet, break down the whole goddamn door.
In discussion with Her Film Project Editor, Kyna Morgan, we've decided to create a new Q&A series with the goal of raising the profile of female media creators, artists, and decision-makers. We will ask these women to identify barriers to their success, and to propose concrete action (“The Ask”) towards achieving equality, diversity, and inclusion in the screen-based media industries – for themselves and others. Stay tuned!
And so... if you could ask for anything, what would it be?
Think hard. We're here. We're listening.