The Women On Screen panel at Empire Live

It’s been a fairly epic few days of filmy events at Empire Live this weekend, with screenings, quizzes, and Q&As galore. Sunday saw a series of fascinating panels at the Empire Hub in The O2’s Brooklyn Bowl – and one of the hottest tickets of the weekend was the Women On Screen panel, which packed out the venue.
Moderated by Empire’s editor-in-chief, Terri White, the panel featured Belle director Amma Asante, Raised by Wolves producer Kate Crowther, and actors Natalie Dormer, Cara Theobold and Hayley Squires discussing their experiences of being women in film and television, the challenges and barriers they often encounter, and the methods for dealing with an industry which sharply skews towards male audiences and employees (fewer than 20% of major films have film leads, and only 6% of Hollywood blockbusters have female directors).
“I feel like I’ve been having the same conversation for about 15 nears now”, said Crowther wearily, noting that studios still don’t think that women’s stories sell. Asante agreed, observing the trend of male directors “jumping immediately into a blockbuster. There’s a sense that ‘he can fly the plane’. [Female directors] have to do more to earn our stripes.”
Natalie Dormer recounted a story of a male writer friend who struggled with writing female characters. “I said, ‘you don’t need to write about shoes and babies and periods. You need to a write a script, and then write ‘Jane’ instead of ‘John’.’”
Hayley Squires voiced concerns that the industry was still too timid. She pointed out that Lena Dunham’s show Girls, for all its achievements, had the effect of narrowing the boundaries. “Everyone was saying, ‘could this be the English version of Girls?”, she said. “That became the new safe.”
All the panellists agreed that sexism was still an unwelcome presence in the industry. Crowther recounted a story that made the audience laugh with despair: while on the set of Raised By Wolves, she was asked by a daily crew member if she was makeup or costume. Her response: “No. I’m a fucking producer.” (Cue a round of applause from the audience.)
The panel finished by striking an optimistic tone. Squires emphasised the collaborative nature of the medium, and (borrowing a phrase from Ken Loach) encouraged everyone to “educate, agitate, organise”, while Theobold hoped that representation – “whether race, class or gender” – could “inspire a younger generation in a very difficult industry.”


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