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Movie Biz Attempts to Grapple With Diversity Crisis

Building diversity in cinematography – and in the film industry in general – is a career-long goal for most members of the Camerimage film festival panel that takes on this subject and most report progress since the event launched at the event last year. But, as moderator Elen Lotman, an Estonian cinematographer, cautioned at this year’s panel, “We will not solve this tonight.”

Still, as Heather Stewart, creative director of the British Film Institute, reported, significant efforts to identify and quantify the problem of under-represented women and minorities are now building.

Some of the findings of the exhaustive study of diversity throughout the history of 10,000 British films shot since 1911 are, admittedly, depressing: The number of women’s roles in films, currently about 33% of those written, has not changed since 1933, she said. More disturbing still, the vast majority are shopworn cliches, from plucky moms to whores, scheming divas and loving assistants.

Having analyzed the presence (or non-presence) of women in British film, said Stewart, the BFI is next going through vast data to look at the role of minorities.

The one bright spot the BFI survey uncovered, during WWII, when women actually made up a significant portion of jobs in film production, was quickly reversed when men came home from the war. She said the BFI is taking an active role in requiring film funding applicants to demonstrate diversity in their crews, stories and casting, she added.

Organized by the U.K. female cinematographers collective illuminatrix and IMAGO, the European federation of DPs, the diversity session prompted insights and spirited debate among panelists including: Cinematographer Rachel Morrison (“Black Panther” “Fruitvale Station”); Birgit Gudjonsdottir of BVK; cinematographer John Bailey, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Petter Mattson of the Swedish Film Institute; and cinematographer Warwick Thornton (“Sweet Country.”)

Bailey, repping the Motion Picture Academy, agreed that boosting diversity is a key goal for the body, citing its goal of achieving a 50-50 ratio of men and women members by 2020.

More still is needed, though, he said, noting that only 9% of academy members in the cinematography branch are female. The organization is streamlining its process for inducting new members, he said, thanks to efforts to ensure that work by proposed candidates is seen by the academy’s top brass.

Charlotte Bruss Christensen, DP of “The Girl on the Train” and Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game,” said much of the progress toward more diversity depends on attacking “an attitude problem.” Blaming is not necessarily constructive, she argued. “White middle-aged men are not the bad guy.”

Lotman agreed that perception is key to progress and changing the attitude of the majority. “We can’t fix it only with the people who sense acutely that they have a problem,” she said.

Lotman cited studies showing that diverse workplaces and societies are more stable and productive, including one by McKinsey Global Institute that calculates that advancing women’s equality would add $12 trillion to global economic growth.

She also referenced data showing bad things happen when people are surrounded mainly by others just like them. That kind of homogeneity, she said, “makes you lazy, makes you boring…makes you white and middle-aged sometimes.”

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