Another day, another film networking party. The drinks were flowing, business cards were being exchanged and I was there to promote my second feature film. An influential figure in the industry approached me – a person who’d already opened doors for me in my career – and naturally I was eager to begin pitching my next project. Drunkenly, he embraced me in his arms, looked me up and down, and slurred at me.
“You’ve expanded, Kate. Your tits look great. Come back to mine.”
Here we go again…
Deep down, I was screaming. I’ve had my work shown at over 50 international film festivals, secured a distribution deal for my first feature film at the age of 25, just completed my second film – and the only thing this guy can congratulate me on is my tits. But instead of pouring gasoline all over my bra and turning it into women’s rights firework display, I just smiled, said nothing and moved away.
And this is what I’ve been doing for the past six years of my film career: saying nothing.
Because this isn’t the first time it’s happened to me. In fact, it’s a recurring theme. Two years ago, I went to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time. Armed with a big bag of DVDs and a handful of flyers, I was hoping to secure a distribution deal for my film. I had no plan, no connections and absolutely no idea what I was doing. For me, it was the first time I realised how big this industry actually is, and how small my position in it is as a woman.
On the day I arrived, a man – a total stranger – uninvitedly pressed his whole body against mine, pushing me against the wall of the lift. He ground his groin against my thigh and muttered into my ear: “Let me take you to my apartment. I’ll introduce you to Brad and Anj. They’re good friends of mine.”
It didn’t take long to realise that the vast majority of producers out there weren’t producers at all. They just liked to hire a fancy car, rent a beautiful apartment and convince as many actresses is possible that they could turn them into a star – on one condition…
No one in the lift said anything.
I’ve sat with executives who were boasting about the blowjobs they’ve had from young hopefuls.
I’ve been propositioned by distributors.
I’ve been groped by film festival organisers.
Most of the actresses I know have to take their tops off for major auditions. Some have filmed sex scenes which they later found out were never meant to be in the film, but are now safely locked on the director’s hard drive.
No one says anything.
The truth is this: the casting couch is not a myth. It’s a very accepted part of the film industry. When incidents like this happen, they’re considered completely normal. As one producer put it: “If you’re attracted to someone, and they’re attracted to you and you want to settle a business deal, why not secure it with sex?”
It all comes down to one thing: power.
The people who have propositioned me have had more power than me. I’m one of hundreds of thousands of people desperately trying to claw their way into the industry – they hold the key to the door that I want to get through, and they know it. I can’t call them out, because then the door slams shut. So instead I just grit my teeth and smile.
I’m not even angry about it; I’m just disappointed. I can’t believe we still need to have this conversation. I can’t believe I still have to call myself a feminist just because I want to be considered an equal. I don’t want to be talking about gender politics, I want to be talking about my films. I don’t even want to be writing this article. I would prefer to be using the exposure and opportunity to discuss and promote my latest feature film. Instead, I’m having to use it to discuss behaviour in the industry that should’ve been slapped into place 40 years ago.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the majority of these men are bad people. I think they’ve just been allowed to get away with it all for too long. If challenged, I imagine most of them would quiver into an over-apologetic corner like a naughty schoolboy who’s been caught eating too many sweets. But of course, no one’s challenging them.
Instead, I’ve just written and directed my second feature film, Egomaniac. It’s effectively a story about my experiences in the film industry dressed up as a quirky, dark comedy with a horror twist at the end.
I never intended it to be a film addressing the issues of women in film. For me, it was a cathartic release after years of frustration: I wanted to get my own experiences off my chest. Yet the feedback that I’ve got from women who have watched the film is that this is something they’ve experienced as well. It was the first time that I realised I’m not alone.
I didn’t realise because nobody says anything.
The truth is, I can only write this article now that I have a little more power. I’m in a position to say something, and have a responsibility to do so. But even so, this is a tenth of the article I want it to be. I’m still too scared to have those doors closed, too scared to risk burning bridges with the people who could potentially influence my career. It feels bizarre, but in order to advance my career as a filmmaker, I’ve had to sacrifice a part of myself as a woman.
But at least I can say something.
All images in this article belong to Kate Shenton.