Jane Campion followed Jacinda Ardern to the stage at SPADA to present this year’s NZ On Air John O’Shea Memorial Address. As other speakers would over the course of conference, Campion’s address touched on changes in the industry.
Ardern comes from the new generation, the generation of disruptors, and is someone whose age mainstream media notes with a frequency and manner that wouldn’t be applied to a male Prime Minister.
Campion is at the other end of the spectrum, not yet ready to retire, a highly-respected and much-awarded creator of a strong body of work, and a fierce champion for what she believes in.
When she spoke about writing at the Big Screen Symposium in 2015, not long before being named a Dame, Campion put in a polished performance and returned several times to the belief that ‘there are no rules’.
At SPADA, she seemed less assured. Extemporising (as Ardern had), Campion lost her thread a couple of times, returned to her notes, and eventually found her way to her major theme – sexual harassment in the screen industry.
Perhaps the subject matter contributed to Campion’s apparent difficulty in finding a way into it. One of the questions she posed was how it was that these women’s voices had not been heard prior.
Of course, they had been heard, just not listened to or respected. She described her own response to the recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein as “Me too”.
Campion also mused on the continuing lack of women in positions of authority and control. That is, perhaps, a harder barrow to push here than in some other countries. SPADA’s CEs have been female for many years (as have those of many other industry guilds and organisations); NZFC stats on gender show 50% female participation at key creative levels for funded features; in two months the CEOs of both our major funding agencies will be female; the former female chair of the NZFC’s board is now Governor General; and Campion’s SPADA presentation followed on from that of our female Prime Minister.
Statistics coming out of the US tell a markedly different story to NZ’s, and we’re not there yet in delivering equal opportunity. The numbers of women directing TV drama here are well below 50% – a situation SPP’s Kelly Martin committed to addressing recently.
Campion did note briefly the development of some female-led series in North America, such as Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Having also referenced John O’Shea’s influence on her own career, his “liberal and large acts of kindness”, Campion introduced her special guest to conclude the Address: John O’Shea’s granddaughter Molly O’Shea. Molly is the daughter of late editor Kathy O’Shea, Jane Campion’s contemporary who, before she turned to editing, was directed in a play by Campion’s father Richard.
Whereas Campion had focused on challenges facing women in the industry going back many years, Molly O’Shea focused on positives. She spoke with a passion and enthusiasm reflecting Jacinda Ardern’s opening address.
O’Shea called everyone in the room “allies”, believing all of us want to make the industry better.
She spoke of the importance of seeing oneself reflected in the stories told on screen, and how Girls had made her feel that women whose bodies weren’t waif-like didn’t have to hate themselves.
“I can bleed for five days and not die. Half the world cannot do this!
“I believe in the female gaze,” O’Shea said, “and in the intersectional gaze. I want to see stories from more diverse sources.”
O’Shea also asserted that, nowadays, films with more diverse casts do better at the box office. The same argument has been made for films directed by women, but whether it would hold true if 50% of films were directed by women is unclear. Being forced to clear a higher bar than men to get to the director’s chair means films made by women are probably higher-quality films to start with.
But, without suggesting standards should fall, O’Shea did observe that the demand for content was insatiable. “Not only is there room for us all, there is a demand for us all.”
O’Shea’s positive view of the future, described as “inspirational” by Miranda Harcourt (herself a member of an industry dynasty), and was honoured with the morning’s second standing ovation.