I'm a Great Cinematographer, Not a Great Female Cinematographer

[EDIT, 2/2011: This post is quite dated. Read my updated manifesto for my "female cinematographer" blog here. And check out my "About" section for a list of related posts!]

As I was nearing graduation last month, I got more and more excited about pursuing cinematography as a career path. Working a camera, painting a scene with light and then seeing the results on film is just one of those things that gets me incredibly anxious and exhilarated, way more so than anything else.

I love to shoot things.

I was just starting to get confident too. My stuff was in focus, with interesting lighting, composition. I developed instinct. I loved story. My guy friends asked me to shoot their weird youtube videos, sweet. I tried double exposures and a simulated-underwater test and pushed my crazy ideas forward when I could. I am a risk-taker.

But as usual, the routine observations surfaced and re-surfaced:

1.) How come I have to do backflips to get assistant camera when a dude with zero experience gets to DP?
2.) Best Cinematography Academy Awards list is a total sausage fest.
3.) The majority of my own favorite cinematographers, save for a couple, are dudes.

This post is not about saying "I have no control over my success as a cinematographer because I have boobs." But I AM saying that women have to jump twice as high to get the industry to trust them. You know what? I'm ready to jump even higher. I'm gonna be awesome, boobs be damned.

But, man, I was hoping to see SOME girly names out there among the bad boys of film, just for some encouragement, you know?

A lot of women put absolutely amazing stuff out there, on time, on budget, and still are met with skepticism and/or rejection just because they are women... But I'll admit, at the same time, a lot of women put mediocre crap out there and when they don't get hired, cry sexism instead of trying to improve their filmmaking.

Of course that it doesn't help that the people around them contribute their poor filmmaking to being a woman, not the fact that they are a poor filmmaker.

All this to say, it's incredibly frustrating to be lumped into a gender that contributes and creates in the film industry in so many ways, but has only one [bad] cinematographer stereotype.

I found the guilty-until-proven-innocent theory to be pretty accurate:

"When you go to an interview or onto a set, as a woman you are incompetent until you prove you know your stuff. As a man, you are considered competent until you are proven totally incompetent. We're not given the same chance because we don't have a track record yet." -Claudia Raschke

Let's start making a better track record, shall we ladies? I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the doubt and double standards, and I want to avoid "The Girl Who Cried Sexism to Excuse Her Lack of Skill" cliché.

A list of badass cinematographers and camera ops who just happen to be female:

Agnès Varda
(Agnès has done everything possible in film, I swear. Just look)
Nancy Schreiber
Ellen Kuras
Claudia Raschke
Tami Reiker
Lisa Rinzler
Christine Choy
Hilda Mercado
Brianne Murphy
Juliana Wang
Estelle F. Kirsh
Emiko Omori
Judy Irola
Leslie Hill
Kristin Glover
Lisa Seidenberg
Susan Walsh
Liz Bailey
Laurel Klick
Madelyn Most
Cathy Zheutlin
Dyanna Taylor
Sandi Sissel
Geraldine Kudaka
Amy Halpern
Jo Carson
Sabrina Simmons
Karen Williams Kane
Sandy Butler
Alicia Sehring
Akiko Ashizawa
Caroline Champetier
Michelle Crenshaw (cam dept)
Sue Gibson
Marina Goldovskaya
Joan Hutton
Teresa Medina
Sonja Rom
Sandi Sissel
Agnès Varda
Joan Churchill
Jendra Jarnagin

If I've missed anyone, please comment and I will add them right away.

I've had a few bumps so far trying to fit in with the boys. And often I have to look at myself critically and see if I am trying to change myself to fit in. For a time in my life, I would ignore attitudes and jokes that made me uncomfortable so I wouldn't rock the boat "by being a girl about things."

That has changed, thank god, and you know what? Not only does my camera work speak for itself, I've realized that being a girl is NOT a negative statement, nor a defining one. Being a girl is AWESOME and just a great part of who you are, not ENTIRELY what you are. And if you respect yourself, and believe you are awesome, your male colleagues will get it. And I'm not talking about femininity and 'girl' in the shallow societal definitions of the words. I'm talking about being true to myself. And my femininity looks a lot different than the stereotypical "feminine" denotation Hollywood seems to have decided on (i.e. weak, passive, over-sensitive, shameful, vain, and anything anti-masculine.)

I confided to one of my good friends about being a female in this particular department, and he was worried. He told me he's seen girls change, losing a part of who they were in order to survive and hold their own. This isn't change as in growth or moving forward, change as in a lateral movement, walking alongside your real self, separated.

I've definitely walked that line, and along with many other bad side effects, it affected my filmmaking. Filmmaking is about being true to the story. You cannot tell an honest story if you are not honest yourself. My cinematography was not coming from my real self. I have things to offer that no one else has. And my work is so much better for it.

Just to be clear, I don't accept the popular definition of "feminine": weak, negative, vain, shameful and passive. Being feminine does not mean I wear high heels to set, always have my hair done, and only work on meaningful art-house documentaries. Being feminine does not mean I define myself by my gender.

Seeking out and acknowledging my femininity has both nothing to do with my cinematography, and everything to do with my cinematography. Because cinematography is art, art comes from who you are. I am so many things, and while "girl" is only one of them, I can't leave it out, the same way I can't ignore out all the other things, either. And you know what? What "girl" means to me is for me to figure out, not anyone else.

But Hollywood is telling me I am either 1. A cinematographer minus girl 3. A girl plus cinematographer.

I just want to be a cinematographer. The way a man is a cinematographer, not a dude-cinematographer. Whole. Nothing added or removed, specified or separated, subjugated or limited. I am not a "girl cinematographer". My gender does not define my filmmaking. I am not different from other DP's because of it. I am different because I am ME. And no, I'm not going to lose or ignore my gender, a part of who I am, because of my job either.

This is me, Hollywood! Just give me the damn camera!


Sush said...

I liked your Blog... :)
Inspired me to some extent !

Anonymous said...

Amy Vinent another great Cinematographer - "Black Snake Moan"

I concur, put a man and woman side by side and give them a camera; The man holding a camera is automatically thought of as a pro from the get go. The woman who holds the same camera, can't possibly know how to us it or it's just considered her hobby.

Anonymous said...

Reed Morano, ASC is another super talented female DP. There are some amazing pics of her on the web shooting handheld while 7 months pregnant.

Fiona Jungmann said...

I agree! Reed Morano is totally badass and truly an excellent cinematographer! One of my favorite movies that she's done is Kill Your Darlings