Sounding Off: Rachel Lysaght asks ‘Where my ladies at?’ Issue 144 Spring 2013

Pic: Niamh Creely

The IFTAs are upon us again. The great and good, the glamorous and glorious, the gorgeous, gregarious and gratuitous are poised on the red carpet, ready to be piped into our living rooms. Let’s celebrate the best of the best in Irish film and television.


However, a quick tot of the named nominees this year shows that only 27% have a double X chromosome – that’s 40 women across 41 categories. Well, across 34 categories actually, as there is zero female representation in Direction, Script*, Cinematography, Production Design, Animation, Score and Sound. Creative talent is not the sole preserve of a single gender, and I quote the great thinker Lupe Fiasco when I ask, ‘Where my ladies at?’


Lupe got me to pondering – maybe very few women work in the film and television industry, and that’s why the nominations aren’t flooding in. First stop IBEC. Unfortunately, for my purposes, IBEC has not asked for an employee gender breakdown since 2006, which would have looked at 2005 productions. However, it is interesting to note that these 2005 numbers, skewing 57% male to 43% female are not a million miles away from the current EU figures on general Irish employment: 54% male, 46% female.


A quick ring around the various colleges and universities offering film, media and communications courses yields more interesting results. Where high Leaving Cert points are required, and on the more arts-centred courses, the student split was close to 50/50, skewing female. On the more technical courses, the split widened, skewing 70/30 male and in some cases reaching as far as a 90/10 male/female divide.


To examine female representation in the creative origin of film projects, I took a quick scan of the Irish Film Board’s 2012 development slate. It reads depressingly. Of the successful directors, only 28% are female, and of the writers, a paltry 25%. There are no figures available on the gender split of applicants, so we cannot surmise whether these director and writer figures represent a success rate of 10%, 50% or 100% of applications from female creatives.


The IFTA Irish Film Board Rising Star awards, anticipated to be representative, one imagines, of the future of Irish talent, acknowledged female skill and ability with only 1 out of 5 nominees. Across the pond, where BAFTA are allowing the public to vote for their Rising Star category, we see, from 5 talented young things, that 4 are women.


From this, albeit not entirely scientific statistical analysis, we can make some conclusions. 1. Not enough women are being encouraged into the technical end of filmmaking. 2. As an industry, film and television is not abnormally more pro-male than other Irish industries. 3. There is a clear dearth of female voices and stories being developed, produced, making it to market and ultimately to a shiny podium in the Convention Centre.


Which brings me back to the IFTA nominations. What better way to encourage young women into an industry than for them to see talented female creatives recognised, lauded and championed? How about a bit of role model action for the girls at the back? Anyone…?


2011 was a particularly sad year for female thespians – apparently there weren’t eight actresses of sufficient merit to be found in this country, so IFTA created a combined Lead Actress in a Film/TV Role category. I’m not crying conspiracy – clearly enough quality actresses weren’t put forward for selection.


So who is responsible for the selections? In a tidy piece of circularity, we turn again to our industry – it is Irish producers, production and post-production houses that nominate their colleagues and work. IFTA members then vote as to who goes through for the nominee shortlist, and the chance to strut their stuff on the red carpet. When I contacted IFTA to find out their membership gender split, they did not have exact figures but assured me it’s about 50/50.


This, I must admit, leaves me in a bit of a bind as I come to a conclusion. Some small part of me had hoped my fleeting foray into the world of investigative journalism would yield Pulitzer results, and uncover a Machiavellian misogynistic machine working devilishly behind the scenes, thwarting women from claiming their golden statues… In reality, there are no such easy, flippant answers.


Ultimately, audiences and industry alike are being cheated. We need a variety of voices, stories and experiences on our screens in order to build and maintain a diverse, exciting and successful industry and culture. We need to encourage more young women to make their voices heard. We need to champion and, crucially, support women already excelling in their chosen field**. Our industry’s future depends upon it.


If you’re interested in finding solutions to the under representation of women in the Irish film and TV industry, please add your voice on 28th February – see Underground Films’ Facebook page for more details.



* ‘Jump’ is based on the stage play ‘Jump by Lisa McGee, though she herself is not nominated for the screenplay.

** Much as I would like to segue into a discussion on maternity leave for self-employed women, long working hours and childcare, printing space decrees I must desist.


Rachel Lysaght

Rachel Lysaght is an award-winning Film & TV Producer, and a graduate of the European EAVE programme and the Samuel Beckett School of Drama in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.  She is a lecturer for Filmbase Dublin’s Masters in Creative Documentary Production from Staffordshire University, UK.

Recent producing credits include new release THE RUNNER (Director Saeed Taji Farouky 2012), THE RELUCTANT REVOLUTIONARY (Director Sean McAllister 2012), DREAMS OF A LIFE (Director Carol Morley 2011) and THE PIPE (Director Risteard Ó Domhnaill 2010).  

This article first appeared in issue 144 Spring 2013, the last ever printed issue of Film Ireland, which was published 14th February 2013.


One Reply to “Sounding Off: Rachel Lysaght asks ‘Where my ladies at?’ Issue 144 Spring 2013”

  1. I was going to write an article about the lack of Irish Travellers nominated for an IFTA but unfortunately this is the last issue!

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