ADG calls for 50 per cent gender quota

The Australian Directors Guild (ADG) has formally proposed a quota for 50 per of the projects which get Screen Australia production funding to be directed by women.

The Guild is calling on state screen agencies and the ABC to support the initiative, first flagged earlier this month by its affirmative action sub-committee whose members include Gillian Armstrong and Megan Simpson Huberman. 

In response, Screen Australia COO Fiona Cameron tells IF the agency is investigating options for addressing issues of gender balance in the screen industry, with a policy paper to go to the next board meeting in late November.

"Analysis to date has shown that Screen Australia’s support for projects with women in key creative roles has been allocated in very close correlation to the number of projects coming in with women in these positions," she said.

"We see strong female representation at the early career stages of feature films, with a drop off in higher end, signalling the challenge of moving from shorts to features, or from first features into a more sustained career. This trend is seen across writers and producers as well as directors. Any interventions are likely to require a range of initiatives to address a complex issue, and one which is not confined to the screen industries."

Asked if that meant the agency sees reform as part of a broader discussion, Cameron said, "We are happy to contribute to gender balance in the screen industry (without waiting for broader industry consensus). Of course we are not the only game in town and we are keen to ensure the agency looks at its programs holistically, that is, within our own sector there needs to be a range of responses to help shift the needle. I don’t think there are any quick fixes."

Deanne Weir, Screen Australia deputy chair and chair of Hoodlum, is a strong advocate of gender equality.  Speaking at a recent Women in Television conference in London Weir said, "Given the challenges we have had in Australia arguing for gender-­based quotas in corporate life, it may be sometime before we get to a point where BFI type quotas would be considered.

"My personal view is that we should just get on with it and put in place some meaningful and workable quotas: really, what is the worst that could happen?"

ADG president Ray Argall said today: “The screen industry has been funded by the Federal Government for more than four decades for reasons of cultural representation, economic stimulus, and professional development and innovation. Across all these criteria the current funding is not being shared in a representative way. The ADG is concerned with diversity of all types, but is particularly concerned with the dramatic lack of equity in the funding of women and, in particular, female directors.”

Argall said that figures revealing women’s participation in key creative roles in Screen Australia-funded dramatic features across a 5-year average (2009-2014) are:

Directors 15  per cent
Producers 32 per cent
Writers 23 per cent
Protagonists 28 per cent

ADG CEO Kingston Anderson said: “The statistics are the starkest for dramatic feature films, but are inequitable across all forms of production supported by Screen Australia. The obstacles confronting women are complex and spread across all sections of the industry.”

Armstrong said: “For years I have been asked about the lack of numbers of women directors in film. My feeling has always been that it has to be based on merit. But the data from Screen Australia shows that the increase has only been about 6 per cent in 30 years. It is pretty obvious that the current system is not about merit – There is not a level playing field.

“Equally talented young women film makers are graduating from film schools in the same numbers as men, and winning short film awards, but they are not getting the breaks as film directors. It doesn’t even make commercial sense, given that women are more than 50 per cent of the audience. The same pattern is seen around the world. It is time to take action about this obvious gender inequality.”

Argall said that a 50 per cent quota would encourage distributors and producers to consider more female directors, observing, "The focus on directors is because as creative drivers they can make a huge difference in redressing gender inequality in our industry – as the successful Swedish model has shown.

"In Sweden, setting a 50 per cent quota for women directors resulted in jobs for women writers, actors, producers and other creatives, as well as for directors, rising dramatically across the board in the space of two years.”

However Cameron notes there are key differences with the  BFI’s diversity initiative and the Swedish ‘quota’ system for female directors.

For example, Sweden film funding operates under a ‘two doors’ approach whereby bigger budget projects with distributors attached are separate from the discretionary production fund, which is where the target, not actually a firm quota, applies.

Phillip Noyce said: “Worldwide, the number of working female directors is disturbingly small compared to their male colleagues. In Australia, with significant funding from government agencies, we have the infrastructure in place to correct this inequality through decisive action from all funding bodies and the ABC.”

Cameron concludes, "We are in ongoing discussion with industry about these issues and hope to be able to announce a plan in the next few months."


  1. We have 6 films to be made with strong female roles in each and would be delighted to turn the job over to a team of all-female producers and directors.

    The series is based on a set of bestselling adventure novels set largely in WA. See for a snapshot of the project.

    Graeme Bond
    CEO Birdsong Press

  2. Ok this seems all well and good on paper…

    But, what happens if there are 20 applications for funding (development or production) and 14 are male directors and 6 are female?

    Shouldn’t it be based on merit, the quality of the writing and talent of the director?

    To simply say lets make sure its 50/50 for gender equality from now on doesn’t necessarily mean the talent pool will be there.

    If you want talent and quality to come through the door, which in the end produces great work/films, this is not the process that will create it.

    With the ever decreasing amounts of funding for the film industry, more of our directors now will go overseas.

  3. Let me start out by saying: I support female participation in all areas and aspects of our screen media industry — heck, our society!

    Nevertheless, it must be stated that this is the most asinine thing I’ve seen reported in this publication for some time. (And this includes the Australian government giving Hollywood studios tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money just to shoot films here, but I digress.)

    Basically what is being proposed is here is ‘positive discrimination’ — which has, and always will be: absurd, abhorrent and entirely counter-productive to the issue of discrimination. You don’t fix poor outcomes, in one form or another, by forced policy methods. The very fact that the ADG has a sub-committee dedicated to ‘Affirmative Action’ is perhaps a testament to how misguided we are on these issues. Discrimination is exactly the issue; we don’t need more of it — whether we’re using the political doublespeak of “affirmative”, “positive” or otherwise. You’re not going to solve sexism with more sexism.

    Armstrong: you say that you feel that the system should ‘always be based on merit’. The fact is, we do have a level playing field: anybody can submit film proposals to screen funding bodies — be they male or female. Disregarding submissions based on a filmmaker’s sex is counter-productive to a project’s artistic or economic prospects (i.e. ‘merit’). Fortunately or unfortunately, merit does not equate to diversity.

    This whole notion of affirmative action in funding resolution is just as detrimental as saying that, on a film set, you must select exactly the same volume of men and women for your cast, crew and even character roles, as opposed to who or what is actually most qualified and desirable for the roles in question. Ask yourselves, Armstrong, Noyce, Argall, Huberman — would you ever do that? Of course not, because it’s beyond farcical! While it may improve a diversity assessment, it does not improve the quality of content produced — especially because it acts to regulate your artistic resolve.

    Noyce: while I agree the number of female directors are in disturbingly low quantity compared to their male counterparts, what you’re proposing are the decrees of a nanny state (i.e. overprotective or as interfering unduly with personal choice). It’s exactly the kind of unnecessary directive we do not need from our funding bodies, because you’re fundamentally realigning the decision-making process from finding and funding the best content to making sure that everything is ‘fair’. It’s just as asinine as appointing a Catholic bishop to a scientific advisory panel on creation because we must be ‘fair’.

    At a time when Australian films are underrepresented at cinemas and the media landscape as a whole, and in the face of further funding cuts to funding bodies (unless it’s Hollywood), excessive regulation of this kind can only serve to stifle the potential for creative excellence from innovative productions.

    This whole debate only encompasses public funding agencies, because they’re significantly easier to bully in the face of misguided public scrutiny. Can you imagine if you tried petitioning 21st Century Fox with this garbage? Rupert would probably just laugh in your face — and rightfully so.

    Charlie B is entirely right to point out that selection for funding should remain as much about ‘merit’ as possible. (That being said, I hardly think film-funding bodies give a damn about creative merit as they do established so-called ‘talent’, conventional storytelling and their own agenda.) In fact, he’s altogether correct in pretty much every point he makes.

    Once again, let me be clear: I agree that there are issues as to the diversity of filmmakers — whether it be sex, race, creed, etc. — I just do not see how the proposed measures can actually help our industry when funding becomes more about discrimination than it does about creative distinction.

    If film is truly the art-form that many of these filmmakers believe it to be, how can it be acceptable to neutralise creative individuals for the sake of contrived political correctness? I guess the next step may as well be to regulate the content itself…

  4. Now we all know we are living in a multicultural Australia.

    Let’s see the figures for Directors – Producers represented from a Multicultural background?

    How many Agency Heads and Management?

    With such a large percentage of Australian’s born, or born into a “multicultural” society, why isn’t there better representation in Broadcasters, Agencies, Producers, Directors, Writers, Etc?

  5. I think what people miss about positive discrimination is that when an opportunity becomes available to women, it is still intensely, fiercely competitive, leading to, if anything, a heightened need to prove your worth. When a genuine opportunity for funding exists, more filmmakers will make the judgement that it is worth the effort to apply, increasing exponentially the number of applications for funding. The lack of women directors has nothing to do with the lack of talent, and everything to do with the lack of opportunity. Decisions about the value of certain content,its marketability, the capability of applicants,are often made with prejudicial judgement that is so deeply encoded in systems and industries, that it absolutely requires an intervention to address the imbalance.

  6. Screen Australia & ADG & Gillian:

    There is a problem. This is obvious. But you are skipping an important step. Find out WHY there is a problem.

    1) Locate problem (extreme underrepresentation of female directors)
    2) Discover the cause (WHY is this happening? YOU SKIPPED THIS STEP)
    3) Develop hypothesis to combat cause and problem (YOU’RE ONLY ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM)
    4) Implement strategy

    A 50% quota would do much, but it’s a shotgun approach which will likely be rejected. And if implemented would not last. What you need is a surgical knife.

    How can you suggest a solution to this problem without knowing WHY. I see NO REFERENCES to a cause in any of these debates. Approach it like a scientist. Be objective. We need to know WHY. No one is telling us WHY this is happening.

    This is an evidence based approach in the New York Times looking at female participation rates in theatre writing. Take a look. The results are shocking and counter intuitive. Spits in the face of common sense. It’s a little disheartening, but enlightening.

    The issue is you all make assumptions about why this kind of thing happens. Maybe this article will make you rethink this, and your approach. Because you’re hurting the cause with your lack of attention to detail.

    Please, ADG, GILLIAN, do your jobs properly. Or there will be no reasonable progress on this issue.

    Discover cause Discover cause Discover cause Discover cause Discover cause.

  7. Seems the funding body in nsw has now gone far beyond tbe 50/50 quota recommended. Has now announced 100% female director requirement. So the message is if your a male take your film oitside ns.w to get it made. I will be doing

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