As part of Why Are We Still Here?, a series of 12 blogs written by women around the world to mark International Women’s Day, film activist Marian Evans writes about the deficit of complex female protagonists in New Zealand’s film industry.
I fell in love with Kate Kaminski’s design for Complex Female Protagonist t-shirts and borrowed it for a limited edition of New Zealand-made Complex Female Protagonist caps. Like Kate, director of the Bluestocking Film Series, I wanted to remind people that the world’s full of complex female protagonists and that our feature films have too few of them. I intended to launch the caps at Out in the Park, the local queer fair, but the cold southerly wind blew, the fair was postponed, and I didn’t look at the caps until my great-niece Evelyn and her mother Rachel visited.
When I look at this photograph, my thoughts go beyond film. Will Evelyn and her contemporaries live safely and love fully, with access to a rich heritage of diverse stories and images by and about women and girls? This hasn’t been possible for me, although storytellers have nourished and inspired me as a cultural activist – Tillie Olsen’s work about writer silences, Patricia Grace’s ‘The world is where you are’, Virginia Woolf’s ‘As a woman, my country is the whole world’, Muriel Rukeyser’s ‘Who will speak these days/if not I/if not you?’.
Collectively, women’s public storytelling remains fragmented, because we’re continually distracted by painful realities that affect our access to time and money. On the day I write this piece poet Fiona Lovatt, who lives in Kano (northern Nigeria) and organises support for hundreds of internally displaced people, including many widows with children, reported online that a woman and her baby who escaped the Baga massacre had just arrived in Kano, with nothing. The day before, Jacqui Scott, a survivor of vaginal mesh insertion, posted yet again about aspects of that international medical disaster which had uniquely affected women.
In recent decades, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme and Eleanor Catton have joined Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame and others to provide a rich women-generated local literary legacy for Evelyn and her peers. As a privileged child Evelyn also benefits from the fact that, in multi-ethnic New Zealand, (white) women now publish books of poetry as often as men do. In contrast, public access to work by women visual artists in all media remains limited, and women direct only 9% of our feature films. Although women storytellers can and do use digital cameras, crowd-funding and the internet to make and distribute their stories, New Zealand’s lack of state investment in women filmmakers limits Evelyn’s access to screen stories by and about women. But that’s about to change. Last year Jane Campion said, as Jury President at Cannes said:
“My feeling is we need an Abraham Lincoln figure to get in there, and say – especially when it comes to public money – it has to be equal.”
She’s now become that Abraham Lincoln figure, working – in an official capacity – towards gender equity in the allocation of New Zealand’s film funds and profoundly influencing European women’s campaigns for gender equity in state film funding. So, this International Women’s Day, I celebrate Jane Campion, a superb Complex Female Protagonist.
Marian Evans is a cultural activist from Wellington, New Zealand. Marian writes the Wellywood Woman blog and long-ago was a member of the Spiral Collective that published Keri Hulme’s the bone people.