Anita Kouassigan


In recent times, particularly in 2018, there has been a stronger movement in favour of empowering women in the film industry. From gender pay gap uprisings with the highest paid actresses in the Hollywood demanding the same pay as men in equivalent roles, to sexual harassment claims which gave birth to the #MeToo movement, there are many areas in the industry addressing the need to empower its women. Some of these issues were harder to address in the past as even top actresses needed the work, and with fewer leading lady roles decided to stay silent until much later after any grievances they may have faced. Today, Anita Kouassigan shares her view that there is a need to invest in more women screenwriters and directors.

In this day and age, with the many digital distractions we face by overusing our mobile phones, I firmly believe that film – more than ever – will remain the most effective medium for catching – and keeping – one’s attention when a story is being told. There’s nothing that focuses my mind more than escaping into a movie -at least a decent one, with an engaging story. And the use of film as a tool for storytelling and engagement is a major part of our March event as with all our events.

“There will be screenings of short clips showcasing the messages our sponsors and partners want to deliver. It could be an internally produced documentary that contains footage of a school that’s just been built. Or a view of the first hospital commissioned in a rural area. Or interviews of a victim who’s able to tell their story after being freed from some form of bondage.

Women can certainly become more empowered with an increase in films created to tell even the most uncomfortable stories about their struggles, and this includes documentaries, such as The Uncondemned, possibly one of the most uncomfortable yet. It is a film about the first conviction of rape as a war crime and component of genocide (directed by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel-now late, sadly). They worked together as a great team, and I am not suggesting we have films made by women alone, we just need more input from women, which means that there is a need to invest in women in film. Women in film need more funding, in their various roles, including on set, but especially when it comes to screenwriting and directing.

Let us consider the argument in favour of more women having a seat at the table (in boardrooms) and the need for women to play more important roles in the decision-making process of a country (women in law and politics). Those arguments are from the same underlying principle of the need for women to have a voice.

Similarly, in film, more women need to partake in the story-telling process and in directing films, as that is what will ultimately determine how a story comes across. It’s an ongoing reality that not enough scripts are being written by women (perhaps they need more of an incentive?), and men cannot entirely understand the feminine experience. I am not saying we should leave men out; we just need more of a feminine input.

Oftentimes, not enough lines or screen time are dedicated to female roles to humanise a character and one of the most negative aspects still ongoing in the film industry is the objectification of women. It’s still common for female characters to be ridden with clichés and in order to really sell a movie, women may have to appear sexy in order to be viewed as powerful. Why does a woman have to be sexy to be powerful? Why can’t she just be smart and influential in order to be powerful?

Maggie Gyllenhaal recently remarked in an interview that the use of sex in films is used as a tool for female roles to capture the attention of the audience, then they’ll be heard. On screen, women are oftentimes treated as accessories expected to look beautiful, glamorous and extravagant. The key is finding ways to make filmmaking more progressive, giving more dimension to female characters and their stories.

Scripts are often written by men, and while I am not suggesting that male screenwriters set out demean women, they naturally lack certain knowledge that only a woman can have about the certain women-centric issues being addressed. On the other side of what’s deemed as entertaining, there’s the portrayal of bitchy or evil (both with negative connotations), far from empowering.

But things are changing – including in Nigeria. Isoken, directed by Jade Osiberu is a film that has pushed boundaries in terms of the story itself and the way the lead actress (Dakore Egbuson-Akande) depicts her role. She does so in an empowered expression of the issues and choices she’s facing, subjects that are normally deemed as taboo and that cause people (both men and women) to even disrespect a woman in Isoken’s position. But there is still a funding gap for films written and directed by women, and actress-turned-director is still a harder promotion, compared with the case of men.



Credit: Anita Kouassigan, Guardian Woman