The Radical Potential of All-Female Film Sets

While the conversation about gender inequality in Hollywood has been rising to a steady simmer over the last few years, it finally seems to have erupted into a rolling boil. Since the fall of 2017, movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have been shining a much-needed light on the systemic sexual abuse that goes on in the shadows of the entertainment industry (and every other industry, at that). And while it’s crucial for the stories of abuse survivors to be heard and believed, it’s imperative that this collective act of sharing and listening be followed up with clear, concrete action. The epidemic of sexual abuse in Hollywood has gone untreated for so long in part because power in the entertainment industry has always been held almost exclusively by wealthy white men. When more women are able to attain greater positions of power in Hollywood, discrimination, exploitation, and abuse will be far less likely to occur. 

Parity is the stated goal of initiatives like 50/50 by 2020, which is encouraging studios, networks, and talent agencies to achieve gender equality at the highest levels of their companies in the next two years. And while perfectly balanced representation in the entertainment industry would be a remarkable achievement, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more radical measures, as well. When asked about how many women she would like to see on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, "There will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine.” The Supreme Court was comprised solely of men for most of its existence, after all—why shouldn’t there be an all-female court someday? And if Hollywood has always been a predominantly male industry—what would happen if a studio, or a network, or even one film set was comprised entirely of women?

Filmmaker Zoe Lister Jones recently set out to answer this very question with her 2017 film, Band Aid.

Zoe Lister Jones is perhaps best known for her starring role on the ABC comedy Life in Pieces, but the Brooklyn-born filmmaker has been a fixture of the indie film scene for a solid decade. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Lister Jones kicked off her film career acting in independent features like Arranged and Stuck Between Stations. She soon established herself as a screenwriter with the films Breaking UpwardsLola Versus, and Consumed. Lister Jones made her directorial debut last year with Band Aid, which she also wrote and stars in as Anna—a woman who deals with the devastation of a miscarriage and the relentless friction in her marriage by forming a rock band with her husband, Ben. And while socialized gender roles are a central theme of Band Aid, Lister Jones also had this issue on her mind as she went about assembling her crew for the film. 

The Radical Potential of All-Female Film Sets - All Female Crew

“In my experiences, both in front of the camera and behind it, I have become very aware of the underrepresentation of women on film and TV crews,” Lister Jones said in an interview with Marketplace, “I think on top of that, I have also found that in my own life, something inexplicably magical happens when women come together, and I wanted to see what it would feel like if women came together and made art. I could get the best of both worlds and have this creative social experiment but also offer opportunities to women in departments where they’re rarely given that.”

In the pursuit of equal representation for women in entertainment, Lister Jones went all-in by hiring an all-female crew for her film. This inevitably meant hiring people with less experience, as women are rarely afforded the opportunities they need to advance in the entertainment industry. Though women account for 52% of the filmgoing audience, the statistics for female representation behind the camera are abysmal. In the top 100 grossing films of 2016, women represented only 4% of directors, 11% of writers, and 3% of cinematographers. As a female actor and filmmaker, Lister Jones is well-acquainted with this problem, and was committed to making a radical counterpoint. 

“There was a part of me that was interested in subverting a paradigm in order to challenge a system that is really broken,” she said in an interview with the LA Times, “Even though there’s been a lot of dialogue around the underrepresentation of women crews, the numbers aren’t changing. In fact, they’re getting worse. I just felt like since I was in a position to do so, it was kind of my duty to.”

Bold experiments like Lister Jones’ are invaluable testaments to what is possible when women are given more power in entertainment. No one is suggesting that every film set should be all-female forevermore, but it’s important to recognize the benefits of employing more women in film and TV.

“The energy was markedly different from any set I had ever been on, and every actor that came on set would immediately remark that this was something really different and amazing,” Lister Jones said of the Band Aid set, “It was a very nurturing and supportive and communicative set, but it was also highly efficient, so it was the best of all the worlds. Not only were we all really taking ownership over the work, but everyone was so anticipatory of what anyone else might need at any moment in the way that many women can be. I found it remarkable.”

Achieving parity across the board in Hollywood is absolutely essential, and equal representation is a wonderful benchmark to aim for. But even as we pursue this ideal, we shouldn’t be afraid to shake up the power structure in more subversive ways. Why not have a film set comprised entirely of women, or people of color, or any other underrepresented group? Because white men have been running Hollywood for so long, our fixed cultural ideas about what makes a good film, a good director, or a good writer are going to inevitably skew white and male. We need compelling counterexamples, if we’re going to convince audiences and investors to look beyond their white, male, default expectations for what a film should be. And filmmakers like Zoe Lister Jones are creating those counterexamples, one all-female set at a time.  

Photo credit: Cover Sam Deitch via REX/SHUTTERSTOCK, The all-female crew on the set of “Band Aid” photograph by Jacqueline DiMilia