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AACTAs Sausage Party Protest President Sophie Mathisen

The Reason I Turned Up to My First AACTAs in a Sausage Suit

Women in Film and Television NSW (WIFT) president and filmmaker, Sophie Mathisen, led the "sausage party" protest at this year's AACTA Awards, to draw attention to the lack of gender equality in the Australian film industry. Here, Sophie explains how the protest began and the changes WIFT hope to see.

Since receiving my invitation to the 6th Annual AACTA Awards, and noticing the lack of female nominations this year, I'd been thinking of a stunt to pull. At first I thought of wearing a dress emblazoned with posters of the female films not represented at the awards. However, I knew that to start the conversation, we needed a bigger, bolder and funnier statement.

I was in the kitchen with my fellow filmmaker (and dear friend) Megan Riakos, looking over the AACTA noms, when she said to me, "You know, it really is a sausage party, isn't it?"

Light bulb!

We needed to be sausages.

It worked. Our sixteen sausage warrior women have managed to capture the media's attention whilst making some serious cracks in the glass ceiling with a wide proliferation of irrefutable statistics. Despite the fact there were oodles of women in gorgeous frocks, the lack of women nominated points to a wider problem.

When the lack of female representation is brought up in just about any context, the term "meritocracy" is thrown around as a defence. Well, you have to earn it right? Thing is though, women sure are on the back foot. Consider the film industry. According to last year's Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative report into gender, race and LGBT representation on film, women made up just 28 percent of characters in 100 films released in 2014, with female leads in 21 of those films. It gets even more dire behind the camera: women directors made up just 1.9 percent of the top films in 2014, writers made up 11.2 percent and producers 18.9 percent. When you bring that back to the domestic market, Screen Australia published its own gender report showing that just 16 percent of all films were directed by women, 21 percent written by women and 34 percent produced. Not of the top performing films but all Australian films. This number has not shifted in 40 years. Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong has been talking about it for all four decades.

That's a whole lot of sausages, and not a lot of buns, getting the money and the accolades.

It's difficult for women to secure traditional distribution, which is often a requirement for films to be considered for awards like the AACTAs. Women are deemed riskier bets at the box office (despite evidence to the contrary), resulting in female filmmakers receiving 63 percent less distribution than men, leaving them to release their content independently or through other models. Something that the AACTAs film submission criteria doesn't take into consideration.

This year, female-directed films made-up just two out of 28 films invited to the AACTA Screening Tour — an dismal number considering the resounding success of films like Embrace, which smashed the domestic box office to earn close to a $1 million through a nationwide independent release.

So we're not just crashing the AACTAs red carpet (well, we weren't at all really, I was invited). We're taking action, and have produced a WIFT charter for gender equity calling for a 50 percent quota for film festivals and awards, as well as greater transparency. This is a model that worked in Sweden where the Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner reached gender parity in just under two years (and a boost in earnings to boot). And yes, we are keeping our sausage suits in storage, but hopefully we won't have to don them again. Already in the first few days post-snag fest, more women, and men, are speaking out against the AACTAs and the industry at large. It's time our screens and crews are more reflective of how we live, a happy mix of snags and buns working to make a better Australia. Just like Bunnings.

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