Reverse Gender Discrimination At Sundance?

Jill @ Femeniste has a post up celebrating the fact that female directors won 50% of the top awards at Sundance this year. She calls it “Great news” and reposts the original info from the blog Women Make Movies: :

“Although only 25 percent of the films in the festival’s four feature-length Documentary and Dramatic competition categories were directed by women, they won 50 percent of the top prizes.”

This info come to us, originally, from the end of a press release about the great film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, which won the top award.

Now, first off, let me say that I have no idea if The Greatest Silence deserved to win, based on everything I know about it, it probably did. I haven’t seen it yet, but that’s not the point. My point isn’t about any of the individual films.
My point is that, while Jill’s reaction was “great news” my reaction is, umm, wouldn’t this be categorized under “bad things?”

That’s because,

  • a) If we assume that film-making is one of the many many areas in which women & men start on equal footing in terms of natural talent… which seems a safe assumption (unlike say football where men have an edge, or swimming where women are inherently better) and,
  • b) if we assume that there are no external cultural factors that make women 2x as talented as men are (I can think of plenty of cultural variables, but none that should make that much difference either direction). And,
  • c) if we assume that the number of movies submitted to Sundance is an appropriate sample size to judge the industry on (which I’m pretty sure it is)

Then shouldn’t films directed by women make up roughly 25% of all winners, if they also make up 25% of all submissions to Sundance?

Now if the percentages had been a bit fuzzier (35% of winners were directed by women or 20%) then I would assume a simple margin of error.

If the percentages had been more disproportionate (e.g., 75% of winners were directed by women) then I would assume outside cultural influences make women into better directors. (This very well might be true. Many of the best film students I know are women).

But with exactly even percentages in the winning category, doesn’t this reek of gender discrimination?

Now I’m not a big “reverse-discrimination” guy (not in discussions of race or gender), but it’s worth pointing out that when decisions are made for objectively wrong reasons, and those reasons are based in gender, that is gender discrimination. Moreover, overly-zealous PC types are a big part of the reason people like Rush Limbaugh are able to pigeon hole feminism in the minds of so many people across the country.

I know that whether a film is good or bad (or deserving of a win) is mostly subjective. Still, the genitalia of the director is not one of the many subjective criteria that any film should be judged on.

Finally, I don’t know nearly enough about the circumstances of Sundance or the films to say whether or not so called “reverse discrimination” is what happened here. Very likely, it is not. Very likely one of my assumptions at the start of this comment (probably the one about sample size) is wrong.

But I still think it’s worth pointing out that the logic of the original post is inherently off.

If the sample size is large enough, and the contest is even enough, then when 25% of submissions are made by women, 25% of winners should be women- in every field. That’s gender equality.

As a feminist, it’s my job to fight to level the playing field before the contest (so that more than 25% of submissions are from women!) and to make sure discrimination isn’t a part of the judging criteria (so that 25% of submitters doesn’t equal 5% of winners).

Anything other than that, most especially if it is the band-aid solution of gender-based affirmative action gone awry, is a false panacea that exacerbates problems through marginalization, rather than solving them.


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Filed under Hollywood, Ra Ra Feminism

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