Review of Brecha de género en el audiovisual español (The Gender Gap in Spanish Audiovisual Production) | Leonardo/ISASTwith Arizona State University

Review of Brecha de género en el audiovisual español (The Gender Gap in Spanish Audiovisual Production)

Brecha de género en el audiovisual español (The Gender Gap in Spanish Audiovisual Production)
by Concha Gomez, Editor

Editorial Tirant lo Bianch, Valencia, Spain, 2022

284 pp. Paper, 18,90 €; Ebook, 12€

ISBN: 9788418970658; ISBN: 9788418970665.

Reviewed by: 
Jan Baetens
May 2022

The situation of women in the audiovisual cultural industries is often summarized with the help of oversimplifying concepts such as the glass ceiling or vertical discrimination. The real situation is however more nuanced and more complex, not only because of the fact that in many regards things are really changing–in general for the best, although with still serious obstacles and frequent throwbacks, but also because of the lack of reliable and well-documented figures as well as interpretations of these figures (there is for instance no direct relationship between the growing number of female directors and the budgets of their movies, which are not following this tendency). Women are undoubtedly more present, their agency has certainly increased, and the general awareness of their role and importance is also rapidly growing, but as a rule one must notice that most of what women do and what is at stake in as well as beyond their work still remain largely invisible.

This invisibility is not new. Who really knows for instance that the French silent movie star Musidora (I am taking this example for crucial parts of her career have taken place in Spain) who became world famous as “Irma Vep”, the sexy heroin of Louis Feuillade’s 1910s serial The Vampires, played in more than 60 features and was also a female pioneer in the scriptwriting, directing, and producing of movies (quite a lot of them being lost today). In addition, Musidora was also a poet and a novelist and she has been paramount in the creation and development of the French Film Museum or Cinémathèque.

Yet despite the presence of other Musidora-like women, this female invisibility continues to be a harsh reality, hence the urgent need of surveys and studies such as this collection on the role and place of women in the Spanish audiovisual industry (mainly but not exclusively film and television) carefully edited by Concha Gomez, who teaches journalism at the Carlos III University in Madrid. Although the book is focusing on Spain, with however more than one excursion to South, Central, and North America, it is not an exaggeration to argue that the wealth of its information, the diversity of its sources, the clarity of its analyses and above all the innovative character of its methodological framework may become a model for similar work in the field. Gomez’s reflection on the stakes and pitfalls of the socio-cultural analysis of gender questions in the audiovisual business offer countless interesting insights on what to do and how to proceed when studying the shifting position of women in this kind of business.

More particularly, I think one can draw four major lessons from this volume, containing an introduction and various chapters by the editor herself as well as some ten other contributions by various specialists of Spanish film and television.

First, the necessity of going beyond the obvious and thus stopping overemphasizing the current debates on the unequal salary of male and female superstars and lack of lead roles for actresses in big productions. Granted, these questions are far from symbolic, but they tend to reinforce a rather old-fashioned conception of blockbuster cinema where everything comes down to marketing strategies and gossip. A cultural industry is also a matter of symbol creators whose work is not always clearly credited and a wide range of technicians whose labor and contribution to the productive work it is crucial to disclose.

Second, there exists a strong need to clearly map and describe the many functions of all those who participate in the industry’s work. This mapping cannot be done without the help of a precise terminology, which is currently missing and which also presents important linguistic and cultural differences. The book convincingly demonstrates that apparently simply words such as “producer” or “director” should no longer be used in singular but in plural, while it is no less necessary to understand how these terms do not necessarily cover the same reality in different countries and production systems. Yet if such a precise definition and mapping does not exist, it will not be possible to understand what is really meant by the gender gap, and how that gap cannot be studied in general but should always be examined in relationship with specific functions. By doing so–and this is what Gomez’s book has done–one gets a much clearer idea of the position of women in the field. For the stronger presence of women in this or that subfield, such as directing, does not at all translate at an equally increased participation on other subfields (lighting and music, for instance, two domains we all know to be vital in any audiovisual production whatsoever).

Third, the book also shows that it is high time to move from an individual approach of movie making and working for television and other audiovisual media to a more collective approach. Many audiovisual functions are collective ones. Scriptwriting is a typical example of teamwork, and it is not always easy to decipher the gender gap or balance between the name of the writer or group of writers who gets credited for the job. In a similar vein, most functions in the audiovisual field are strongly interrelated. Directors have their favorite editing specialists, for instance, and here as well gender questions do play a major role in the networks that are being established and that maintain and reproduce themselves beyond individual productions.

Fourth, the rapidly shifting gender balance–but it should be repeated that the overall positive evolution does not prevent women from sometimes losing newly won advantages–should also be taken as an invitation to take a strongly comparative and contextual stance. On the one hand, comparisons in time and space are key, to avoid misinterpretations caused by too exclusive a focus on the here and now. On the other hand, the study of the audiovisual sector should be extended to other fields such as cultural policy, business, and law. Labor legislation, funding mechanisms, tax regulations and initiatives, or the internal regulations of festivals and other financially and symbolically important distribution and exhibition structures have a direct impact on what women can do in the industry.

The excellent survey of all these questions in Gomez’s book can be a model for all those eager to study similar issues in non-Spanish cinema. It offers an excellent combination of interdisciplinary research which successfully attempts to supersede a priori ideological thinking by rooting its social and political commitment in accurate figures.