Why we need women behind the camera.

A student describes her experience has a filmmaker and how identity plays a big role in her work.

In 2018 to 2019, Kathy Chan produced several promotional videos and recapitulation videos for Jazz Lives Philadelphia. Photo by Matt Altea.

As a woman majoring in film, it was (and still is) difficult to see myself being represented in the field. 

As a bisexual, Asian woman, I felt this twice as hard. I am completely invisible.  

When I committed to Temple, as a freshman, I thought that my classes would be culturally diverse, very open, and accepting.  But when we were assigned groups for orientation, I was the only woman of color in my group that was majoring in Film. This became very isolating for me, because at this moment, I became different.  

I stuck out like a sore thumb in all of my classes, not just as a woman but as an Asian-American woman.  Within the film industry, it is very difficult to be taken seriously and to have my thoughts and opinions be respected and valued, all because of my differing identity.  My aspiration to become a female cinematographer, and it’s respective lack of representation, also carried yet another pressure on my life and my career.  

On many occasions, I’ve had classmates and coworkers talk over me, cut me off, or completely ignore what I have to say.  Some have also patronized me and assume that I have no real knowledge about filmmaking without asking me first. I’ve also had male students undermine my ability as a student teacher.  They pushed me away, ignored my instructions and believed that they shouldn’t have to listen to me because they could teach better than I could.  

At a point in my life, I believed that I was not talented or smart enough to be in the field.  The film industry just doesn’t seem like the right place for someone like me, so why should I even bother trying if the system is working against me?  The lack of representation left me losing hope for my future. I was constantly torn on the decision to leave or stay as a Film major.  

I began to ask myself: what does my identity mean to me?  And as I thought harder about the question, I saw my identity as a platform to help pave the way for others, not only see themselves in front of the camera, but behind it as well.  There are so many stories that we are not seeing on-screen. In order to combat this problem, the best way to see representation is to be the one to represent.  

I want the intermingling of my identity to make a statement on the world of film: that we, as women of color, exist!  I want my work, and my presence in film, to be meaningful and inspiring. Everyday, when I’m on a film set, I strive to be the greatest example in the lives of other Asian American women coming into the film industry.  

I aspire to be the female representation that I did not have when starting this journey.  Working in a male dominated field has been very challenging, but it has helped to motivate me toward a bigger cause: allowing underrepresented individuals to see themselves as able to become successful.  

On every screenplay I write, every photo that I take, and every film that I direct, I want to always try to make sure that women are on the forefront.  

The film industry is in severe need of a diversity and inclusion workshop and the best place to start is within the classrooms. It’s not enough to admit underrepresented students into the film program; we need to be actively pushing for representation everywhere both in front of the camera and behind it.  

However, it’s not enough to just “allow” women on your film sets. Putting women in key roles: as directors, producers, editors, and especially cinematographers, you are pushing for the success of women — and more importantly, women of color — within the film industry. 

We can expand our horizons and push for more inclusion, representation, and diversity, we just need to believe in our women and give them a chance to shine. 

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