A wider representation of gender roles, more training opportunities for women filmmakers, and reaching out to women audiences are all ways forward to promote women-centric stories in Southeast Asian cinema, say women filmmakers from the region.
The lively discussion involving Thai-American director Pailin Wedel (“Hope Frozen”), Indonesian actor Marissa Anita (“Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens”), Malaysian producer Lina Tan (“Sa Balik Baju”), and Filipino writer and producer Tanya Yuson (“Trese”) was staged by Netflix Asia on Wednesday.
It concluded that streamers that can reach a wider audience online have already been making a positive impact on the industry as they help to find new audiences abroad, while also creating more opportunities for women filmmakers and diversity in storytelling.
Gender representation across Southeast Asia film and television content can vary widely. Thailand, for example, appears to be much more progressive, according to Wedel. “We have trans women directors and we also have representation [of transgender] in the independent world most of the time,” Wedel said. “There’s also a lot more LGBTQ+ representation on television than when I was growing up.”
Urged along by streaming platforms, including Netflix, progressiveness now extends to storytelling in the BL (boy-love) genre through to the trans journey.
Yuson said women have a strong position in the culture of the Philippines, and that there’s no shortage of women producers and writers in the industry. However, in order to appeal to the female audience, the country’s airwaves have been saturated with rom-coms and comedies. “We want to branch out to other genres, with more complex characters,” she said.
While women are increasingly driving the box office, perspectives have failed to keep up. “We have been seeing women through the male gaze. We have been inundated with that, from Hollywood, with the constant exposure growing up. But you think that it is normal,” Yuson said. “If women are driving the box office and the viewership, then this gaze needs to shift.”
In Malaysia, women don’t normally get to decide which films to see at the cinema, Tan said, but with streaming platforms, they are increasingly the ones who are in-charge [due to control of the remote control at home and to consumption on personal devices]. She said that she hoped see this reflected in the stories and content carried on streamers.
The award-winning actress Anita, who has been learning how to write a screenplay, said with more female writers and directors working in Indonesia, stories presenting more perspectives and more rounded women characters through a “female gaze” may be conceived in the future. She hoped that more training opportunities could be given to women.
Besides the role of women, the panelists also hope to crack the gender stereotypes of men too. “We need to use mainstream television content to change gender stereotypes. One thing we need to do is to show what women want from men,” Tan said.
“Men are not just heroes who save the day. There can be other types of heroes too. The world has changed a lot and storytelling has also changed. Where this is going, is still a long fight,” Yuson said.
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