As a member of the sausages that protested the AACTA’s, know that the steps we took on the red carpet represent the first of many.
On December 7, Women In Film and Television (WIFT) NSW staged a protest where members dressed as sausages stormed the AACTA Awards red carpet demanding an end to the #AACTASausageParty. When I received the news that Crushed had not been pre-selected for consideration for nominations for the AACTA’s I was furious, not because I thought my film was better than the ones selected but because I knew my film had met the criteria for selection and over 25% of the selected films had not. What is the point in having a competitive award ceremony when there are no rules to play by, and when the competition can be judged with “absolute discretion in relation to the pre-selection of feature films”?
I was furious but to begin with, I decided to stay quiet. What if I spoke out and my reputation was ruined? What if it affected where I was able to get work? What if it started a spiral of trolling in my digital world?
But this was 2016, a year where support for women in film is at its strongest. I am surrounded by talented and ambitious women in the industry, notably through WIFT NSW (where I am a committee member) and Film Fatales Sydney (where I am a co-chapter head).
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For the first time in my working life there is a culture of women with whom to share our experiences in the industry and a place to support each other instead of competing against one another for the token spots reserved for women. And best of all there is enough of us to band together with a unifying voice.
It was this new culture of support and the encouragement of WIFT President, Sophie Mathisen, that assured me that speaking out was imperative. I was buoyed by the opportunity to not just publicly challenge their selection process, but to offer up an official WIFT charter that will address these issues. With a lack of any official response from AATCA, we realised that a public demonstration (old school style with a twist!) was needed. After brainstorming the public letter and charter, we joked about how the AACTA’s really were a sausage party and thus the idea was born for 16 women, dressed to the nines in sausage suits, to storm the AACTA red carpet.
Although the cultural awareness has changed, we are yet to move beyond talk to action. It is easy to echo sentiments of support for greater access for women in film but could you wear a sausage costume for it? Many, many women were fearful of what it would mean if they committed to backing the protest in the lead up to the day. The team managing the sausages went through a litany of volunteers who initially put their hand up only to drop out before the event. Whilst “cold feet” is one thing, especially within a group that never expected nor aimed for activist status, the current fear of reprisal speaks to a more sinister cultural tendency to victimise, deny and ultimately divide women who have a strong case for discrimination and marginalisation. In the van, en route to the protest, the women were nervous, and rightfully so. We knew that the protest would ruffle feathers but when the birds at the top of the tree have been allowed to primp and preen untouched for four decades, it was a risk that 16 brave women were willing to take.
In the aftermath, it has thankfully kicked up a dust storm that we believe will result in a better and fairer screen culture for all. As Australians, we invest in egalitarianism as a cornerstone of Australian identity. That we needed to become life-size sausages to point out discrepancies between thought and action, speaks strongly for our need to embrace the conversations we have been avoiding, and face our failings head-on in order to change.
16 sausages have started the conversation. In the coming days and weeks, we will no doubt hear from more of our sausage-sisters in arms who have valid experiences and insights of their own exclusion from which we can learn from.