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5 women who will #RewriteHerStory

We need more women leaders in media and entertainment to help stop the objectification of girls on-screen, and instead encourage their ambitions.

But women filmmakers are still rare. So what is it like to work in such a male-dominated industry? Following Times Up and #MeToo, does it feel like the industry is changing? And how can we help more young women break into this field?

We asked 5 global, female filmmakers how they intend to #RewriteHerStory. 

"Representation matters for young women, especially those who exist on the margins."

Kemiyondo “Kemi” Coutinho, 30, was born in Uganda, raised in Swaziland, and now lives in Los Angeles while making films in Uganda. 

In 2018, she wrote and directed her first short film Kyenvu, which has screened around the world and won the Pan African Film Festival’s Best Narrative Short Film award. She also plays the lead role the film, about a woman in Uganda who is sexually assaulted after she dares to wear a miniskirt in public. Kyenvu is the first Ugandan film to qualify for an Oscar.

"There is an initiative that I am trying to start called 5 for 5 ... a fund allocating $5,000 to a female filmmaker from Uganda to create a five-minute short film." 

- Kemiyondo Coutinho

Indian filmmaker Guneet Monga Guneet Monga, 35, is one of India’s top independent film producers, working on international hits such as The Lunchbox, Peddlers, Gangs of Wasseypur, Monsoon Shootout and the 2019 Oscar-winning short Period. End of Sentence.

Her Mumbaibased company Sikhya Entertainment is next producing a comedy coming-of-age story about a young woman in an arranged marriage who suddenly finds herself a widow, confused about her next steps in life. 

"I’ve noticed it more in the past year or two with #MeToo, how men control the narrative and women are subject to that narrative. I hadn’t noticed before just how few Indian films were being directed by women. I understand it now, and I’m producing work with a lot of women filmmakers."

"Change is happening in the last couple of years because women writers and women directors are creating powerful, complicated women on screen. The coming of the internet has also helped. Women are calling it out, they are calling out submissive characters on screen. You can see that on Twitter."

Read full interviews in our report

Ash Mayfair, age 34, was born in Vietnam and is now based in New York City. She made her feature directorial debut with The Third Wife, an award-winning 2018 coming-of-age drama about a 14-year-old girl thrust into an arranged marriage in 19th-century Vietnam.

Mayfair is now developing her second feature film, titled Skin of Youth, a love story between a transgender singer and a dog-cage fighter set in 1990s Saigon.

"To be an artist, the minimum we need is a roof over our heads, a “room of one’s own” so to speak. Without this social and financial structure of support, it’s not a surprise that it is harder for women to get to creative leadership positions."

- Ash Mayfair

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is a film director, producer and actor from Canada. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, 34, is a Vancouver and New York-based writer, director, producer and actor.

She is a member of the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe, Blackfoot Confederacy) as well as Sámi from Norway. After studying at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Film School, she started making films in 2011 with the experimental short Bloodland.
She made her feature directorial debut with 2019’s The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, which she co-directed and co-wrote with Kathleen Hepburn and which tells the story of two women navigating the aftermath of domestic violence.

"Representation matters, absolutely. How can you imagine yourself doing these things if you can’t see it? Representation matters for young women, especially those who exist on the margins.

"In the Indigenous context, we have been misrepresented on screen for 100 years, those misrepresentations are damaging; they reinforce stigmas and feed into racist and sexist stereotypes. If you grow up seeing ugly misrepresentations of yourself and your community on screen, how can you not internalize some of that?

"Now I look at my 5-year-old niece and she knows I make films for a living - she knows that she has a place in this industry if that’s what she decides to pursue. It’s within her realm of possibility. We’ve entered a really great time"

Melina León, 42, is a writer/director living in Lima, Peru. She earned her MFA in film at New York’s Columbia University and returned to her home country to direct her debut feature film Canción sin Nombre (Song without a Name).

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2019, making her the first female Peruvian filmmaker to present her work in Cannes. The story, based on real events during Peru’s 1980s political crisis, is about a young mother whose baby is stolen.  

"I see the changes. I see that most young female filmmakers are telling stories of female protagonists, they are talking about feminism and some of them are studying the roots of our oppression...

It’s super important to see other women flourish, so they lead us, they encourage us, to use our full potential."

- Melina León

It's time to #RewriteHerStory

Plan International’s latest research, Rewrite Her Story: How film and media stereotypes affect the lives and leadership ambitions of girls and young women, carried out with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, provides never-before seen evidence that the world’s most popular films are sending the message to girls and young women that leadership is mostly for men.  
In the 56 films we analysed, the top-grossing from 20 countries last year, women leaders – whether they were presidents, CEOs or business owners – were far more likely to be portrayed as sex objects, shown in revealing clothing or even naked on the big screen.

The findings are not surprising when not one of the top 10 films in 20 countries in 2018 was directed by a woman, only a quarter of films had a woman producer, and only one in 10 had a woman on the writing team. 

For our recommendations on how to #RewriteHerStory, and full interviews of these inspiring women, take a look at our new report:

Read the report