THE film industry in Zimbabwe has witnessed huge growth in terms of quality over the past five years. However, this growth has not translated into monetary value, as the sector continues to operate on a shoestring budget. This has created a dire situation in which young women in the industry are exposed to all manner of abuse. This has also resulted in a rise to a breed of male filmmakers with a sense of entitlement. They believe everything they give to a woman — from a role to a position in a production — must be paid back in kind.
It does not matter whether the woman is good at what she does or she is even investing in the project — they just believe she has to pander to their sexual whims.
There are some film companies that leave behind their female cast and crew when shooting for “efficiency and time management.” This has seen lots of girls packing their bags to go and live at an “all-expenses-paid” house, where the boundary line between employer and employee becomes blurred because private space is no longer sacred. So the principles of the one being “fed” are threatened.
As highly efficient as this set up may be in terms of filming, it is also dangerously conducive for creating relationships involving multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases and abuse of power. It is also efficient in creating egos and centralising power as all the credit goes to the men in charge.
Complaints have often been raised by women who have turned down sexual advances from their producers and directors and for that reason, payment for their roles was withheld.
These stories have been in circulation for years but very few women have reported their cases to the police or pursued them to their legal conclusion. The ones who have been brave enough to do so — or to confront their bosses — have managed to get their money.
Stories about male producers and directors who are like “gigolos” (male escorts) have also surfaced. When you sleep with them or date them and then break up, they hit back at you by withholding your payment. Your salary becomes like a payment for sleeping with them.
They keep pictures and videos, including nudes sometimes, as proof that you dated. So when you start claiming your payment that’s when they produce love messages and pictures and claim that you are bitter because you broke up.
There are also film producers who can do auditions for intimate scenes (kissing and sex) virtually the whole day and young female actresses are exposed to older actors and actresses making out right before them. This becomes the norm and is passed as “the spirit of the industry”. The only good thing sometimes is that funding for such productions is not readily forthcoming.
Young women in the industry need to be wary of married filmmakers. They are not usually hard to identify, if you observe closely. When a girl reaches a film set for the first time, the married man is usually the first one to call dibs on their fellow “boys”. He is also the first one to get too close or become over-friendly and touchy.
He simply wants a hit-and-run relationship. He is not concerned about your talent or certificates. He just wants to get into bed with you first before the single guys. The disturbing part is that none of the other guys will tell you that he is married. You will have to find out on your own.
This subject is such a taboo in the industry that most women will not raise alarm on sexual predators in the industry. They would rather complain in the shadows than to openly name and shame. Some have the mindset that going to court is a long process and they would rather live quiet lives, so the vicious cycle of disrespect, abuse, exploitation and manipulation continues.
After getting the role, rehearsals can take several months or even a year in Zimbabwe. During that period a woman is supposed to find her own transport and food to attend rehearsals. These rehearsals are often for television productions and the more they are postponed, the more the actors and crew continue to fund their own transport, rentals and food. In most cases the director or producer often has a few dollars to give to the young damsels in distress. Hence by the time the production is done, they would have dated, or slept with half the female cast already.
Due to the economic recession it has been difficult for this generation to find employment hence many have become depended on jobs that come with food and transport.
Perhaps the sad thing is that some women in the film industry are very protective of their abusive male counterparts. Some have been given roles and production shares and hence they will protect the abusive man at the expense of other women. There are women who are also known to seduce and sleep with their directors and producers. These women have made it hard for other women to audition, invest and work in the industry. They have made filmmakers believe all women in the industry are easy.
The popular-but-misleading question when abuse happens is: where you forced or where you raped?’ Usually, the men in the industry can force you to make the decision to sleep with them down your throat by exploiting your weaknesses and dreams so it may be difficult to classify it as outright rape, but it is abuse all the same. In most cases, his method is charm and promises of a lasting relationship or marriage. Once he gets you into his bed, his interest in you disappears. It becomes hard for the woman to claim her payment because now she is an “ex” whom he tossed aside and has moved on to her colleague.
However, if you refuse to sleep with him, punishment is exacted in a subtle way. You are either slowly pushed out of the production through demotion or you are not given due credit. When you complain, this is rubbished as “sour grapes”.
In the local film industry, complaints are often resolved in the absence of the complainant and the “I dated her” excuse is accepted as defence. Proper investigations are hardly done to get to the bottom of the matter and women are hardly educated about their rights in the industry.
I urge all film sponsors and shareholders to investigate the set up of a film production house before commissioning or funding their project. You end up sponsoring systematic abuse. Parents of girls in the industry need to open their eyes, too. Where is your daughter living during production, and with who? The film industry is a jungle and lions are not friendly. To the young woman out there fighting for her dream in the film industry, it is better to lose a role than to catch Aids.
by Amanda Ranganawa