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The lack of lead actress nominees at the IFTAs perfectly demonstrates why we need more Irish films starring women

‘Just imagine a year in which he had five actresses with meaty roles competing for an IFTA. It needn’t be a pipe dream, you know.’

THIS YEAR’S IFTA nominations were announced yesterday with Maudie, Cardboard Gangsters, Handsome Devil, The Farthest and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, leading the way.

One of the main talking points following yesterday’s announcement was the conspicuous lack of nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Just three actresses were nominated in the category – Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Sarah Bolger (Halal Daddy) and Ann Skelly (Kissing Candice). That’s compared to five actors duking it out for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Aine Moriarty of IFTA attributed the discrepancy to the small number of roles written for women over the past year.

Because there was just not a level of script written for women, it was a very low number of scripts written for lead women in the past year.

It’s a fairly depressing indictment of the Irish film industry that IFTA could barely cobble together three lead actress nominees, made infinitely worse when you take into account the fact that Lady Bird isn’t even an Irish production.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. In 2008, IFTA was forced to amalgamate the film and television categories together to form a new award for Actress in a Lead Role Film/Television. Not a single film performance was nominated, presumably because there simply were none.

Three years later, it happened again. The award was temporarily renamed to Actress in a Lead Role Film/Television to deflect from the fact that there weren’t enough performances from lead actresses in film to warrant a category. Again, there were no film performances nominated.

Imagine for a second that there was a year in which no Irish actor had a lead role in a film. A year in which no male-led films were made. It would be unthinkable and unprecedented. But when it’s the other way around, it’s just regarded as part and parcel of the film industry. Even if it happens time and time again. “Oops, I guess we forgot to make any films starring women this year. Try again next year!”

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Think about the most popular Irish films. The films we all gather around to watch on television. Michael Collins, The Field, The Guard, In The Name of the Father, Intermission, My Left Foot, The Commitments, In Bruges, Adam and Paul, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, The Snapper, Brooklyn, The Van, The Young Offenders. With the exception of The Snapper and Brooklyn, I’d argue that they’re all overwhelmingly male.

In fact, since IFTA’s inception, the only film with an Irish female lead to win Best Film is A Date For Mad Mary. (Juanita Wilson’s As If I Am Not There and Lenny Abrahamson’s Room both won, but neither were set in Ireland or featured Irish on-screen talent.)

That’s not to dismiss the other films, many of which are brilliant and form part of our national identity, but rather to highlight the dearth of films with female leads being produced in Ireland. Not only is this a shame for the countless talented actresses we have in our midst, but it’s a shame for the half of the population who don’t get to see themselves portrayed on screen.

International trends show that films starring women and for women perform well at the box office. Think about Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman and Girls Trip, three of the biggest films of last year.

Closer to home, the success of books like Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling and television shows like Derry Girls, Nowhere Fast and Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope shows that there’s an appetite to see ourselves represented in pop culture.

So what are we waiting for? Consider for a moment how novel it would be to have a smart romantic comedy made in Ireland and starring a homegrown plucky heroine. Or how fun it would to be to have an ensemble comedy starring a group of funny women à la Bridesmaids. Or how refreshing it would be to see more parts for Irish actresses over the age of forty. (God forbid, right?)

To its credit, the Irish Film Board has implemented schemes to nurture more female writers and directors. But the onus now is on production companies to seek out and produce stories about women, and to identify both up-and-coming acting talent and actresses who haven’t been given an opportunity to flex their muscles on screen for want of decent parts. (After all, we can’t have Saoirse Ronan doing all the heavy lifting, can we?)

Just imagine a year in which he had five actresses with meaty roles competing for an IFTA. It needn’t be a pipe dream, you know.

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