Female Christian Filmmakers Say They Face Just as Much Discrimination and Obstacles in the Faith-based Film Industry as They Do in Hollywood

Actress and Director Shari Rigby and write Claire Lee on the set of Beautifully Flawed, LA dream center, photo published July 2019 | Instagram/Shari Rigby

Christian women working in Hollywood say the faith-based film industry can be just as challenging for them to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts as it is for women working for secular studios and production companies.

To better understand the obstacles faced by women of faith working in Christian entertainment, The Christian Post interviewed award-winning actresses, directors, and two friends who created their own production company who share their advice for others starting their careers in the industry.

Women have been involved in making major Hollywood films since the 1920s, starting with Alice Guy-Blaché, who directed nearly 1,000 films in her time. But since the invention of film, there has also been a great lack of recognition given to female filmmakers.

The lack of notoriety can be seen in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards. Only one woman has received the honor of winning an Oscar for “Best Director.” In 2008, Kathryn Bigelow won the award for her work on “The Hurt Locker,” and she is just one of only four other women who have been nominated for the award in the history of the Oscars.

In 2014, an investigation was spearheaded by the ACLU and EEOC following a leak of Sony documents showing that actresses were being paid less than their male co-stars. The investigation was meant to expose Hollywood studios’ alleged bias against hiring female filmmakers. While people of faith might think the Christian entertainment industry operates differently, many of the female filmmakers The Christian Post interviewed said they, too, have felt the pangs of gender discrimination.

Shari Rigby, the lead actress of the new film “Overcomer,” has faced opposition as both an actress and filmmaker in Hollywood, even in the faith-based world. Rigby has been acting and directing for several years and as of late has been taking a bigger role behind the camera.

Rigby said that so often people “talk the talk,” but the Kendrick brothers, whose latest film “Overcomer” came in at No. 3 at the box office, actually gave her an opportunity to direct some of the scenes in the film. The California resident has also directed 20 episodes of her biographical show “Beautifully Flawed.” With the exception of the Kendricks, Rigby says she’s not given credit for her work.

“This is where it gets a little tricky because yes, the men in the faith world have championed me and they’ve inspired me — Alex Kendrick being one who really launched me into this,” Rigby said. “But at the same time, because I’ve been an actress, or I’ve been a mother at home, or I’m older or I haven’t had as much training behind the camera, what I’m finding now is that most of these guys know that I have the ability and that I have been doing it, but they’re not willing to actually take a chance on me.”

“If I had the resume that some of these other filmmakers have, I think they would bring me things in a heartbeat,” she added. “I just haven’t had that opportunity yet.”

Rigby, a woman of faith, said it’s “OK” though, because she’s looking to God to make a way for her where there seems to be no way.

Tag-team duo J.D. Dewitt and Robin McLain decided to form their own film production company, 5×5 Productions, because of the odds stacked against them. They just completed filming their first Christian romantic comedy, “Home Sweet Home.”

“I’ve always come at things outside of the box, so I expect others to conform to that box,” Dewitt said of her tenacity in the film industry. “I know for us, we’ve literally been told, ‘You cannot do this.’ For me, that’s like, ‘OK, you’ve just changed my purpose now. It will happen because I know what God has called me to do and what you say doesn’t matter; my identity is in Him. So if He wants me to do this, it’s going to happen!'”

McLain said they were even told they couldn’t make the movie they just completed. But their faith that kept them going.

“Even with this movie that we were told we couldn’t do, we would literally check in with each other because … when your faith is so strong that this is going to happen … and you’re like, ‘I don’t see the end game,’ but I do. So we just kept going and here we are,” McLain told CP.

The film making duo don’t label themselves as a female-led company. They are a company that happens to be led by women.

“When you talk about women in film … when we hear that, it’s like, ‘Oh, right, we are,'” Dewitt said.

“There’s not a lot of female-led companies, especially in the Christian world. But again, that’s the box that I’m happy to …”

“We will just bust right out of it,” McLain interjected.

A 2015 study by the Sundance Institute found that movies directed by women will almost always be labeled as “independent” films, while movies directed by men are regularly considered to be “blockbuster status.”

Award-winning director, writer and producer Lisa Arnold, a veteran in the film industry, has over 25 years of experience in film, stage and television, and has also witnessed the industry’s bias firsthand. She has tried to break free from the label “female filmmaker,” but is regularly reminded that her gender does play a role in her work.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jeannie Law