XXY in Conversation with GPL Artists, Part 3: Imogen Woolley

XXY in Conversation with GPL Artists, Part 3: Imogen Woolley

Grrrl Power Liverpool’s first event, ‘Women: Where Do You Find Yourself in the Arts?’ launched this August. Co-Founder of the movement, and our New York Junior Editor, Michelle Houlston catches up with a few of the contributing artists in a series of conversations. Last but not least in this series, Imogen Woolley talks sexism, statements and where that leaves women animators.

Imogen Woolley’s exhibited piece, ‘Celluloid Ceiling: Test 1’, took the credits of 2015’s highest grossing film, (and third highest of all time) ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, and replaced the name of each person with their assigned gender: ‘FEMALE’ or ‘MALE’. To complement the video work, Woolley’s acrylic painting titled ‘A Male Film’ hung by the screen’s side.

Michelle Houlston: Grrrl Power Liverpool’s exhibition was about making statements and readdressing gender inequalities in contemporary art, literature and music. What is the statement behind your exhibited piece?

Imogen Woolley: The piece is more of a test, really. It’s a basic infographic but seven minutes can be long and arduous to watch. What I hope keeps people watching is the direct experience of seeing a statistic illustrated, as well as the obvious gender imbalance and the difference between various job roles and their particular gender distributions. Quite often, there is a stereotypical cluster; females working in makeup or production and males as electricians or technicians.

Coming up with the idea, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, although I had my suspicions. I hadn’t done any direct research beforehand, but through reading certain news articles on the mainstream film industry, and knowing of The Bechdel test (which requires that a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), I assumed it would show an imbalance in favour of males. Whilst researching and solidifying that idea, I found the term ‘celluloid ceiling’, which comes from a 2013 study of the underrepresentation of women in top grossing films. The collection of statistics gathered is truly eye-opening. In our current media-saturated reality, I would definitely recommend that everyone views them.

MH: Your piece specifically addresses inequalities in the film industry, and most importantly the highest grossing big players. Hollywood receives criticism for its sexism and racism year upon year, film upon film. Was there anything that surprised you when researching for this piece?

IW: Not particularly, and I think that is the problem. It just confirmed that not much has changed and Hollywood is still basically a boys’ club. It did make me wonder where the root of the problem lies. Is it Hollywood or the film industry as a whole that is malfunctioning? Or something broader still? From the cast and crew involved in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, 22.31% were female and 77.69% male. I would have actually been surprised had there been more equality.

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MH: It is sad that we are not surprised by inequality. Your work highlighted not only how many more men are involved in the highest grossing films but also statistically analysed inequalities between men and women in terms of job roles. As an animator yourself, how has the imbalance affected you and your work?

IW: I haven’t had much interest in working within Hollywood and that’s mainly because I don’t want to go into something that I perceive as unethical and that tells stories created by a majority of men, with some that are for and about women. The fact that nothing has really changed even though, as you say, criticism and analysis have been thrown at it for decades, just shows how stubbornly the industry is set in its ways and how there is no conscious effort to change; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

I’d be more interested in independent cinema or carrying on as a freelance animator where I can retain more creative freedom in anything I make. It’s an approach that may limit my opportunities (I don’t think I’ll be making an animated feature film on my own), but I can then create short DIY projects without altering them to fit market research or to try to earn as much money as possible.

In terms of going to the cinema or purchasing a film, my sister taught me that as a consumer you vote with where you spend your money, and I’m currently voting out of Hollywood.


Written by Michelle Houlston,

New York Junior Editor,

Visuals by Imogen Woolley

Avengers Painting Put Together (0-00-59-11) Put Together (0-03-01-06) Put Together (0-04-02-03) Put Together (0-04-14-00)