WSRC Blog: ‘Women’s Summit on Film in Hong Kong Higher Education’ by Gina Marchetti

By Prof Gina Marchatti (Department of Comparative Literature, School of Humanities)

The Center for the Study of Globalization and Cultures (CSGC) [1] and the Department of Comparative Literature [2] convened a summit composed of women involved in teaching, research, and administration related to film production and cinema studies in Hong Kong higher education on November 23, 2018, at the University of Hong Kong.  Because of HKU’s commitment to action furthering gender equality through initiatives such as HeForShe, [3] the Women’s Studies Research Centre (WSRC), [4] the Faculty of Arts Committee on Gender Equality and Diversity (CGED), [5] the CSGC contributed by opening a conversation about the current state of women in film production, research, and education in Hong Kong.

RECORD NUMBER OF WOMEN LEADERS IN HONG KONG FILM EDUCATION

The summit recognizes a change in leadership at several Hong Kong universities as women with backgrounds in film studies and/or film production take up key administrative roles.  At Baptist University, for example, Professor Mette Hjort serves as the Dean of Arts.   Earlier, Dean Hjort served as the Associate Vice-President (Academic Quality Assurance and Internationalisation) and Head and Chair Professor of the Department of Visual Studies at Lingnan University.  Before moving to Lingnan, she chaired the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong.  In addition to her myriad publications on world cinema, Professor Hjort edited The Education of the Filmmaker in Europe, Australia, and Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Thus, she brings together expertise in film education with years of administrative experience in leadership roles in Hong Kong higher education.  Her return to Hong Kong from her native Denmark opens up a valuable opportunity to discuss the role women can and do play in advancing film studies scholarship and training filmmakers in the region.

Even if Dean Hjort were the only woman leader in attendance, this event could be called a “summit” because of the high position she has achieved as a scholar and an educator.  However, Baptist University also boasts Eva Man, Director of the Academy of Film and Chair Professor in Humanities, as well as Professor Zhu Ying, Ying, Director of the Centre for Film and Moving Image Research, as leaders in film education and research on campus.

Indeed, Baptist is not the only local institution to reach this peak for female film professors.  At Lingnan University, acclaimed film scholar Yeh Yueh-Yu (Emilie) is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, as well as Lam Wong Yiu Wah Chair Professor of Visual Studies, and Director of Centre for Cinema Studies.  Although she does not pursue film as her main object of scholarly inquiry, Tejaswini Niranjana, Professor and Head of Department of Cultural Studies, does lead a department that includes outstanding women film educators, including Denise Tse-Shang Tang, film festival director with the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and a guest curator at Women Make Waves Film Festival, Taiwan.  In addition, Lisa Yuk-ming Leung serves as Programme Director, Master of Cultural Studies (MCS) in the department.

Other Hong Kong universities also have women serving in key administrative positions.  For example, Katrien Jacobs directs the MA in Visual Culture Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kimburley Choi (Wing Yee) serves as Programme Leader of the Master of Arts in Creative Media (MACM) at City University of Hong Kong.  Helen Ko is the Head of Screen Production, Projects and Partnerships (Film/TV), at the Academy for Performing Arts (APA).

The University of Hong Kong currently has an unprecedented number of women serving as school heads, program directors, and department chairs overseeing teaching, research, and knowledge exchange activities involving film studies, media production, and related creative arts.  In the Faculty of Arts, for example, these leaders include Yoshiko Nakano (Acting Head of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures), Wu Cuncun (Head of the School of Chinese), Julia Kuehn (Head of the School of English), and Miranda Legg, Acting Director of the Centre for Applied English Studies/CAES.

The Department of Comparative Literature offers the preponderance of the film studies courses at HKU, and it has several women serving in academic leadership roles. Nicole Huang chairs the department, and Esther Yau heads the Master of Arts in Literary and Cultural Studies, which includes an academic stream devoted to screen studies.  Honorary Professor Maureen Sabine, former Associate Dean for Research and Postgraduate studies in the Faculty of Arts, Head of Comparative Literature, Chair of History, and author of Veiled Desires: Intimate Portrayals of Nuns in Postwar Anglo-American Film (Fordham, 2013), continues to take an active role in feminist film scholarship in Hong Kong.

Other female academic leaders in film scholarship and media arts also work at HKU.  Shu-mei Shih, who has a fractional appointment in the Faculty of Arts as the Hon-yin and Suet-fong Chan Professor of Chinese Academy, has written extensively on women in Sinophone cinema and media arts. Award-winning documentarist, Ruby Yang, is the Hung Leung Hau Ling Distinguished Fellow in Humanities at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre.  Petula Ho, from the department of Social Work and Administration, has done pioneering using digital film to explore gender and sexuality in Hong Kong and mainland China, and Sylvia Martin, author of Haunted: An Ethnography of the Hollywood and Hong Kong Media Industries, teaches in Sociology.

While not all of these female film leaders were able to attend the summit, we supplemented the gathering with noted film scholars (e.g., Vivian Lee/City University), filmmakers (e.g., Louisa Wei/City University), festival programmers (e.g., Gulfire Ekrem/China Women’s Film Festival), and critics (e.g., Joyce Yang, Hong Kong Critics Society). Documentary filmmaker and educator Tammy Cheung, founder of Visible Record and the Chinese Documentary Film Festival, based in Hong Kong, also attended the summit.  Moreover, we were delighted to welcome Professor Dina Iordanova from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, who was at the University of Hong Kong under the Visiting Research Professor (VRP) scheme.  As former Provost of St. Leonard’s College and Director of Research at the Institute of Global Cinema and Creative Cultures, she contributed a global perspective by wedding her familiarity with European film education to her extensive knowledge of Hong Kong cinema, Asian film festivals, and world cinema.

An informal survey conducted at the beginning of the summit confirmed that we had representation from most of the University Grants Council (UGC) institutions in the territory, including HKU, Chinese University, City University, Lingnan University and Baptist University.  Nine of the thirty-nine attendees identified themselves at the highest rank of “professor” with ten in senior administration.  We also had a cross-section of attendees from other educational institutions, film production houses, and related creative industries.  Undeniably, the participants gathered for the summit brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the discussion of gender equality in Hong Kong film education.

 

SUMMIT OBJECTIVES

Even though few women serve at the top levels of Hong Kong university administration, this wealth of female talent in the middle ranks directly connected to film scholarship and education provides an ideal foundation for furthering the goal of eliminating discrimination and bias from the classroom to the film studio.  Thirty-nine women working in Hong Kong film and/or higher education attended the summit with the aim of identifying challenges faced by women in film in Hong Kong higher education, sharing data and best practices related to gender equity in film education, and initializing actions to further these goals.

The summit took place at a moment when global film culture came under enormous scrutiny because of high profile cases involving sexual harassment in the industry as well as in the academy.  Thus, a sense of urgency added to the importance of the gathering.  Although Tarana Burke coined “Me Too” in 2006, #MeToo went viral in 2017 after accusations involving high profile film industry figures such as Harvey Weinstein surfaced.  In mainland China, #MeToo unearthed cases connected to the Beijing Film Academy, [6] and women in the Hong Kong industry became increasingly vocal about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in film circles. [7] In her essay, “The Visual Language of Oppression: Harvey Weinstein Wasn’t Working in a Vacuum,” [8] filmmaker and educator Nina Menkes argues that film teachers too often neglect to provide their students with the critical tools necessary to push beyond the structural bias at the heart of the depiction of gender on screen.

The summit provided an opportunity to look at the constellation of issues surrounding women in Hong Kong film education as an outgrowth of #MeToo, and it parallels other initiatives such as EDIT (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching Media), [9] which emerged from the University Film and Video Association, and the Women’s Caucus of the Society for Film and Media Studies (SCMS).  Starting with the depiction of women on screen and behind the scenes, the summit took up women’s representation in the classroom as well as the gender balance at the upper echelons of the industry and the universities that set the agenda for what is seen on screen and studied on campus.

 

SUMMIT DATA

Our initial survey of participants uncovered strikingly similar words used to describe the challenges facing women working in Hong Kong film and in higher education.  The marginalization of women emerged as the single biggest problem closely followed by lack of recognition and structural bias and inequality.

After initial discussion, we divided the topics for consideration into three general categories:  teaching and research; academic leadership/advancement; and, filmmaking, film festivals, and other professional activities.  Areas needing urgent attention included teaching about women in Hong Kong film; writing about film from a woman’s perspective in Chinese and English; sexism and bias in academia; global opportunities for Hong Kong women filmmakers; and, queer and feminist advocacy.  Other pressing issues also emerged, including the gender pay gap, mentoring of female faculty, documentary ethics, censorship/self-censorship, publication platforms for feminist and LGBT film criticism, lack of recognition of creative work in higher education, as well as intersectionality and diversity in Hong Kong women’s cinema.  One respondent summarized the heart of the matter as follows: “The key issues are funding and power.  Focus on these two as the key to addressing other challenges.”

 

PROCESS

Summit participants divided into three groups to examine research, academic advancement, and Hong Kong female film professionals.   Each group took up the task to state the main challenges faced by women, provide evidence of the magnitude of the problem, consider the need for further data to illuminate the issue, brainstorm possible next steps and solutions, and, finally, propose immediate action for change.  Professor Mette Hjort, Dr. Vivian Lee, and Dr. Sonia Wong spoke on behalf of each group, which articulated the problem using strikingly similar words and phrases spotlighting women’s lack of inclusion, visibility, and recognition; the isolation of female filmmakers and researchers; and, the inaccessibility of films and scholarship by women.  A vicious cycle exists in which women’s films do not circulate as broadly as those by their male peers, so researchers may not be aware of them and presses may be reluctant to publish books and articles on films that are not widely seen. Competition for limited funding also makes it difficult to cooperate on projects across academic institutions and within the film industry.  Evidence of institutional policies regarding pregnancy, lack of policies involving inclusive language, and specific difficulties women face in developing their careers emerged as factors in limiting women’s full participation in higher education.

The importance of looking at Hong Kong in relation to global standards led to the discussion of the feasibility of employing a model similar to the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) charter locally.  Started in the United Kingdom in 2005 to promote women in STEM, the charter expanded in 2015 to include non-STEM fields and institutions committed to gender equality across disciplines.  With badges used to mark progressive change, the charter has demonstrated favorable results in several institutions in the UK.

In addition to exploring the Athena SWAN model for Hong Kong, other steps emerged for further consideration, including networking suggestions for academics, filmmakers and other cinema professionals, the expansion of publication venues for scholarship on women filmmakers, digital circulation of information on women in film, sharing of library resources including film prints, and interventions such as unconscious bias training.

Professor Dina Iordanova concluded the summit with several practical suggestions on getting to know women’s academic and filmmaking work better through expanded publication venues, digital distribution (e.g., VIMEO), encouraging more women to become film critics, mentoring junior women more effectively, and expanding boards to provide places for female participants.  For Professor Iordanova, the dissemination of information through networking was key.  She also underscored the need for women to take themselves seriously as public intellectuals with impact outside of the academy and beyond niche film circles.

 

NEXT STEPS

Following on these recommendations, summit participants committed to take specific action on the following:

  1. The Center for the Study of Globalization and Cultures (CSGC) promised to construct a directory of women in film in Hong Kong higher education with an additional section devoted to other film professionals, including critics, programmers, festival directors, publishers, among others. The directory also connects to the Hong Kong Women Filmmakers website, which includes regular updates on women active in Hong Kong filmmaking as directors, scriptwriters, editors, producers, and in other creative capacities across fiction, documentary, experimental, and related media arts.   The directory includes news, calls for papers, festival information, and links to other resources as well.  Launch date:  Early 2019.
  2. Hong Kong Baptist University will host an event early in the spring semester 2019 to explore possible formal ties to the Athena SWAN initiative in Hong Kong.
  3. An Alliance of Women in Film will convene its first meeting in the spring semester 2019.
  4. The CSGC plans a second summit for May 2019 devoted to the role men play in advancing gender equality and diversity called the “HeForShe Summit on Women in Film in Hong Kong Higher Education.”

 

For more information on the summit and related initiatives, contact Gina Marchetti, Director, Center for the Study of Globalization and Cultures, Comparative Literature Department, University of Hong Kong, at marchett@hku.hk.


[1] The Center for the Study of Globalization and Cultures, https://csgchku.wordpress.com/

[2] Department of Comparative Literature, The University of Hong Kong, https://www.complit.hku.hk/

[3] HeForShe at HKU https://www.hku.hk/about/policies_reports/HeForSheatHKU/

[4] Women’s Studies Research Centre https://www.wsrcweb.hku.hk/

[5] Committee on Gender Equality and Diversity http://arts.hku.hk/about-us/CGED

[6] “Sexual harassment victims on Chinese campuses encounter post-deleting, threats when speaking up”, http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0119/c90000-9317188.html

[7] “Women in Asia are saying they, too, were steered to Harvey Weinstein” https://qz.com/1154957/women-in-asia-accuse-harvey-weinstein-and-bey-logan-of-sexual-harassment-and-misconduct/

[8] “The Visual Language of Oppression: Harvey Wasn’t Working in a Vacuum” https://filmmakermagazine.com/103801-the-visual-language-of-oppression-harvey-wasnt-working-in-a-vacuum/#.XCR7TFwzaUk

[9] EDIT Media, http://www.editmedia.org/