A couple of days ago I made a startling discovery: the camera brand Canon had co-opted the slogan I use all the time for my projects — “This is what a filmmaker looks like” — and used it as a cover image for a corporate video about female cinematographers.
I would not have said anything about this, except: when I watched the video I found it to be filled with toxic stereotypes about women in film. As a female director and cinematographer, and an advocate for representation, this didn’t sit well with me.
The video featured only TWO white female cinematographers speaking for all women in film. The editor of the video selected sound bites that were quite negative, making cinematography appear incredibly hostile to women. I tried to put myself in the shoes of a young woman watching the video; instead of being motivated to pursue a career in filmmaking, I would have been turned off and discouraged.
There’s something else that compounded my feeling of discomfort and motivated me to speak up. I realized this is the first time that I have ever watched an official video by Canon that shows women using Canon’s professional camera equipment. Typically Canon only features men in videos for high-end camera gear. I had been waiting for 10 years to see someone that looked like me in one of their videos for equipment destined for professional photography or cinematography. And this video felt like a major letdown.
If you’re curious about the video, you can watch it on YouTube.
A long relationship with Canon
I have no ill will against Canon. I have used their cameras for over a decade: I made a feature-length documentary — The Illusionists — using their 5D Mark II. I’ve filmed many other documentary projects using the Mark II , and more recently, a Canon 5D Mark IV.
On my wedding day last August, I cracked up guests as I used my beloved Mark IV throughout the day, taking plenty of photos; I was the “photographer bride”.
You’ll rarely see me without a camera in my hands. I’m also brand agnostic: I routinely use Canon, Fujifilm and Nikon cameras and lenses — depending on what I’m working on.
An opportunity to start a conversation
I abhor “cancel culture” and social media pile-ons. This is not an attempt to diss Canon; I love Canon cameras and lenses. Maybe the discovery of this video, and this post, could be the opportunity to start a conversation about how camera manufacturers could truly help female creatives and give a boost to their careers, helping to narrow the gender gap in film. Brands like Canon — but also Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, and Fujifilm — certainly have the resources, popular platforms and connections to nurture the careers of female photographers and cinematographers. To improve their representation. And change the culture along the way. Canon’s video about “women in film” is not how to do it.
Before we start, I think it’s also important to bring you up to date to the work I’ve been doing under the slogan “This is what a filmmaker looks like.” You need some context, so let’s rewind to September 2017.
The origins of my project This is What a Film Director Looks Like
Frustrated by the invisibility of female directors and cinematographers in our popular culture, I had an idea. Maybe I could harness the power of the internet and the popularity of GIFs to increase the visibility of women in film.
In September 2017, I started creating GIFs that said: “this is what a film director looks like” and “this is what a cinematographer looks like” with photos of female filmmakers and their names in big bold letters. I uploaded them to GIPHY — the internet’s leading database of animated GIFs — and shared them on my Twitter account. No more excuse for people who can’t name a single female director or cinematographer.
The project soon caught the attention of people working at GIPHY; they enjoyed it so much, that they gave me an official GIPHY channel. This means that any GIF I make gets automatically fed into search engines, as well as the GIF directories in Slack and Twitter.
In three years, I have made over 200 GIFs of women in film; they’ve gotten over 30 million views. If you search for GIFs of filmmakers — on GIPHY or Twitter or Slack — you will see as the top results my images. I almost created a gender imbalance, as searches for “cinematographer” mostly yield my GIFs of female cinematographers…
In addition to making GIFs, I decided to expand my mission to the real world and design and sell t-shirts with slogans like: “this is what a film director looks like” and “this is what a cinematographer looks like.” I love the idea that female filmmakers can proudly wear this message. Seeing photos of filmmakers I admire wearing these t-shirts brings me so much joy.
I have strived, since the very beginning of the project, to make it diverse and inclusive. I want everyone to feel represented and to feel like: “If she can do it, so can I”.
Fast-forward to the present day and the Canon video with the cover image “This is what a filmmaker looks like”.
Canon Europe’s video on women in film
I watched the video, heart beating fast, as this is a topic I’m obviously very passionate about.
I wanted to love the video, feel inspired and energized by it, galvanized to keep on fighting for the representation of women in film. I thought “how wonderful to have Canon as an ally in this.”
Instead, the video left me with a bitter taste and some questions.
My 3 Questions for Canon
1) Who produced this video — and decided to feature only two white female cinematographers?
I have nothing but respect for the two cinematographers featured in this video. I will not name them here because my critique is aimed at who produced and who edited the video. These women are phenomenal cinematographers and I have the utmost admiration for them.
I am simply puzzled by the decision to only pick TWO white female cinematographers for a video that purports to start a debate about all women in film. Why?
There are so many talented female cinematographers out there, of all ages, races, ethinic backgrounds and nationalities. Canon, if you want some inspiration about who to feature next time, check out my GIPHY channel.
2) Who edited this video?
The first thirty seconds of any video are the most important ones: that’s when a viewer decides whether to stick around and learn more… or give up watching.
I’m infinitely puzzled by the decision to use this dialogue for the first 30 seconds of a video that is supposed to highlight the work of female cinematographers:
“Cinematography is traditionally a very male profession. It’s a technical job, it’s a physical job, it involves a lot of endurance, a lot of heavy lifting… these are things that certainly in Western society, we’ve not thought that women are good at.”
Those are sound bites taken directly from the interviews with the two female cinematographers featured in the video. I do not mean to criticize the cinematographers at all. I just find it irresponsible, on the part of the EDITOR, to use those sound bites at the beginning. They set a negative tone that is hard to shake off. Repeating toxic stereotypes only reinforces them. Especially when this dialogue is accompanied by dramatic music.
Here’s how I would have edited the video instead.
You could have started the video showing these inspiring cinematographers at work. You could have briefly mentioned their background and accomplishments (we never hear about them in the video so we don’t know why we should care about them). Get us hooked on their stories, so we want to learn more about them.
You could have mentioned the struggles these DPs have had to overcome in their careers, mentioning stats about how the field of cinematography has been male dominated for decades. Nevertheless they persisted…
… and went on to work on incredible films that won them awards. Then you could have used hopeful sound bites saying that the industry is changing. And you could have told us how YOU, Canon, plan to support female cinematographers going forward… ending with the image of a mosaic of female cinematographers at work in various countries around the world. A diverse, inclusive mix.
More inspiring, isn’t it?
Ultimately the tone of the original video is also quite forceful and purports to tell a universal truth about women in film. It only discusses difficulties: gender bias, economic barriers, obstacles at every step.
The video fails to mention how glorious it is to work as a cinematographer. Which brings me to the next point:
3) Why don’t you ever feature prominent female cinematographers and photographers in your videos for professional equipment?
With this video, you are sending the message that maybe you care about the gender imbalance in the creative industry. But… sorry Canon, I think you’re part of the problem. You’ve consistently featured male cinematographers and photographers in virtually ALL your video campaigns for professional camera equipment.
I know something about this, as I’ve been watching all your video commercials for professional cameras since 2010. You’ve always chosen men in their 30s or 40s to star in product announcement videos:
Ditto for testimonials from film and photography professionals about your high end cameras:
The only time I see women or people of color in official Canon videos is for the promotion of consumer products, like entry level cameras and gadgets.
But there’s more. Every time you release a new professional camera body, you hire a cinematographer to film a video, showcasing that camera’s capabilities. I watched all your recent videos — for the C100, C200 and C300 cameras — and you invariably feature male cinematographers… and all male camera crews.
Here is a mosaic of screenshots I took from your numerous behind the scenes videos:
Dear Canon, it’s a man’s man’s world in your videos for professional camera equipment.
If I was a young woman stumbling upon your YouTube channel, looking for inspiration, I would not see anyone that looked like me.
So, imagine my shock, when I finally see a video on your channel showing female cinematographers… using the slogan “This is what a filmmaker looks like”… but the whole video is negative and repeats toxic stereotypes about women in film from start to finish.
Why is it that you only show men having fun and doing cool projects with professional camera equipment? Maybe you are also part of the problem?
Dear Canon, YOU could be the change
You are one of the leading brands of camera equipment. Maybe next time you film a campaign for one of your top products, you could hire a female director of photography to shoot a film that accompanies the product release? It would be a first for you. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a decade.
If you can’t think of any female directors of photography for the job, well, FREE THE WORK is a curated talent discovery platform of underrepresented creators (hey, I’m a member, if you’re looking for someone in France or Italy).
And if you need to showcase talented female photographers at work in one of the videos for your new cameras, Daniella Zalcman has created a global database of brilliant female photographers: Women Photograph.
Dear Canon, THIS is what a filmmaker looks like:
Now can you please start featuring us in your videos for professional camera equipment?
Hire us, pay us handsomely, give us visibility, and by doing so, change the culture. And make young aspiring filmmakers dream.
The ball is in your court.
Elena Rossini is an Italian filmmaker, photographer and an advocate for representation. Notable projects include the feature-length documentary The Illusionists about the globalization of beauty and the dark side of advertising (which Rossini shot with a Canon 5D Mark II). Rossini has been populating the internet with GIFs of women in film; her most recent project is “100 Days of Women in Film” — a blog with profiles and Q&As of unsung heroines in cinema and TV.