Behind-The-Scenes Interviews With Filmmakers

Creating Pioneers in Skirts: Exposing Gender Inequality in Hollywood

Gender inequality remains a pervasive issue in the film industry, hindering women’s career advancement. However, this problem extends beyond the realm of filmmaking and permeates every male-dominated field.

Ashley Maria, a filmmaker, shines a spotlight on this pressing matter through her documentary, “Pioneers in Skirts.” In an exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to delve into Ashley’s creative process and gain insights into the making of this impactful documentary.

Don’t want to read? Watch our video interview instead:
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1. In your own words, can you describe what Pioneers in Skirts is about?

The film started as a personal story about my own career in the film industry and really just the opportunities I wasn’t seeing because I was “a woman director.”

I really didn’t understand what that meant. I had won all these awards. I’d gotten all these amazing accolades, but I was still seen as just a woman director and with it came all these biases, assumptions, and really just very few opportunities. So I started to ask, is this me? Is it just me going through this? And so I went to a lot of my female colleagues and we were all kind of experiencing the same thing.

Then I called my mom. And I said, you know, I’m feeling really burnt out. I don’t know if this is the journey I want to take, if this is my career. And she said, oh, heck no. First of all, you’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since you were like five. So she and I both started on this journey of understanding. What made me burn out? What are women confronted with? What’s going on?

2. How did you go about researching and selecting the specific women and stories to highlight in the documentary?

So when we started making Pioneers and Skirts, We knew we had at least one question to answer. Why are numbers dropping for women as they get higher up in their careers? If you’ve seen all the studies, you’ve seen that women and men tend to start out equal in the workforce.

Then as you go up and up and up and up, that fractures off. What is that about? Because that’s not just happening in the corporate world. It’s happening in the film world. It’s happening in all male dominated fields.

So we took that goal and we did the research. We saw how for women, it takes two years for their ambition to drop by 60% in their careers. This is independent of motherhood status. This has nothing to do with the career they’ve chosen.

This is everything to do with what’s going on on a day-to-day basis that’s chipping away at them. So we took these understandings, studies, and then we just branched from there. The really important thing of making an impactful film is to encourage people’s mindsets. If you want to really change minds, you have to offer both ends of the story.

3. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in gathering archival footage, photographs, and firsthand accounts for the film?

In making Pioneers and Skirts, we wanted the audience to feel like they were a part of the conversation and I’m actually a comedy director at heart. So making a documentary like this, I had to get a little piece of that in there.

So we decided to use culture footage. When you watch the film, you’ll see there’s a clip from Friends, Saturday Night Live, and all these funny moments when our culture is highlighting these inequities that we deal with on a daily basis as women.

So that was important to us to put that in the film so that you felt like there’s a little bit of lightness to this. We have to laugh at it or we won’t survive. But then let’s laugh about it and then let’s actually do something about it.

4. Were there any particularly moving or surprising stories that emerged during your interviews with these trailblazing women or their families?

Because Pioneers in Skirts is an investigative film and we’re talking to today’s woman about what they’re experiencing, it started out with questions. What’s going on? How do you handle these things? As we were investigating adults, we started to see how these biases that we have ingrained in us, they start to represent themselves in middle school.

We have to figure out what’s going on at a younger age for girls that is starting to ingrain these stereotypes, these assumptions about ourselves. Where is that happening and is anybody doing anything to stop it, to fix it? We didn’t know. So we went to a robotics competition and met Lia Schwinghammer, who you’ll see in the film. She was a middle schooler already realizing that girls just subtly don’t think they belong in science or in STEM.

5. Are there any women you would have liked to include in the documentary if time and scope permitted?

So at the end of the day, Pioneers in Skirts was going to be an impact film. With that, we knew the movie needed to be less than 60 minutes, especially if we wanted it to go on PBS. Let’s just say we had a lot more footage and a lot more segments than just 60 minutes. But if the film was too long, viewers wouldn’t watch it. So, we decided to make it an hour-long film so that there could be constructive and impactful conversations. With that, like I said, we had to let some of our darlings go.

6. How do you hope this documentary will impact current perceptions and attitudes about professional gender norms? Have you seen any changes since 2020?

Since releasing the film back in 2020, we have seen how audiences respond. Girls as young as middle school age already see how they’re going to be treated differently than the boys. Young women are seeing that burnout. They’re seeing what we’re talking about. Then women later on in their careers, they’re seeing that choice where you wonder if you can continue on this path.

So we’re seeing those elements as women watch the film and men are also realizing not only are they maybe perpetuating some of these biases, but they see how they can actually help. They see how they can fix it. Let’s be clear, women and men both perpetuate these biases. We’re all trained a certain way and we have to unlearn it as time goes on.

7. What’s next for you as a filmmaker after completing this documentary on such an important but underexplored topic?

Because of my experience now making an impact film, I’ve decided that my next big film is going to be another impact film. The truth is I actually started out in narrative comedy along with horror, and had to make this film in order to feel like there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel for me in my career and for women like me. Because I went on this journey, I see how film can really play a role in impacting change.

So, the next film is called Superhuman Anxiety. It’s a short this time, and it follows a young teen who has superhuman strength whenever her anxiety manifests. Whenever it comes about. It’s funny, it’s for teens, it’s cute, and almost done.

“Pioneers in Skirts” is a social impact film about the issues that affect a woman’s pioneering ambition. Real-life stories and frank commentary leave viewers seeing their role in the solution, feeling hopeful, and motivated to act.

Watch Pioneers in Skirts on Reveel

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