Natalie Haarhoff believes in holding the door open for more women to enter the film and TV industry
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M-Net’s “Legacy“ director, Natalie Haarhoff is determined to hold the door open to allow more females into positions that have been long dominated by men.
Haarhoof, who has been in the industry for 21 years, said that for decades men have been at the forefront of telling female stories having never lived a day in their body, so for her being able to tell women stories through the eyes of a woman is extremely special and important.
“For the longest time the industry was massively dominated by men.
“This is not to say that men can't tell meaningful stories, but throughout time at the centre of the story is one thing: a persecuted heroine who rises above her social station only through marriage.
“This is an eternal concern of mine, that the world is designed such, that women believe that they ’need’ a man to survive, and have a chance at happiness,” said Haarhoff.
She said often the concern with a single-gender telling human stories is that the gaze is most often skewed.
“The industry portrays women in a light in which they have fantasised and villainised them.
“The women they love are most often unnaturally perfectly shaped, very compliant, scantily clad, and always shot from low angles, and then the ones they despise often look very familiar to us, real women,” she said.
She explained that subconsciously it gives men and women an extremely warped view of reality.
“It leaves real-life females feeling flawed and like failures, and the men around them feel exactly the same way about their partners.
“So from a very young age, little girls are taught to wear pink and make sure they are always groomed because it's the only way to be loved.
“It is vital to tell ourselves, our men, daughters and sons another story,” Haarhoff said.
She said that while there is change afoot, with juggernauts like Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVerney and Reese Whitherspoon presenting a far more diverse and powerful representation in the arena, there is still along way to go.
“From the top down, representation is growing.
“There are dozens of kick-ass womxn in South Africa and abroad who are doing amazing work.
“Of course, we have a long way to go, but the hardest part is breaking the mould, which we are most certainly doing,” she said.
Based on her own experience in the industry, she suggests that females wanting to enter surround themselves with beautifully minded men who want to work with them, and who consider their skills and strengths to be just as powerful as any other man in the industry.
She also strives to uplift women herself.
“I've grown up to realise how deeply important it is to have broad representation when it comes to storytelling.
“This not only goes for multi gender representation, but also across race, class and culture.
“Film and television are ultimately the new(ish) vehicle for fireside stories, radio and books, so they are massively impactful in shaping social behaviour, expectations and self image,” she said.
Haarhoff added that the stories we tell ourselves were very important.
“With more women at the creative and producing helm, we are starting to see more considered and real stories about our female characters.
From ”Big Little Lies“ to ”Is'thunzi“, the stories about women are becoming far more crafted and considered,” she said.
During her career Haarhoff has had the opportunity to work with some very powerful women who have taught her to hold the door open for younger women, and to push for them to be on sets.
“Sometimes producers and the ’powers that be’ need a firm nudging to hire women. If no one pushes for it, it won't happen.
“I have been hired by more women than men, so I don't believe women pull each other down.
“The onus is on me to do the same for other women. For the longest time men have held the door open for other men, even if they were telling women's stories. We need to break the old ways and forge new paths and be brave about our creative HOD choices,” said Haarhoff.
Despite the growth of women in the TV and film industry, many women and womxn still face societal norms.
"Women and womxn face daily micro-aggressions aimed at their gender, and this can often eat away at one's confidence.
“These indirect gestures and sometimes direct, are what make women feel they couldn't possibly do something like direct or produce.
“However, these ’norms’ need to be consciously ignored.
“They have not worked for women thus far, so we need to move past them and forge new ways,“ Haarhoff said.
She also raised the very real issue of sexual harassment in the the industry, across the board, from producers to extras.
“This needs to be sorted out, and sadly it is the same in many, many other workplaces,” said Haarhoff.