In Her Shoes | With Director & Filmmaker Stacey Lee
Welcome to In Her Shoes - a series motivated by driving positive change for women and all who identify as women through conversations covering the landscape of gender biases.
We begin our journey with talented film director Stacey Lee, dear friend of the brand and friend of La Tribe founder, Emma Winter. After watching her debut feature film, Underplayed, which brings to light and humanises the gender, ethnicity and sexuality inequalities within the electronic music industry, our team felt inspired to spread awareness.
Feeling disappointed by the challenges and frustrations our fellow females continue to face, we were very inspired to help do something about it. As a small group of women whose careers have predominantly been in the local fashion and beauty industries, we initially felt that we had not been exposed to the same level of bias as what we saw in the film.
However, as we began to delve deeper into conversation and look closer within ourselves, it became obvious these biases come in many shapes and forms regardless of industry: that issues of bias don’t necessarily need to be overtly obvious in order for them to exist but that misogyny could be subconsciously internalised even by our own selves, where biases may go unnoticed simply because that is ‘just how things are.’
Our vision for In Her Shoes is to profile people instilling change for gender inequality, whether they are championing change within their industries, their communities or their homes. Our hope is that by sharing their experiences with us we can open up conversation for our community.
Through conversation and experience sharing we hope to provoke thought and even provide solution-based practical ideas to help overcome inequalities that we can take away into our own lives to continue paving the way for more equality for future generations.
In addition to the profiles, we will offer our community access to workshops, activities, sessions where our female community can upskill, learn, or even teach in a safe and inclusive environment.
We will share details for our first workshop very soon, so stay tuned. In the meantime, keep reading for our first interview with NZ Director and Filmmaker, Stacey Lee.
La Tribe: Firstly congratulations on your debut feature film, Underplayed! An absolute must-see for everyone. Can you tell us a bit about the journey of Underplayed and what inspired you to direct a film about gender, ethnicity and sexuality inequalities in the electronic music industry?
I first became aware of the issue in 2016 when I made a short documentary on gender inequality in electronic music with New York based collective Discwoman. In the two years following that doc, we saw the #metoo and #timesup movements sweep the world, bringing a number of gender inequality issues into the global consciousness. In that time, I think we all imagined that a lot of progress had been made.
However when I was approached to make a more in-depth doc on this topic in 2019, I was shocked to discover that in fact little had changed, and in some instances the statistics had worsened. Sure, token attempts at equality had been made but nothing that was lasting, sustainable or anything other than optics. Gender inequality was suffering from issue fatigue, everybody was sick of talking about it, hearing about it and little action was being taken.
I knew that we had to approach this issue in a different way, rather than “rehashing” the problem, we had to humanize it, experience it first hand. We had to SEE the many incredible DJs and producers, whose talent is unquestionable, working their butts off day and night doing all they can to breakthrough in this space. By experiencing the challenges, frustrations and breakthroughs the issue becomes REAL, TANGIBLE and the solutions to drive change are much more OBVIOUS.
Stacey Lee, Underplayed, film still by Kayla Christenson.
La Tribe: Why electronic music in particular?
The electronic music scene was founded on the ideals of diversity, community and inclusion. Furthermore, there were many female pioneers whose efforts behind closed doors lead to the emergence of this billion dollar industry today. The dramatic juxtaposition from where it began to where it is today is what originally shook me.
How were these ideals snatched away from its pioneers, and more importantly why were these incredible contributions by diverse folks from all walks of life so quickly forgotten?
You're a director and filmmaker within an industry that is dominated by males. What similarities can you draw between your industry and those revealed in your film?
I was drawn to this story because as a female filmmaker I felt a lot of parallels between the experiences of the artists in electronic music with my own. As an Annenberg study reported, less than 4% of 1200 Hollywood productions were directed by women.
As context, a recent Women in Hollywood study found that of the top 100 grossing films of 2019, women represented just 10.7% of directors. For women of colour the statistics are even more grim.
Breaking into the director circle as a 30 year old woman was tough. I watched as my male colleagues found ease of representation, got paid what they were worth ("it's not about the money, it's the opportunity!") and didn't suffer any of the stereotypical prejudices of being hit by briefs for tampons, diaper and make up commercials on repeat. (Hello? Have you seen my reel??). Furthermore, when I was pregnant and looking for a production company to represent me in the United States, I found myself wearing oversized blazers and pretending my impending motherhood was non-existent for fear that it negatively affected them hiring or not hiring me.
This is what the Nervo twins featured in Underplayed experienced also, as they hid their pregnancies from bookers and promoters for fear they wouldn’t get booked. In the end they did get booked but they got paid less because there was apparently a “greater risk” that they might have to pull out at the last minute due to their “condition”.
As I discovered these experiences are universal for many women whether you work in music, film, politics or the hospitality industry.
Asma, Underplayed, film still by Kayla Christenson.
There is a significant quote in your film "if you can't see it, you can't be it." As a mother to a beautiful baby daughter how do you see yourself addressing the issue of gender inequality so she can follow her dreams? Equally, as a mother to a gorgeous boy, how will you teach him to be an ally in breaking down barriers?
The issue of gender inequality falls on all of our shoulders no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum. Teaching my daughter about the challenges she may face is just as important as showing my son how he can make space or create opportunities for others. Visibility is incredibly important for young boys and girls because it changes their notion of what is possible or what is “normal”.
A woman standing behind a console with thousands of buttons and dials should feel just as natural for my daughter as my son. Encouraging them both from a young age to be comfortable with technology, to find role models in the industry they want to pursue and if they find themselves in a position of privilege or success to use their platforms to elevate others - particularly people who may not have had it as easy as them.
Your film is based overseas. Are these issues of inequality relevant to NZ too? How do we measure up in comparison in your opinion?
The film is a global perspective, but the issues are 100% relevant in New Zealand as you will see from the release of last year’s Massey Report, and also the extensive investigative reporting by Alison Mau, Leonie Hayden and Charlotte Ryan into the inequities and injustices experienced by many female artists working in New Zealand. We might have a female prime minister and a female Super Rugby team but we still have a long way to go to achieve parity in the New Zealand music scene.
When it comes to gender and sexuality inequalities in the workplace, how can males support change?
The only way change is going to happen is if males are part of the solution, as our allies in bringing awareness and opportunities to other underrepresented voices. This film is not about pointing the finger at men and blaming them for the situation we are in - we are all in this together. Furthermore, no male artist has to lose their position in order for female artists to rise up. We exist in a capitalist society so there's this notion that someone must be demoted in order for someone else to rise up. That is not the reality. The creative spectrum is infinite and there are many seats at the table.
What do you feel is the main takeaway or opportunity for underrepresented communities to take from Underplayed?
I would like this film to serve as an inspirational primer for young women, non-binary folk, and other underrepresented communities to know what is possible for them to achieve, to have a broader pool of role models and influencers to look up to and break new ground, so that their path forward isn’t as fraught or difficult. To see that they can put themselves out there and find success in their own way without having to sacrifice your identity, values or authenticity. If nothing else, I hope this film opens their eyes to a new wave of trailblazers who are changing what is possible for future generations.
Imposter syndrome is a well-documented state for many who are underrepresented. If it creeps in for you, what do you say to it?
Imposter syndrome disproportionately affects women whether you are an aspiring electronic producer, a filmmaker or a fashion designer. It is always important to remember you have a right to be there just as much as anyone else, and to surround yourself with people who support and uphold these values so you can find a safe space to create.
Nervo, Underplayed, film still by Kayla Christenson.
You cover Inclusion Riders in your film, a term made famous by Frances McDormand at the 2018 Academy Awards, providing for a certain level of diversity in casting and production crew in the filmmaking and event industries. How could other industries apply this idea?
Inclusion Riders are an exceptionally powerful tool if you are someone who does have a position of influence. They are basically a clause that states I will only [play at this festival / direct this film / make this collection] if the booking party signs a contract stating that you will have X number of diverse talent in the process. It puts power back into the hands of the creators to ensure that a pipeline is opened for new and diverse talent to rise up. Sarin Moddle here in NZ is doing incredible work in this field and she has a template that anyone can adapt for their industry here.
As a longtime friend of La Tribe founder Emma Winter, we know you love to wear La Tribe with pride. Other than Emma, what else do you love about the La Tribe brand?
La Tribe is created by and for women who are breaking new boundaries in whatever field they chose to operate. There is something incredibly powerful about putting on boots or sandals that you love, and the confidence that affords you to put yourself out there, to stand up for what you believe in and to try something new. It’s like an extra layer of confidence, self esteem and spark.
What pair of La Tribe boots will you be reaching for this winter?
I absolutely love my Riding Boots. Super comfortable, quick to put on (very necessary when you are wrangling kids) and effortlessly cool. I wore them to the premiere of the film and have barely taken them off since.
We trust you enjoyed our first of many profiles we have lined up for you and hope it sparks conversation with us, your family and friends, and yourself.
Speak soon, La Tribe x