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Sophia Banks On Navigating a Male-Driven Film Industry as a Female Film-Maker

People

When you think of the Film Industry, you typically think of famous directors such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino.


While those are some talented directors and titans in the industry, Sophia Banks felt that the statistics showed the need for more female talents as she commented that “Only 7% of the world's directors and film-makers are female. I wanted to change that".

That is exactly what Banks sought out to do and what she hopes will inspire other women in her field to do the same.

She spent 15 years in fashion before turning to the film industry, founding the legendary store Satine and winning multiple awards including Vogue Australia's Top Fashion Expert and Harper Bazaar's Fashion Leader many years in a row. She then launched her fashion line Whitley Kros worn by many celebrities and touted by Forbes as one of the Top Ten Designers on The Rise. However, while Banks experienced a whirlwind of success in working with A-List celebrities such as Priyanka Chopra, Kylie, and Kendell Jenner, Amber Heard, she knew that her hard work and determination would ultimately allow her to create a platform for her true passion- filmmaking.

“Breaking into the industry that I was passionate about, took starting from the bottom, and there's absolutely no shame in that. At the end of the day, especially as a female fighting for a sliver of the spotlight, you should get your hands into every opportunity that does come your way. They are all experiences you can learn from."

And learning is a primary focus that Banks stressed in order to achieve success. The Australian native studied film, acting, fashion and business in three countries including acclaimed institutions like; USC's school of cinematic arts and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

With that being said, Banks offers insight to what comes after all of the studying, the most important step, applying those skills to translate that work into a stunning visual piece that invokes a specific message catering to each client's needs. “It's one thing to study and to understand what someone else is telling you, what to do, or how to do it. It's entirely another thing to develop your own unique style and give your project life. That is how we can leave our mark as female filmmakers in today's industry."

Banks pulled inspiration from her own experiences in order to develop that personal style. Her passion for edgy design and forward thinking to break the mold of what we conventionally see in a film shoot, commercial or short is what makes her stand out, as seen in her award-winning film she created with fashion icon Christian Siriano titled Making it on Time.

In this fashion editorial style commercial, Banks creates another view for a woman on the go. It starts out with fashionable women in rush-hour traffic wearing ornate couture gowns. Who then borrow skateboards from unwitting onlookers to get to their event on time (for more on this video visit: www.sophiabanks.com for this film and other inspiring works).

This short was nominated for over 15 awards and won Film Fest Miami. The film was nominated for Best Short, Best Fashion Film, and Best Director at film festivals around the world including; Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival, Moët & Chandon Tribeca Film Festival, Berlin and Milan Fashion Film Festivals, Los Angeles Film Awards and many more.

She brings a raw and exciting element that is unexpected and creates something beautiful and thought-provoking. “It really came down to breaking the mold for me. I feel like there is more focus on empowering women and breaking through stereotypes - but in the fashion world that is still very much a new concept." One that Banks continues to work towards. “Every project that I work on is personal to me. It has to be. That passion is what is the difference in a sort of 'run-of-the-mill' piece of work and a piece of art."

But how did she get to that point? Banks explains further: “after studying and developing your skills as someone newly starting out in this industry, it is important to take on as many projects that you can in order to really hone in on your passions. Most of the time, we might not know which direction we clearly want to go in until we try". I was also able to sit on sets and have the experience of watching directors. I got to sit behind Wim Wenders for a week, which was amazing, plus all the experience I got from just being on set.

Gigs for top brands like Chobani, BMW, Pure Leaf Teahouse, Dell, Cheeky for Target, Doritos, and Ford soon followed as well as work with fashion brands; Pam & Gela, Ralph and Russo, Anine Bing, RSEA, Valentino, and Gen Luxe magazine. Banks has also distinguished herself in the world of music videos with a fast-paced electronic romp for the Aussie band Strange Talk Music, with projects taking her all over the world.

This brings Banks to her latest project, starring Trevor Jackson (Grownish, Superfly), Dylan Penn (Condemned), Dp Paul Cameron (Westworld, Man on Fire), VFX Producer Ivy Agregan (Revenant, Birdman), Producer Peter Winther (Independence Day, Patriot), and Original Score by Liam O'Neil from Kings of Leon.

This sci-fi short titled Unregistered has a unique cast and script all in of itself, but what makes it even more compelling is how Banks, her team, along with PRG North America has accomplished to bring this film to life, as Banks says; “the viewers are going to see what it's like to live in a virtual reality world". And she is putting it mildly. What has been accomplished, in essence, is an entirely new way of visual arts in real time and without the use of greenscreens or after effects by way of superimposing images in post-production. The film is set to launch by the end of this year, and it is absolutely one to look out for.

Sophia Banks is now the CEO of Banks Films and is now in development of their first feature. She hopes to see many more women who have been on the sideline join her in the movement to even out the balance in this male-dominated industry. The quote she lives by is: “The Future is Female" and with all that we have learned, we think that the future is closer than we know.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.