According to a recent article in The Guardian, once again female acts are underrepresented at all levels of some of the U.K.’s biggest festivals, from the headliners on down.
Here are some of the excuses organizers had:
Melvin Benn, the managing director of Festival Republic, the promoter behind Wireless, said the festival – which sold out in 24 hours – had approached “17 or 18 more acts” but was unable to secure them because of touring diaries and record schedules. He added: “Within the genre, there are insufficient women across the board that are strong ticket sellers.”
Green Man director Fiona Stewart, part of the festival’s “roughly 90%” female curatorial team, said: “We want to have more women at the top of the bill, but it has been hard this year and there is an industry-wide issue of fewer female acts available at all levels that has affected the booking process.”
Okay, I admit to laughing out loud (ruefully) at that. I just don’t get how they don’t get it. These are some of the U.K.’s biggest festivals. They’re not in trouble in any way. Their reputations are so strong that they elevate artists as much as the reverse is true.
Yet, they shy away from doing so and thus perpetrate the cycle.
Take the television show Atlanta for example. Creator Donald Glover saw that black people were underrepresented in writers rooms across television. Basically, he couldn’t find headline talent for his show. Instead, he took a chance and reached deep to find black writers for his show, and in turn they created the most critically acclaimed show on television. There’s a whole writers room now of black writers who have a headline show on their resume now. That’s breaking the cycle.
And Atlanta didn’t even have the already pre-established reputation that some of these festivals have. Yet, maybe they’re afraid to fail. Just like Wonder Woman was a huge flop as soon as they passed the mantle of the DC franchise over to a woman director and a female lead.
People show up when they’re represented. We’ve seen it time and time again. Yet women and people of color continue to have to prove it, over and over again. Because most of the decision-makers aren’t listening and they’re not women or people of color who inherently know this.
What should these festivals do? Maybe you’ll have to try harder. Maybe you’ll have to reach to what you perceive as further down the bench to find enough women to give your lineup balance. Do it. Elevate their reputations, so that next year, you can invite her back as a headliner without all the concern about her past achievements because she’s now the equal headline she deserved to be the whole time. Because you gave her the opportunity that, up until that moment, was only available to men.
Now go read some of our interviews with great women artists and artists of color.