Animator Anna Mantzaris on the gender bias in her industry

The Global Women film campaign launched on International Women’s Day earlier this week, but the inequality faced by women and mothers around the world happens every day. Mantzaris believes it’s not just one day a year that we should be talking about these issues. “I hope the film makes people think and understand that the ‘motherhood penalty’ is a really big issue,” she says. “I hope it brings more awareness, discussion and hopefully leads to speeding up changes towards a more equal work life!” 
As well as this much needed introspection, Mantzaris also sees action as another necessity. Things like intentionally giving opportunities and better salaries to female directors, cinematographers and animators. “We need to be active if we want things to change, not think that they will even out naturally.”
On average, mothers earn 12.5% less than fathers of the same age and education over the course of their career, and the team behind the film wanted to communicate that alarming stat in a memorable way. “If having a baby is the most career-limiting thing a woman can do, then if she doesn’t have a baby she can do all kinds of stupid things and still not be as bad off as a woman with a baby,” explains Mantzaris. “So, we wanted to play with that concept, and have this woman in the film doing all these things that normally would be career-limiting, but she is doing them with a sense of playfulness, free from fearing the consequences. I feel it gets the point across and pushes it to the extreme which makes the message even more clear.”
Mantzaris says one of the reasons she got involved in the project is because the gender pay gap is an issue close to her heart. “It is motivating to work on any project that deals with justice, discrimination of some kind or themes related to that. It adds another layer to the creative process,” she says. “Not only do you get to work on something creative where you love the process of it, but you are also doing it to bring forward an important cause, which makes it really meaningful. Being a woman I’m also seeing a lot of the hidden discrimination and obstacles we face. So I felt that I really knew what I was talking about when I made this film, which again just makes it really meaningful and rewarding to work on.” 
Ultimately the short exposes the absurdity of this sentiment and uses humour to disarm the viewer. “If we just showed a woman being limited in her career by having a baby, I don’t think it would have the same impact,” adds Mantzaris. “In this way it evokes more interest and curiosity, which hopefully leads to a stronger impact in the message.”  Credits:
Creative agency: Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand
Production company: Passion Pictures
Director: Anna Mantzaris
Producer: Becky Perryman
Executive producer: Belle Palmer
DOP: Donna Wade & Jon Muschamp
Animators: Anna Mantzaris, Mark Waring & Tim Allen
Post/VFX: Sara Salcedo
Sound: Craig Matuschka, Liquid Studios
Some of the discrimination Manztaris has seen in the animation and commercial space includes the recurring theme of high-status or high-paying jobs often being occupied by men. “As directors, women often get lower budget projects and with the higher budget projects it’s like the more invisible women are,” she says. “Suddenly, it’s as if people don’t really trust women with big budget projects in the same way.”  [embedded content]
When the director was studying, both during her BA and MA, there was roughly a 50/50 split between men and women in the classroom, and sometimes the balance tipped more towards women. “But still, when I’m working, the majority of people I’m working with are men, and it just makes me wonder what happens to all the women that study? It’s not like they don’t want to work,” says Mantzaris. “I don’t think there is one single reason but rather a lot of things together, and often hidden obstacles, which makes it more difficult for women to progress to higher positions such as director or lead animator.”  Like most issues and injustices, Mantzaris believes the most dangerous thing is to think that sexism is something other people do, or something for other people to address. “There’s this idea that it’s just the openly sexist and evil men that are the problem. But I think most discrimination happens unconsciously and is unintentional,” she notes. “So, we can’t think that this is the problem of others, just because we don’t intend to do anything bad ourselves. We are all carrying a bias, me included. I think it all starts with us and we need to start this change by examining ourselves.” 
After working with the creatives at Saatchi & Saatchi on brainstorming ideas and fleshing out the script, Mantzaris then did all the design and the creation of the puppets at home in her studio in Margate. With the help of a modelmaker, every puppet was made seven times smaller than reality. “The shoot took three weeks, and then around three weeks for post production. So it was a quite quick turnaround! I worked with my cinematographer to set the light, and then I was doing some of the animation and had two different animators coming in on some of the days. Each of the scenes took three to four days to animate,” explains the director.
Despite these hurdles, Mantzaris does feel as though it’s getting better, partly because of the fact these conversations are happening in the open. “It’s definitely more acceptable to talk about and question things these days compared to a few years ago when you would be labelled as complaining or whiny,” she says. “But there is still a long way to go. Just go to any production company and see how many female vs male directors there are.” 
Global Women New Zealand’s campaign for this year’s International Women’s Day saw the platform highlight the ‘motherhood penalty’ in a short animation directed by Passion Pictures director Anna Mantzaris with Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand. The film builds on the concept of the director’s 2019 short film Enough and sees humorous workplace-based sabotage play out to illustrate there is almost nothing a woman can do in the workplace that is more career limiting than having a baby.