Irish cinema has experienced rapid growth since the turn of the millennium, although female contributions to its various successes are often overlooked. Ireland has no shortage of home-grown artistic talent, male or female, however we tend to place an arguably unfair focus upon our male actors.
That is not to diminish their talent, of course, but it certainly is odd that male artists spring to mind before Irish women. Think of Ireland’s most famous acting exports: Colin Farrell, Michael Fassbender, Cillian Murphy, and Pierce Brosnan probably spring to the tip of your tongue. Perhaps Saoirse Ronan too, if you have an interest in less mainstream cinema or awards ceremonies.
Clearly, we are approaching our cinema industry with an outdated mindset — why do Irish people associate our film and television productions so heavily with men? Do we intentionally ignore our creative and successful women, or is it merely a consequence of a larger male-oriented societal mindset? Saoirse Ronan, needless to say in the face of her three Academy Award nominations, is a powerhouse of the modern screen. She makes acting look effortless, like any true artist, and she will likely be lauded with even more nominations and successful wins as her career progresses.
What about the other women who contribute to our screen productions? In the wake of Wolfwalkers’ Academy Award nomination, it is necessary to first bring attention to Nora Twomey. She has been a consistent behind-the-scenes presence of Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny-based animation studio that has consistently received global and critical acclaim for its work. Twomey has been busy in recent years to say the least — she produced and acted in Wolfwalkers, directed The Breadwinner and The Secret of Kells, and served as voice director for Song of the Sea.
Reared in Limerick, the stunning Ruth Negga also deserves an honourable mention for her role in the television series Preacher, and the acclaimed 2016 romantic drama, Loving. She also gave a superb performance as the titular character in the sold-out theatre production of Hamlet at the Gate Theatre in 2018. Clearly, she has branched out quite broadly into the dramatic scene since she graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BA in Acting Studies.
Returning behind the camera, Dearbhla Walsh was described in 2009 by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism as “one of [Ireland’s] most accomplished directors.” She has received two awards for directing from the Irish Film and Television Awards in 2011 and 2018. Even more impressively, in 2009 she received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special for Little Dorrit, an adaption of a Charles Dickens novel. She has worked on multiple high-profile projects as a director: EastEnders, Shameless, The Tudors, Penny Dreadful, and The Punisher.
This list could be near-endless with the amount of under-appreciated cinematic efforts on our island but another notable mention is the multi-talented Sharon Horgan. Raised on a turkey farm in Meath, Horgan is the creative force behind the successful comedy series, Catastrophe, co-writing and co-starring in each episode. She has won five Irish Film and Television Awards for her work on Catastrophe alone, while it also earned her a British Film and Television Award and a Primetime Emmy Award. Her comedic skill shines through the screen in each episode — her humour and skilled screenplay-writing bounce off the other characters on-screen.
The Irish cinema industry is full of hard-working women who deserve wider recognition, and it’s our own unconscious biases that have let them down. Women deserve more, especially in a country where the arts are treated as an unpaid hobby. Only a shift in societal attitudes can allow for them to rightly share the spotlight with their male counterparts.