Straight Outta Compton actress Maria Sten on being a woman in the LA film industry
‘You should know this love scene or script, you’re a girl’
Women in the entertainment industry are hitting a wall. They are not being credited, paid, or acknowledged for their work half as much as their male counterparts. Stories are being created across the world from some of the strongest, most creative female minds and yet very few get the recognition they deserve. After a year of living in Los Angeles, I found that there are a select group of women that are taking serious initiative and doing it for themselves in the most competitive industry in the world: film.
One of those individuals is Maria Sten.
If you have any interest in being a woman in Hollywood, she’s the authority on how it’s done.
You might recognise Sten from hit film Straight Outta Compton, but when I meet her in a cafe in West Hollywood we talk about her latest project When It Burns, which has just been shortlisted for the Uptown Short Film Festival. Sten takes human nature as the subject of her latest project; a dark drama that tells the story of Kate and Luke, two young lovers struggling with their inner demons, their dreams and their interpretations of love.
“Through themes like insufficiency, indulgence, self-compromise, addiction and indirect violence we witness how the more some people feel like they need each other, the more damage they do by staying together. I wanted to lay the circumstances out in such a way that we can understand both sides of their struggle, and also to forebode how everyday relationship problems such as financial difficulties and miscommunication could be a downwards spiral in to darkness.” Sten says as we sit in the diner-style booths.
Writing, directing, producing and starring in your own film is no mean feat, especially for a woman in the entertainment industry.
“Professionalism is such an important quality in this industry, but some people will inevitably blur the lines more than they probably would in an office setting,” Sten says of working in one of the world’s many male dominated industries, “Another nuisance is being made a spokesperson for the entire female sex, [people ask] ‘Why is it that you women do [insert derogatory comment here]?’ or ‘You should know this love scene or script, you’re a girl’. As a woman, or a person of colour for that matter, generalisations are rarely fun, and rarely accurate.”
What is a particular dark side of the industry that our readers might not believe to be true, but actually is?
“You will beyond a doubt encounter men who think you’re willing to do anything to get ahead. Some even think that it’s completely normal. I find them to be the worst kind of human beings on the planet; taking advantage of a person’s most sacred dream of being an actress, writer, model, is atrocious.”
Luckily, women like Maria are promoting change and influencing new rhetoric on the way women are perceived by the entertainment industry.
“On the flip side, it’s been my experience that if you are a woman who is independent, driven, and focused on the craft you’re here to do, people acknowledge that and gravitate towards that; I believe the respect you get is measured by your integrity. I myself have not experienced too much male dominion, and on my own projects I make a point to have at least 50 per cent female cast and crew. I like working with strong female characters as much as I like writing for them and playing them.”
So what is the future for women in Hollywood?
“I’ve heard the phrase ‘women can’t make action films or male driven films’ which is of course ridiculous. Kathryn Bigelow has shown us that, among others. There has been brought a lot of attention to this ‘Women in Hollywood’ issue lately, and I see women directors, producers and star names break the barriers, one project at a time. It’s so great to see women supporting other women, working together in excellence. We are expanding the playing field rather than buying in to the notion that all of us are competing for the same one female spot.”