Picture a Scientist
An eye-opening documentary that highlights the severity of harassment and gender bias faced by female scientists at the pinnacle of their respective fields, Picture A Scientist (co-directed and co-produced by Ian Cheney and Sharon Shattuck) gives a number of these scientists a platform to talk about their own experiences of working in the industry. Told using a series of candid interviews, this feature provides an intimate and brutally honest insight into the unseen world of sexism at prestigious institutions.
This is a crucial piece of viewing that helps us to understand the extent of issues that many may not even know exist. Each of the subjects fill the contents of the project with personal anecdotes about the inequality and bullying they have faced throughout their professional careers, and through interviewing scientists of different age demographics, the filmmakers are able to illustrate over half a century’s worth of these issues in the women’s own words. These personal stories are further illustrated with a visual metaphor of a textbook that highlights numerous statistics to drive the point home. The most startling of these is an image of an iceberg used to represent the amount of harassment that happens behind closed doors; watching this as it becomes increasingly large is a chilling sight.
As important as it is to see these statistics and hear these women’s stories, Picture a Scientist is equally a catalyst to launch its message into public discussion. Through using a selection of male subjects, one of which is connected (but not involved) in the most egregious story of bullying, the documentary is able to engage in a meaningful dialogue that adds further depth to the subject at hand without ever lecturing or patronising viewers.
As is with the case of many documentaries that deal with hard-hitting realisations, there is a glimmer of hope here too. However, the film doesn’t seem sure of how exactly it should handle its ending. There are least four possible moments where it feels like the final point is being made, yet another is posed immediately after. Thankfully, though, it saves its most poetically apt point for last.
Although this documentary shines a positive light on the change that is happening, the story that these women have started is a long way from being over. Picture a Scientist will hopefully play an important role in the next chapter of this narrative.
Picture a Scientist does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Tribeca Film Festival 2020 coverage here.