“For more strong female characters to be depicted on film,
there needs to be more female directors at the helm of these films.”

Gender inequality has been the subject of a longstanding conversation in the film industry – but the issue is two-fold.

Off screen, there lies a serious underrepresentation of women in lead filmmaking roles.

A recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film illustrates this point. For example, for 2013, the study showed that women accounted for a mere 16 percent of the writers, directors and producers behind top-grossing US films; compared with 26 percent when looking at feature-length American independent films that screened at festivals in the same year.

Meanwhile, on screen, the visualization of women, which can be a force for empowerment and change, is equally important to shifting the gender equality discussion. Similar to the “you can’t be what you can’t see” ethos of LeanIn.org and their partnership with Getty Images to promote powerful depictions of women via the Lean In Collection, similar strides must be made in film if the state of affairs is to improve.

There’s a simple answer.

“For more strong female characters to be depicted on film, there needs to be more female directors at the helm of these films,” said Desiree Akhavan, the writer, director and star of “Appropriate Behavor” and new cast member on HBO’s “Girls .”

She should know. In “Appropriate Behavior,” Akhavan’s lead character, Shirin, is struggling to find her identity and where she fits in in the world – among her family, her friends and her community.  With Desiree writing, directing and portraying Shirin in the film, viewers see a strong and genuine character and one many women can identify with.

“I think most people are in touch with their true selves, we’re just so wrapped up in shame and self-doubt that we censor ourselves,” she said of creating a relatable character in Shirin. “I very much hope and believe that seeing depictions of strong/entitled/empowered women on screen has a positive effect.”

The film, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and is currently in theaters in LA and NY as well as on iTunes, is certainly a step toward gender equality in cinema. But the fact that the film was independently produced helped, Akhavan said.

“Indie film is a completely different beast from Hollywood films,” Akhavan said. “There’s a lot more freedom when you’re working with a smaller budget and producers are much more willing to take risks.”