Gender inequality in the film and TV industry isn’t just an American thing – it’s a Canadian thing, a French thing, and a British thing too. With few exceptions – Sweden being the main one – women directors are relegated to the back of the world’s filmmaking bus.
That’s the conclusion of a new report out of Canada (read it here) that found that “an overwhelming body of evidence unequivocally demonstrates that the content we consume on our screens, in markets around the world, in all languages, is predominantly generated by men – and Canada is no exception.”
The 40-page report was written for Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen (CUES) by Dr. Amanda Coles of the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication, with assistance from the Directors Guild of Canada. Titled “What’s Wrong with this Picture?”, the study stresses that there are no quick fixes, but cites plenty of places to start.
“Promoting gender equality in the Canadian screen-based production industry requires action and commitment from all industry stakeholders,” the report states. “No single action will, in itself, remediate a problem that is deeply rooted in longstanding industry structures, practices and power relations. Action requires a solid, well-resourced commitment and accountability framework from across the film and television production ecology – and in particular the engagers, the workforce and governments – to ensure foundational change.”
In its lengthy set of recommendations, the report proposed that the Canadian film and TV industry “adopt gender equality as a core principle” and “recognize that the implementation of equality and diversity practice is good for business.” And while many of the report’s recommendations are Canada-specific, many others could be applied to the American film business as well, although it doesn’t mention a potential game-changer here in the U.S. — that the EEOC is currently investigating allegations of discrimination against female film and TV directors.
Citing a recent DGA report, the CUES report notes that several American TV series shot in Canada in 2014-15 had no female directors at all, including The Strain, Hannibal and Falling Skies, which employed 36 directors – all men.
Four other American shows that employed 40 directors in Canada during that time frame – Bates Motel, Hemlock Grove, 12 Monkeys and Covert Affairs – hired only one female director each.
Over 40% of films and TV shows shot in Canada, however, are made for the Canadian market, with television programming accounting for over 88% of the total production activity in the domestic sector – the majority of which is television series production.
And like so many American TV shows shot north of the border that receive Canadian subsidies, many of the subsidized shows produced for the Canadian market are dominated by men in key creative positions.
Canadian shows qualify for the government subsidies based on a points system, with points being awarded based on key creative functions being performed by Canadians.
The CUES report, citing the findings of a 2015 Women in View on Screen report, said that 78% of Canadian television production in 2014-15 received the maximum number of Canadian content points, and that “most of those points were awarded to male Canadian content creators in key creative positions.”
In other words, the Canadian government is subsidizing productions that largely exclude females in key creative positions. That’s true in the U.S. as well, where the vast majority of films and TV shows that receive state and federal tax subsidies are written and directed by men. In the U.S., only one state – New York – is currently considering legislation that would link diversity to production tax credits. That proposed legislation would allocate a tiny portion – $5 million – from the state’s existing $420 million annual tax incentives to go toward the salaries of female and minority writers and directors.
The CUES report cites the Swedish Film Institute as a model of gender equality – something that the highly subsidized Canadian film and TV industry could shoot for. Sweden’s film industry is largely funded by the Swedish Film Institute, which receives its funding, through the Swedish Film Agreement, from the Swedish government and the nation’s film and media industry, including cinema owners.
“The Swedish Film Institute sets an excellent example in valuing gender equality as central to its organizational mandate and funding strategy,” the report states. “The gender equality perspective permeates everything that is done at the Swedish Film Institute: from production funding to the choice of films to promote from the archive, from funding to the screening sector to the recruitment of new personnel. The Film Institute’s goal is to be a gender equal workplace, and also to lay the foundation for gender equality in film production.”
Gender equality was a central goal of Sweden’s 2013 Film Agreement, when it was decided that by the end of 2015, production funding would be divided equally between women and men employed in each of three professional categories: director, screenwriter and producer. “Notably, Sweden reached the goal of 50% funding to women in only two-and-a-half years,” the report said. “They did so with a great deal of political will and a firm commitment to change from the leadership of the Swedish Film Institute.” The report noted that when Anna Serner took the reins of the Swedish Film Institute in 2011, only 26% of the funding went to female directors – a situation that Serner called “a catastrophe.” By 2014, female directors received 50% of the funding, female scriptwriters received 55% of the funding, and female producers 65% of the funding.
Every other country in the world lags far behind, although another bright spot the report cited was Screen Australia, the Australian government’s key funding body for film and television production, which last year announced a five-point plan, titled “Gender Matters,” to address a long history of gender inequality in the Australian film and TV industry.
A 2014 report by France’s National Cinema Center found that 77% of all film directors there are men, although that was up considerably from 2008, when women accounted for only 18.4% of movie directors. Even so, that’s nearly three-times higher than in the U.S., where a 2015 DGA report found that only 6.4% of the films released in the U.S. in 2013 and 2014 were directed by women. The French report also found a huge pay disparity between men and women directors, with women receiving 31.5% lower wages than men.
The gender gap is even worse in England, where a report by Directors UK, a professional association of nearly 6,000 British film and TV directors, found that between 2005 and 2014, only 13.6% of British films were directed by women –more than double the percentage in the U.S. – and that only 14.6% had female screenwriters. By contrast, the WGA reported earlier this year that 16.9% of the American film writing jobs were held by women in 2014.
Stating that this disparity in England is the result of “unconscious, systematic bias,” Directors UK called for half of all public funding of film and TV projects there to be awarded to female-led projects by 2020.
A recent report by the European Women’s Audiovisual Network called “Where are the Women Directors?” found that only 21% of the films in seven European countries studied were directed by a woman in the years 2006-13. “Inequality is being perpetuated by a combination of factors,” that report said, “including the competitive habits of the marketplace, contemporary industry structures, the impact of new technologies and false assumptions about women’s abilities and business risk.”
The Canadian CUES report looked at all of these factors as well, including tokenism. “Most shows that I work on, if they have a woman, it will be me and maybe one other woman, or often it was just me,” said one of the 11 Canadian female directors quoted in the report. “If you hire a woman, they don’t hire other women – they’ve got their woman now and everyone can piss off.”
A large section of the report addresses how the risk-averse nature of the film industry leaves some producers reluctant to hire woman directors because it exposes them to another layer of blame if the film is not successful, noting that producers of flops are never asked: Why’d you hire a man?
“I heard this story,” said a female director. “Somebody said that a woman director directed an episode and it…didn’t go very well and the word from above was, ‘Yeah we tried hiring a woman and it didn’t work out.’ It’s like, ‘We tried hiring a person and it didn’t work out, so we’re not hiring people anymore.’”
The report identified several other key themes that provide insight into the world of being a director in the Canadian film and television industry, including stereotypes about women’s leadership abilities and the pipeline to the director’s chair. Female directors, the report found, “face markedly more blockages into and throughout the pipeline than their male colleagues. In contrast, the pipeline to directing for men seems to flow freely.”
“There are two key aspects to the career pathways into directing that reproduce male privilege in directing,” the report said. “Key occupations that are gateways to directing, including editors, cinematographers and first assistant directors, are themselves male dominated. (And) the advantage that male performers enjoy in their careers as compared to their female colleagues continues to advantage men in transitions into directing careers.”
The report found that in Canada, 97% of the cinematographers who transitioned to directing were men, that 79% of the first assistant directors who became directors were men, and that 75% of the editors who got directing gigs were men.
“Public and private industry stakeholders — including policy and regulatory bodies, producers, broadcasters, investors, financiers and unions — should launch mandatory, accessible, ongoing educational and training programs to promote inclusive, diverse workplaces and work practices,” the report concluded. “In particular, industry leaders should demonstrate an ongoing personal and organizational commitment to effective, measurable change.”