A report commissioned by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has found a wide gap between male and female writers working across film and TV — with no significant improvement over a period of 10 years. Among the findings, 16% of all working film screenwriters in the UK are female while 14% of primetime TV drama is predominantly written by women.
The report, titled “Gender Inequality and Screenwriters,” gathered data from over 30 sources and examined the decade from 2005-2015. Figures reveal “the serious lack of authentic female voices and their opportunity to tell their stories.” More than half of respondents to a survey of WGGB members conducted by the authors of the report suggested they had seen evidence of discrimination over the course of their careers.
The findings have spurred the Equality Writes campaign which calls on the industry to effect positive change. Short-term goals include program-level TV equality monitoring data to be released and public funders to pledge a 50/50 split between male and female-written films by 2020. This comes amid the Time’s Up movement and as pushes for equality of opportunity for all under-represented groups dominate industry discussion. Earlier this year, a group of 76 TV drama writers signed an open letter of protest to UK broadcasters when ITV revealed that its drama slate for 2018 had only one female writer out of nine. The BFI also has its own set of diversity standards which were set up in 2016 and have seen solid uptake.
The Gender Inequality report says the percentage of TV episodes written predominantly by women over 10 years is 28%, dropping to 14% for primetime, 11% for comedy and 9% for light entertainment. That’s despite a number of the most commercially successful and critically well-received TV drama and comedies being created and written by women including Victoria (Daisy Goodwin), Call The Midwife (Heidi Thomas), Girlfriends (Kay Mellor), Happy Valley (Sally Wainwright), Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Catastrophe (Sharon Horgan).
Meanwhile, budgets for male-written films are, on average, higher. Eleven percent of UK features are predominantly female-written and fewer than 7% of films with a budget over £10M are predominantly written by a woman, the report claims. Combining budget data with UK and worldwide box office gross, the report says that films written mostly by female writers tend to be have higher revenues, both domestically and internationally, than those written predominantly by their male counterparts. Examples of female screenwriters writing commercially successful and critically well received films include Jane Goldman (the Kingsman series, The Woman In Black), Abi Morgan (Suffragette) and Emma Thompson (Bridget Jones’ Baby).
WGGB President Olivia Hetreed, a BAFTA nominee for Girl With A Pearl Earring, says, “I have been asked about the dearth of female screenwriters in this country ever since my first feature film put me into that endangered species bracket. I and others were reassuring: ‘It’s just a matter of time. It’s getting better. It will work itself out.’ But more than a decade later, this new research shows that the number of women writing films has flatlined at abjectly low levels. Female-written films are more successful and more popular than average, but the new research explains why market forces don’t operate in the face of the risky financing and old-fashioned hiring practices of UK filmmaking. Faced with such clear evidence we expect that commissioners, especially public funders, will work much harder to give equal opportunities to women and other under-represented writers, who in turn will produce work reflecting all our hopes, fears and aspirations.”
The Equality Writes campaign counts such supporters as Sandi Toksvig, Kay Mellor, Jack Thorne, Katherine Ryan and more. Says Mellor, “No woman writer has got through without a struggle and it’s criminal that I can count on one hand how many women signature writers there are on TV right now. Sometimes it takes a collective to say, ‘this is not fair’ and it’s not. It’s time things changed.”