UK TV and Film: Mind the (Gender) Gap

Published: 9 December 2014

Country: UK

Mary_McGuckianOnly one in ten film directors in the UK are women. Those female directors, who are the most employed women in the British film industry, are at the bottom of the lists when both genders are represented. Professions like filmmaking, screenwriting and editing remain largely dominated by men. Women are left in charge of make-up, casting and costume departments, which are traditionally regarded as female domains.

The findings are related to the period 2003 – 2013 and were compiled by writer and producer Stephen Follows.  According to his report, women are better represented in producing than in writing and directing. Still, only 25 of the top 104 UK producers are women.

Tessa Ross is listed as 2nd in the list of 10 most employed producers in UK. She is the only woman on the list. Meanwhile the only female screenwriter on the list of most employed screenwriters is J.K. Rowling, ranked number 7.

Back in summer, Follows published an extended report on UK and US markets – What percentage of a film crew is female? The results showed that women make up 26.2% of crew members on British films and 22.2% of crew members on American films in the period from 2009 to 2013.

“The results are pretty shocking, and should hopefully serve as a wake- up call to parts of the industry.  I don’t believe that the majority of the industry is fundamentally sexist or anti-women but when you look at these results, especially over time, it’s plain to see that something is wrong and it isn’t fixing itself,” Follows wrote in his blog.

He would like to see his reports generate a genuine debate about the gender gap in the film industry.

“ It’s not that I think the industry is institutionally sexist but I really don’t think this has even been a conversation and so I would hope even being conscious of the gender split will begin to instigate change”, Follows said for the Guardian.

The situation in British television is not promising either.  The study by Directors UK which represents 5,000 radio and television broadcasters, found that only 8% of television drama directors last year were women.

Beryl Richards, one of the authors of the study, told the Telegraph: “The study had found anecdotal evidence of women being asked in job interviews about their family commitments, or being offered work only on dramas about children or families.”

Gender inequality is not entrenched only behind the scene. Though people are used to see the presence of women in films, the gender bias exists on the set, too. And this is not solely a British problem. It is worldwide.

The first-ever global study on female characters in films commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media with the support of UN Women revealed a large gender gap and stereotyping of women in the global film industry.

“The fact is – women are seriously under-represented across nearly all sectors of society around the globe, not just on-screen, but for the most part we’re simply not aware of the extent,” said actress Geena Davis, founder of the Institute.

Only about 22.5 per cent of the fictional on-screen workforce is comprised of women, and when they are employed, less than 15 per cent of them are portrayed as business executives, political figures, or science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM) employees.

“How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions today in movies”, said Davis.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said that this must be a message for the industry to take the things in their hands.

“With their powerful influence on shaping the perceptions of large audiences, the media are key players for the gender equality agenda. With influence comes responsibility. The industry cannot afford to wait another 20 years to make the right decisions,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.

*Photo by New Line – © 2004 New Line Cinema