Are we already there? Delays in film and traditional television as streamers set the standard for on-screen gender parity (column) – Diversity | Episode Movies

How will film and television history remember the last two decades of Hollywood gender relations and representation?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission came to town, found evidence of sex discrimination by the major film studios, but left without taking publicly recognized action. Harvey Weinstein’s reign of terror and intimidation ended in such ugly demises in courtrooms on both coasts that his dealings-turned-criminal acts will forever mark him as a true Hollywood monster. And the #MeToo movement announced itself, raising awareness of sexual harassment and abuse and spurring an ongoing reckoning.

I started tracking the number of women working on the screen and behind the scenes in television and film 25 years ago when occasional media reports based on a few anecdotal cases proclaimed that women were enjoying increasing visibility and success. Seeing no evidence of these improvements on screen or behind the scenes, I began a research program at San Diego State University to document women’s representation and employment. Other organizations introduced similar projects. We no longer need to guess how women are faring on the small and big screens.

According to our latest Boxed-In study, the percentage of female characters in original streaming programs is now roughly equal to the percentage of girls and women in the US population. Female characters made up 50% of all main characters in the 2021-22 season and 52% in 2020-21. Programs on broadcast networks have yet to achieve gender parity but are close, with women accounting for 48% of the main characters. The film remains more stubbornly male-centric, with women making up just 35% of the main characters. This is an increase of almost 2 percentage points from 33% in 2011, more than a decade ago.

More challenges remain. In both television and film, female characters are younger than their male counterparts. Our screens are filled with almost twice as many female characters in their 20s as male characters, but roughly twice as many male characters over 60 as female characters. These age differences tell us that women continue to be valued for their youth and beauty, while men are valued for their experience. Men are allowed to age into their power, which normalizes the belief that men somehow come to their power more organically than women. These patterns can be hard to discern when audiences see the stellar performances of Frances McDormand or Jean Smart and assume that on-screen ageism is a thing of the past. The reality is that women with some life experience remain dramatically underrepresented.

After two decades of heightened awareness of this issue, it seems we should be further along. In the summer of 2021, producer and writer Kelly Edwards wrote a guest column for diversity and announced that she would no longer answer “remedial questions” about diversity. But women still make up a minority in key positions behind the scenes in both film and television. In 2021, women made up just 25% of those working behind the scenes in top-grossing films in key roles. This is just an 8 percentage point increase from 17% in 1998. Last year, 92% of films had no female cinematographers, 92% no female composers and 82% no female directors, according to our latest Celluloid Ceiling study.

On television, women made up 31% of those working behind the scenes of broadcast television programs and 37% of streaming programs. 92% of broadcast and streaming programs had no female cinematographers and 79% had no female directors.

In the past two decades, Hollywood has seen more panels and research on inclusion and diversity than it did in the first century of filmmaking. Research reports have armed business leaders with more to-the-point proposals for increasing diversity than have ever been implemented.

Research shows that while television – particularly streaming television – offers hope for enduring gender equality on screen and eventually behind the scenes, broadcast television is stuck and film clearly needs a massive boost. As expectations about the benefits and benefits of inclusion and diversity of all kinds continue to rise and become more ingrained in our culture, the film industry will become increasingly out of sync with demographic trends and culture at large. Streaming television is now taking off, the question is how long it will take for the film industry to catch up.

(Pictured: Jean Smart in HBO Max’s “Hacks”)

dr Martha Lauzen is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University

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