This march is International Women’s Month, with people across the globe celebrating the women who inspire them. Quite a few of these women have been characters from TV, with many people describing how their favourite female characters and actresses motivate them. This in itself is a good indication of how things have improved in terms of representation of Women in TV and there’s some good examples of this. From actress Ellen Pompeo who earns over $20 million per season of the hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, to Phoebe Waller-Bridge who’s been responsible for some of the past few year’s best television including Flea Bag and Killing Eve.
There’s also been some hit shows that feature a female driven cast including Netflix’s Glow, Orange is the New Black and the BBC’s Killing Eve. These last few years have seen some fantastic women led TV shows across all genres.
Yet, while there have been some huge improvements, there is still an unbalance. A study conducted by Women and Hollywood found that in 2017-18 only 11% of TV shows featured an equal number of male and female characters, with women comprising only 40% of all speaking characters. These statistics become even more worrying if ethnicity is factored in, with female Latina characters in speaking roles reaching only 7%, this is an all-time high.
Nevertheless, the simple fact that people are noticing the lack of representation is an improvement. With several large scale publications regularly publishing articles calling for more representation or highlighting cases of particularly good female characters.
It should be noted that while there have been improvements in front of the camera, representation of those behind the scenes is still lacking. An article from Variety quoted statistics from Mount Saint Mary’s University that showed women occupied only 30% of key creative, behind-the-scenes positions in primetime TV during 2016-17. Even worse, women made up only 11% of showrunners in the 2016-17 season, with only 2% of showrunners for 2016-17 being women of colour. These statistics, while bad, do show a small but steady increase suggesting that change is slowly happening.
Perhaps one of the best indicators that change is slowly happening is the recent Instagram advert from Netflix featuring Uzo Aduba going through different settings featuring different members of minority groups being involved in the making of TV and film. The tagline for the advert was ‘More room, More stories, More voices’ showing that one of the biggest media sites is trying to promote those who have been locked out of the process in the past, women being one of those groups.
One of the most interesting points from the study in Variety is that women were much more likely to be employed by other women in the TV industry. If a program had at least 1 female creator, women would account for 45% of writers and 27% of directors. Whereas shows without a female creator only 16% of its writers would be female and 13% of it’s directors would be women. This could indicate that the steady increase of women in industry roles will likely lead to even more women being employed and being able to tell their stories. This effect can already be seen with people like Shonda Rhimes, who has a huge collection of shows under her belt – giving women, and several other often underrepresented groups the chance to get involved in the industry, changing things from within.
Progress has been made, but as always, more has to happen to ensure everyone has the chance to tell their stories.