Women underrepresented across Canadian film, TV industries: report

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A first-of-its- kind study on gender inequality in the Canadian independent film, and TV and new media production industry was released Tuesday by the Canadian Unions For Equality on Screen (CUES).

Focus on Women 2013 reveals that women are relegated to “female” positions in the industry, earn far less than their male counterparts and work fewer decades because of a lack of opportunities for women generally but especially as they get older.  These gender differences were found in all career positions in film, television and digital media production.

Focus on Women 2013 was conducted by 13 of the various unions and guilds involved in Canada’s screen-based production industry including ACTRA (The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), the Directors Guild of Canada, various IATSE locals (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage), NABET and the Writers Guild of Canada.

The unions worked with Rina Fraticelli, the Executive Director of Women in View and Dr. Amanda Coles of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT).

CRIMT is a Montreal based think-tank which studies issues related to work and employment.

Women in View is an organization dedicated to advancing women’s participation in creative and technical positions in radio, TV, print and gaming and digital platforms.

The CUES report is considered ground-breaking because of the extensive amount of data that was collected and analyzed on employment for those in production roles in front of and behind the camera – everyone from grips to hairdressers to actors, writers and directors.

At a Toronto press gathering for the report on Tuesday, Dr. Amanda Coles, the lead researcher on the study pointed out that the industry is “30 to 50 years behind the times.”

According to the reportwomen in the film and TV industry tend to do “women’s work” –  hair, makeup and wardrobe, script supervision, publicity, and office and administrative jobs – while men dominate the “heavy-lifting” jobs of technical positions such as camera, grip, lighting, sound, construction and special effects.

In the category of script supervision only seven percent of employees were male while 93% were women.  In the costume department 88% of employees were female while only 12% were male.

The report finds that while women show a strong interest in the production process as evidenced by their numbers in the entry–level positions of camera trainee and production assistant, their numbers drop off significantly after they have been in the business for a while.

Moreover, most of the stories seen on-screen are written by men, says CUES. A recent report conducted by Women in View found that of the 139 feature films released in 2010 and 2011, women were only 21% of the screenwriters.

And the earning potential of those female screenwriters drops as they get older.

While 48% of the top female income earners are in the 35-45 age bracket, this slips by half to 24% in the 45-55 age group, according to Focus on Women 2013.

“It makes no sense that women at the height of their careers, when they have mastered their craft and have deep experience, can no longer get work,” WGC president Jill Golick says in the report.

The report suggests that there is a “leaky pipeline” in the industry, where women find themselves running up against the “glass-ceiling” and  “trap-doors” which don’t allow them to flourish and force them to drop out of the industry.

The “glass-ceiling” refers to being excluded from “old boy networks” and presumptions and stereotypes about women that influence hiring practices. At the press conference of the report’s release Dr. Coles explained the “trap-door” in the film and TV industry is  “the bulimic working patterns of productions schedules – no hours one week, 100 hours the next. A woman will be forced to choose between being a mom or being a camera operator.”

The Canadian film, TV and digital media industry made almost $5 billion in 2012 and created more than 100,000 jobs. But those behind the study are not concerned only about those affected by the gender divide in the industry but also by how it affects what we see on the screen. “The media”, they say, “both reflects and shapes how we see the world.”

A report on the Quebec film industry by Réalisatrice Équitables in 2013 showed that “not only are the great majority of films directed by men, but films directed by men are far more likely to feature male characters in leading roles; and female characters in films directed by men strictly conform to gender stereotypes in terms of age and appearance.”

ACTRA National President Ferne Downey, one of CUES founders, said at the event, “We rarely see ourselves in the stories we see in the media. When women are in key positions,that changes what we see on the screen.”

Focus on Women 2013 is the start of a series of annual reports on the state of gender equity in the film, TV and digital media industries.

CUES, Fraticelli and Dr. Coles are at this point calling on the industry to be more pro-active by gathering  data, maintaining checklists for production, training and educating staff and having gender-equity working groups.

Right now the movement towards equity is a grassroots, bottom-up voluntary effort within the unions and the industry.

“It’s not about censoring decisions or imposing numbers”, Fraticelli tells Playback, but eventually they will be calling on all industry and government leaders and funding agencies to play an active role in bringing about gender equity in the same way that Canadian content regulations brought Canadian music to Canadian airwaves.

They hope that within five years there will be a 60/40 split between men and women in terms of the positions they occupy, the money they make and how long they stay in the industry.