by Jarrah Hodge
The shows we see on TV are created by a team of people. In terms of influence on a show’s finances and creative direction, the most important roles are usually directors, writers and cinematographers.
Unfortunately, a new report from the non-profit Women in View has found huge gaps in women’s representation in these key roles on Canadian TV shows. There is also a significant lack of representation of people of colour and First Nations people behind the camera. That means that even when the stories we see are about women or people of colour, chances are they were written, filmed and directed by white men (see a telling picture here). Women in media industries tend to work disproportionately in what the report calls “taking care” roles (line producers, production managers, etc.) or stereotypically feminine jobs like hair and makeup.
“I would like to believe that talent and hard work will pay off in terms of opportunities for people to earn a living in this industry; yet, it is well known that the screenwriting profession poorly reflects the diversity of society and is much more hospitable to white middle-aged males than to women, racialized minorities and seniors,” said Ryerson professor Dr. Charles Davis. “Despite the emphasis of Canadian cultural policy on the development and telling of screen stories that reflect all Canadians, the directing, cinematography and screenwriting occupations in this country are dominated by middle-aged white men.”
Some key stats coming out of the report:
Putting together this research, WIV studied the 21 Canadian live action TV series with the highest levels of investment (between $1M and $9.1M per series) from the Canada Media Fund in their 2010-2011 year. Some of the shows they looked at were Being Erica, The Borgias, Call Me Fitz, Heartland, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle and Rookie Blue.
These gaps show that women, First Nations people and people of colour are missing out on significant economic opportunities. Just under $100 million went into the series studied in the WIV report, and the Canadian media industry on the whole contributed $5.49 billion to our GDP in 2011.
Then there’s the lost opportunities to “call the shots” and contribute creatively to what we we end up seeing on TV, which impacts our society.The report found five men employed as directors for every woman on these series. There were more women employed as writers (36%), but it was largely male writers who got to work multiple episodes.
In terms of the patterns around employing people of colour and First Nations people, the report notes that their employment was confined to a few specific series. All the First Nations writers and directors were employed exclusively on two series for APTN, while 62% of the series employed no writers or directors of colour of any gender. If the diversity of our society isn’t being reflected behind the camera it undoubtedly influences what we see on screen.
In her Toronto Star op-ed, WIV Executive Director Rina Fraticelli says:
Old patterns die hard; they don’t need to be artificially reinforced by media industries steering through the rear view mirror. With Canadians watching more than 30 hours a week of television, it’s important that the Canada they are being shown is the Canada they’re living in.