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Women still getting left behind in Canadian film and TV biz: study

Women are making strides in some areas, but Indigenous women and women of colour are woefully underrepresented.

Women are making strides in some areas, but Indigenous women and women of colour are woefully underrepresented

Sarah Polley is one of Canada's best-known female directors. However a new study shows that women still have a long way to go before they're on equal ground in the Canadian film and TV biz.

Women are making inroads in some areas of the Canadian film and TV business, but in others they're still woefully underrepresented — especially women of colour and Indigenous women.

That's the gist of a new report by the non-profit organization Women in View that analyzed 5,000 film and TV contracts between 2014 and 2017.

The study looked at key roles including writing, directing and cinematography on Canadian network TV series and Telefilm-funded English-language films.

There was some good news: between 2014 and 2017, women went from filling 17 percent of the jobs to 28 percent, which represents a significant jump.

However just 1.81 percent of the contracts went to women of colour, and Indigenous women landed a paltry .69 percent.

In television in 2017, no directing, writing or cinematography roles went to Indigenous women. Of the 3,206 television contracts issued during the full four-year period, just 22 went to Indigenous women, and only 12 of 1,637 film contracts.

Just .87 percent of writing roles and 5 percent of directing jobs went to women of colour.

Over four years in Canadian television, women went from having 17 percent of key creative roles to 28 percent; however over that time, the number of Indigenous women actually fell. (Women in View On Screen Report)

Interestingly, when women were the showrunners (that is, the lead producer on a TV show), other women were far more likely to land work — a phenomenon the study dubbed "The Showrunner Effect."

On programs with a female showrunner in 2017, 53 percent of positions went to women; when shows had a male showrunner, however, just 14 percent of positions went to women. In other words, when a man was at the helm, 86 percent of positions went to other men.

When women were showrunners (that is, the lead producers on TV shows) they were far more likely to hire women in key creative roles — especially if they were Indigenous or women of colour. (Women in View On Screen Report)

On the film side, in 2017 women accounted for 25 percent of writing, directing and cinematography contracts, but just 4 percent were women of colour and none were Indigenous.

Like the showrunner effect in TV, when films had female producers, in particular women of colour, they were far more likely to hire women. When men produced, just 20 percent of the jobs went to women; when women produced, 35 percent of the contracts went to women. When women of colour produced, 66.7 percent of contracts went to other women.

Gender balance varied from region to region, with Atlantic Canada showing a slightly lower percentage of women's produced projects, at 28.6 percent. Ontario had the highest number of projects produced by women of colour, at 9.09 percent. Quebec had the lowest number of projects directed by women, but the highest number of projects produced by women, at 35.1 percent.

In film, when men produced, over 80 percent of the key creative roles went to other men. When women of colour produced, nearly 70 percent of key creative roles went to women. (Women in View On Screen Report)

The study also found that public hiring targets work. "In 2016, CBC made a commitment to work towards hiring at least 50 percent women directors on all scripted television series," says the study. "The results were dramatic – a 15 percent increase in women's share of directing work in a single year."

The report also outlines five steps to achieve parity in film in television, among them committing to 50 percent women in creative leadership roles; committing to including women of colour and Indigenous women; setting concrete, measurable targets and making them public; opening doors to new and under-represented talent; and balancing funding between men and women.

"We are proud to be able to share extensive data on the participation of women of colour and Indigenous women throughout this report," said Tracey Deer, board chair of Women in View in a release. "Although the numbers are dreadful, they provide us with a baseline and we can work from here to improve them."

Broadcasters and other employers can take the industry to 50:50 in the next two years. There are many qualified women, they just have to hire them.- Jill Golick, executive director of Women in View

"The numbers may seem dismal, but Canada has enough experienced and credited women showrunners, writers, directors and producers to take on 50 percent of the work today," said Jill Golick, executive director of Women in View. "Broadcasters and other employers can take the industry to 50:50 in the next two years. There are many qualified women, they just have to hire them."

Founded in 2008, Women in View is a national not-for-profit dedicated to improving gender and cultural diversity in Canadian media on screen and behind the scenes. Since 2012, the group's On Screen Reports have tracked numbers of women writers, directors and cinematographers in Canada's publicly funded film and TV industry.

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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