Who Run the World? Girls? (I think?)
The above image is from the ‘Woman and Hollywood’ website for the 2014-2015 television season. This year’s figures haven’t been released yet. Though of course not nearly half as bad as it must have been decades ago, there are discrepancies in the data. Yes, 42% of characters on network television—with speaking parts—are female. What this study doesn’t show us is how many of these characters are lead characters, and how many are supporting. As seen above, it simply says that 28.4% of female actresses have speaking roles in the last five years.
More alarmingly, in the next table, there shows a discrepancy in age between male and female actors:
The majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s (60%), whereas the majority of male characters were in their 30s and 40s (55%).
This isn’t groundbreaking news. There have been reports everywhere discussing the age difference between male and female actors—especially when you consider that the female usually plays the much-younger love interest.
Women Behind the Camera—is it any better?
Well…no. In fact, it’s a far bleaker picture. But why is this important? In a Variety interview, Dr. Martha Lauzen said:
People tend to create what they know and having lived their lives as females, women tend to be drawn to female characters. We need to have greater diversity behind the scenes if this is going to change.
But when “27% of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working on broadcast programs” is there a feasible solution? Even worse, “45% of programs employed 4 or fewer women in the roles considered. Only 4% of programs employed 4 or fewer men.”
In an age where social media spreads like wildfire, petitions get made and word gets out on platforms like Tumblr, young people are growing in self-awareness of the imbalance of this situation. Much like university courses such as engineering, in which more and more females are enrolling, this should be the case for television. Looking at the figures, it clearly is not.
Change won’t happen overnight. But more and more television shows are picking up the mantle. Syfy’s ‘Killjoys‘ and ‘Wynonna Earp‘ spring to mind. The web-series ‘Carmilla‘ (now being made into a movie) is also thrown into the mix. It’s not revolutionary, but it isn’t ignored.
The Good News and an Obvious Fact.
Here’s the thing: women are funny. Look at superstars like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, with their breakout roles in the laugh-out-loud ‘Bridesmaids’. Furthermore, Kate McKinnon is hot property at the moment. Possibly the funniest member of SNL, McKinnon stepped into the limelight as the bizarre genius Holtzmann in ‘Ghostbusters’, winning her a legion of devoted fans.
(See: ‘Orange is the new Black‘).
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson dare you not to laugh at ‘Broad City‘. It’s impossible. Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz are stars of comedy ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘. We had Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi as Root and Shaw respectively in CBS’ successful ‘Person of Interest‘, whilst Alycia Debnam-Carey has stolen the hearts of many for her portrayals as Commander Lexa (‘The 100‘) and Alicia Clark (‘Fear the Walking Dead‘). And there’s Taraji P. Henson ready to stab you with her stiletto on ‘Empire’.
Let’s not forget ‘Wynonna Earp’. There isn’t really much that needs to be said about ‘Wynonna Earp’ other than thank you, Emily Andras and Beau Smith Ranch. A legendary lawman such as Wyatt Earp should have a demon-hunting heir who rocks a leather jacket (with tassels!) and great hair. If Superman can disguise himself with a pair of glasses, then Wyatt Earp’s descendants can be ass-kicking descendants, wielding cool guns and embarking on a quickly-beloved same-sex relationship in ‘WayHaught’ (Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Katherine Barrell’s Waverly and Nicole).
Wait—so what are you moaning about, then?
Whilst more television shows are beginning to integrate females as leads, or co-leads, there’s an ugly side to the industry. What about CBS’ ill-fated revamp of ‘Nancy Drew’, featuring Sarah Shahi as the eponymous heroine?
It’d make sense if the pilot had been rubbish. We know Shahi has an excellent acting range, judging by her performances in ‘Life’ and ‘Person of Interest’. It had reportedly been tested well with audiences. The combination of a beloved story plus Shahi’s name was sure to be a guaranteed success—until it was cancelled before it had even aired for skewing ‘too female‘. It spawned an angry backlash, with the hashtag #TooFemale trending for hours on Twitter.
And then there’s the frankly ridiculous lack of diversity:
77% of female characters were white, 15% were African-American, 3% were Latina, 4% were Asian, and 1% were of some other race or ethnicity.
How on earth is that representative of the world’s population? Is every programme set in some white suburban neighbourhood? Is there a serious cause of brown-face going on? We don’t know the cause—but we do know of the uproar Zendaya caused after she was cast as Mary-Jane in Spiderman. ‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling had to shut down racist comments after a black actress was cast as Hermione Granger.
So is that the problem? One that nobody shall admit to? Television and film are catered for the viewers anyway—but do viewers want diversity? Even in ‘iconic’ roles—some of which haven’t even been explicitly stated as one race or another?
To come full-circle, this is yet another article pin-pointing some worrying statistics in the television and film industry. But if we don’t speak about it, then who will?
Actresses have spoken of their experiences in the film industry. SNL’s parody was ludicrous but hit the nail on the head—despite those problems (if SNL-style exaggerated) very much in the past. Smaller productions like ‘Carmilla’ have been led by producer Stephanie Ouaknine and writer Jordan Hall. ‘Wynonna Earp’ has been notably spear-headed by Emily Andras, with fellow writers in her team such as Caitlyn D. Fryers and Alexandra Zarowny. In an in-depth interview with AfterEllen, Andras states:
I did talk to (Dominique Provost-Chalkley, who plays Waverly) and (Katherine Barrell, who plays Officer Haught) a lot about the passionate LGBT community and how important it is that they see themselves represented on television as people, not as tropes. And the one thing I talk about a lot is I really want to make the relationship about the relationship. Not every lesbian or gay or whatever relationship is the same in the same way not every straight relationship is the same. That’s one thing I really learned from Lost Girl. Conflict should come from whom the characters are, not the fact that they’re gay or straight or other.
Thus it’s a mistake to just talk of female representation. What of race? Sexual orientation? Gender identity? There are subgroups within that subgroup, and whilst it may seem simple on the surface, it isn’t when you delve deeper.
What do you think about this topic? Has a show/character represented you? Do you think it’s important? Let us know @TVAfterDark!
For now, let’s just enjoy this Hannah John-Kamen scene (‘Killjoys’).