Gen­der im­bal­ance is ‘deeply rooted’

Study of Cana­dian di­rec­tors in film, TV re­veals sys­temic sex­ism and racism abound


The num­ber of male di­rec­tors work­ing in Cana­dian film and TV “is alarm­ingly dis­pro­por­tion­ate,” sug­gests a new re­port, which calls for an in­dus­try-wide shift to fix the gen­der im­bal­ance.

Amanda Coles, au­thor of the re­port for Cana­dian Unions for Equal­ity on Screen, says gen­der equal­ity needs to be at the cen­tre of the man­dates of all ma­jor film and TV in­sti­tu­tions.

“There is no one bas­ket of so­lu­tions that’s go­ing to move this for­ward and we need foun­da­tional change,” says Coles, who calls for ac­tion from lead­ers at the Canada Me­dia Fund, Tele­film Canada and the CRTC.

“I know that sounds trite, but this is a very com­pli­cated, deeply rooted so­cial prob­lem in sex­ism and racism, and so we need to go at this from a num­ber of levers.”

The re­port is a fol­lowup to 2013’s “Fo­cus on Women” study, a quan­ti­ta­tive work­force anal­y­sis fea­tur­ing data on gen­der in­equal­i­ties within the screen-based in­dus­try.

The new re­port is more qual­i­ta­tive, fo­cus­ing on di­rec­tors in the Cana­dian film and TV in­dus­tries with the aim of find­ing out why in­equal­i­ties ex­ist and pro­vid­ing so­lu­tions.

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, Coles in­ter­viewed 18 di­rec­tors — seven men, 11 women — with dif­fer­ent lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence and work across a wide range of gen­res. She found that stereo­types around women’s lead­er­ship dis­ad­van­taged them in key roles in film and TV.

“So, when you think ‘direc­tor,’ you think ‘male,’ ” she says, not­ing one direc­tor told her, “They never say, ‘We’re get­ting a straight white guy to come in next week,’ we just as­sume that there’s a straight white guy. He’s wear­ing a base­ball cap, he’s wear­ing Levi’s. That’s the as­sump­tion of a direc­tor.

“They do say, ‘Oh, we’re get­ting a fe­male direc­tor in next week,’ so that’s re­ally re­veal­ing about the stereo­type of lead­er­ship and di­rect­ing that we face.”

Coles says that the path­ways into di­rect­ing are male-dom­i­nated, re­sult­ing in a “sys­temic ad­van­tage” for “white men” when it comes to hir­ing and fi­nanc­ing in film and TV.

“Men are seen to be a less risky in­vest­ment for di­rect­ing than fe­male di­rec­tors,” Coles says.

“When you look at the pro­por­tion of fe­male di­rec­tors in things like shorts, in­de­pen­dent fea­tures, it’s much higher.

“When you get to episodic tele­vi­sion and then ma­jor fea­ture films, by the time you get to ma­jor fea­ture films it’s 4 per cent.”

That 4-per-cent fig­ure was an anal­y­sis of ma­jor Hol­ly­wood, Amer­i­can­fi­nanced films shot glob­ally.

Coles also looked at the di­rec­tors of seven ma­jor U.S. TV shows that shot in Canada be­tween 2014 and 2015.

Three shows, in­clud­ing Han­ni­bal and The Strain, hired no women to di­rect. The other four shows, in­clud­ing Hem­lock Grove and 12 Mon­keys, used just one fe­male direc­tor.

“Now all of those shows come up and get Cana­dian tax cred­its. That’s pub­lic fund­ing,” Coles says.

“So no, the nee­dle’s not mov­ing of­fi­cially in the data yet. And the con­se­quence for that, as women, they then get trapped in this hideous loop, which is, ‘We’re not go­ing to in­vest in you and take a risk on you, a per­ceived risk,’ and then the ar­gu­ment is, ‘Well, you don’t have enough ex­pe­ri­ence.’ ”

Fe­male di­rec­tors also re­ported that at­tain­ing and re­tain­ing ca­reer suc­cess was more dif­fi­cult for them than their male coun­ter­parts and that they felt more pres­sure to per­form.

“They had to be two or three times as good as their male coun­ter­parts,” Coles says. “That’s ac­tu­ally a huge prob­lem for cre­ativ­ity.

“The fe­male di­rec­tors that I worked with just said, ‘I’m so over­pre­pared every time I have to go on set be­cause I know that my work is held to a higher stan­dard than that of my male coun­ter­parts.’ ”

The Cana­dian-shot 12 Mon­keys, star­ring Emily Hamp­shire, used one fe­male direc­tor in the pe­riod stud­ied.

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