In the early days of Hollywood, it wasn’t uncommon to see women working the most pivotal positions. In Shelly Stamp’s article, “Women and the Silent Screen”, she writes “The top screenwriters were women, the highest paid director at one point was a woman; and women held key leadership roles in the studios as executives and heads of departments like photography, editing, and screenwriting” (181). Unlike many industries, Hollywood would eventually take a step back in regards to gender equality and stop hiring women for vital behind-the-scenes positions. While women were responsible for half of all screenplays written in the silent era of film, according to Cari Beauchamp’s book Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood, numbers have dropped significantly for female screenwriters in Hollywood. While it has taken many years to improve the statistics of females in film and television, a recent study has given hope to women aiming to join the entertainment industry.
The 22nd annual Boxed In report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University revealed where women currently stand in the television industry. The study examined over 5,100 characters and more than 5,000 behind-the-scenes credits on various TV shows. The study is conducted by randomly selecting an episode of a series appearing on basic cable channels (such as AMC), broadcast networks (such as ABC), premium cable channels (such as HBO), and streaming services (such as Netflix).
In the 2018-2019 season, female characters made up 45% of all speaking characters across comedies, dramas, and reality shows on broadcast, cable, and streaming. This marks a 40% rise from 2017-2018. Women that work behind the scenes as creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography, in television raised from a high of 28% in 2017-2018 to a new high of 31% in 2018-2019.
Dr. Martha Lauzen, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, said,
It is heartening to see moderate but widespread gains for female characters and women working behind the scenes this year, but we need to consider the numbers within the larger context of women’s employment in television. In 2018-19, women comprised 26% of directors. This is a historic high, up from 17% in 2017-18. However, men continue to direct the vast majority of programs. In this context, ‘historic high’ still means that men outnumber women 3 to 1 in this role.
Despite the rise in numbers, women are still struggling to be noticed in the male dominated industry. The study found that 77% of shows examined had no women creators 79% had no women directors, 96% of the programs considered had no women directors of photography, 77% had no women editors.