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New study on TV highlights lack of women behind the camera

Cathy Schulman (far right), president of Women in Film, says a new report on women in TV reflects a
Cathy Schulman (far right), president of Women in Film, says a new report on women in TV reflects a "flatlining of numbers that’s been going on since 1998. (Also pictured, L-R, Betty Thomas, Angela Robinson and Catherine Hardwicke.)
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A new study looks at how the major television networks and some streaming services fare when it comes to hiring women behind the camera, and how women are characterized on camera.

The report, from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, found that 70 percent of episodes studied from last year’s TV season had no female creators, 86 percent had no female directors, 70 percent had no female writers, 78 percent had no female editors, and 98 percent had no female directors of photography.

Graphs from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film's "Boxed In" study. 

But there were some bright spots. Broadcast programs that had at least one woman executive producer featured more female characters and employed more women directors, writers and editors than programs with no women executive producers.

What’s more, on programs with at least one woman executive producer, females made up 43 percent of major characters.  On programs with no women executive producers, females accounted for only 37 percent of characters.

To get some insight and reaction to the new study, The Frame’s John Horn spoke with Oscar-winning producer Cathy Schulman. She’s president of Women in Film, a Hollywood nonprofit that helps promote women in the entertainment, communication and media industries.

Interview Highlights 

What do these new numbers from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film tell you?

Well, I think what we’re seeing, unfortunately, is a continuing flatlining of numbers that’s been going on since 1998. If we look at that new report today from Martha Lauzen, we see a pattern that we’ve become very accustomed to, unfortunately, in this area of social science. That said, I think that the report also indicates a couple of flickering areas of change and some optimistic things along the way.

Why don’t men hire more women? What’s the fundamental issue or problem there?

Women in Film and the Sundance Institute and a number of other organizations have been trying to get to the bottom of this for a long time. And generally, the research indicates that the reasons for this are rather mythological. We tend to run into [fallacies] like men being fearful that women are too busy multitasking to manage money properly. Or perhaps that they’re too emotional to manage money properly. But we haven’t come up with any hard data that would suggest that there’s an actual reason.

We should add that, today, Nina Tassler stepped down as the head of CBS, only to be replaced by a man. You are a top production executive at a new studio called STX Entertainment. What are you going to do in terms of the people you hire?

I feel an enormous responsibility, at least in my case ... I’ve made my personal pledge to condition myself to make sure there is no decision that happens in terms of hiring that doesn’t take into consideration qualified men and women at equal amounts. And my cultural responsibility inside of a major motion picture studio is to help change these cultural mores. Oftentimes I point things out within our own walls and everybody finds themselves in shock that we actually just managed to make a decision without including a woman. It’s not as if there’s any intention to do so, it’s just as if there is typecasting on a global level. And we all need to make changes and we need to speak up. The women who are in these roles, and there are certainly a few of us, we can’t be scared. I mean, we all are scared because, people like myself, we worry if we make a stink, we become noisy and annoying, and we could lose our jobs. But until these numbers are shifted and until women are making up 50 percent of each and every gatekeeping job subset, we have to continue to make this change. It’s the right thing for the companies. I firmly believe it’s the right thing for economics, which is the most important thing to these companies. And I firmly believe it’s the right thing for not only cultures here, but worldwide.

But do people in the business read these studies? There have been so many studies that keep saying the same things, which is that women are not fairly represented behind and in front of the cameras. So do these numbers in any way bring about real change?

Definitely in the last two years we’ve seen a huge surge forward in terms of the information flow, thanks to many wonderful people that are working on this cause. But I do think that we are at a tipping point in terms of information, that if we don’t find a way to convert the power in these numbers. And there is power in these numbers. But if we can’t convert this into action for sustainable change, the moment will come and the moment will go.

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