Amazon Are Leading The Way On Gender Equality In Television With Their New Shows

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We post a lot about the barriers women face in Hollywood, whether it be in film or TV, and whether behind or in front of the camera. The main message we write about and share and hear is that there is an overwhelming disparity in terms of the opportunities women get. It is why many of them are in favor of gender and diversity quotas, because when trying to get a foot in the door the same way as those who DO have plenty of opportunities and that is not working, what else are you supposed to do?

Women have become fed up with being told they don’t measure up or aren’t capable for the job, and they are fed up of being told quotas are “unfair” or discriminatory toward men because they don’t get special programs or initiatives geared toward them. Here’s why males, especially Caucasian males, don’t have initiatives that open doors for them: they don’t need them! At least not compared to women, LGBTQ filmmakers and people of color.

While crown-funding platforms, network diversity initiatives, and independent filmmaking have become the only viable route to getting their work pushed through to audiences, there are a number of females in the industry breaking through the barriers and in the process are giving major networks credibility.

ABC has become a beacon of hope for diversity in front of and behind the camera with the phenomenon that is Shonda Rhimes – ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ & ‘Scandal’ gave way to shows like ‘Fresh Off The Boat’. But it’s not just regular broadcast or cable networks that are opening their eyes, in a sense digital platforms have become a bit of a leader in the diversity stakes because they are new to the original content game and are open to so much more.

Netflix has brought us shows like ‘Orange Is The New Black’, Hulu will now be the home of ‘The Mindy Project’, and Amazon brought us the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning show ‘Transparent’. Amazon not only has a lot of money and is hungry for great ideas, they are starting out right by looking much further afield than other networks. In fact, so great has been their success so far, that in an announcement about their new pilots, the media had a field day when learning 50% of the shows were either created by women or starring women, or both!

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Yep, this is the feminism we have been looking for in TV! We say feminism because the very definition is the “social, political and economic equality of the sexes”. And when entertainment falls under the social aspect, then in turn becomes a huge “economic” winner for a network, then they are inherently implementing the feminist movement in a powerful way. By the way, Amazon’s decisions are directly based on audience feedback, because they renew shows and greenlight them based on viewing numbers. Perhaps more networks should lead with this idea, instead of a bunch of removed business executives in a boardroom deciding what they think audiences should watch.

Out of 6 new Amazon pilots, here are the 3 which we can’t wait to see: ‘One Mississippi’ starring comedian Tig Notaro, who also wrote the pilot and will executive produce with Diablo Cody. The plot line is loosely based on her own life. It sees Tig return to her Southern hometown after the death of her mother, with her girlfriend Brooke in tow. The first episode will be directed by Nicole Holofcener. We’re cheering for Nicole because women only direct 18 percent of TV episodes every year.

If you want to get familiar with Tig Notaro in the meantime, we HIGHLY recommend you watch her Netflix original documentary ‘Tig’ right now (or after reading this post!).

The second pilot is ‘Z’, starring Christina Ricci and Zelda Fitzgerald. It follows the Southern socialite and budding writer before she meets her future husband F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is written by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin.

The third show which will no doubt get you all excited, especially in the wake of the ‘Suffragette’ movie being released showcasing the British women who fought for the right to vote, is ‘Good Girls Revolt’. It is set in 1969 and “follows a group of young female researchers at ‘News of the Week’ who seek to be treated fairly, a pursuit that ultimately upends marriages, careers and various relationships”, according to a report in The Hollywood Reporter.

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The show is based on a real life landmark lawsuit involving Eleanor Holmes Norton, Lynn Povich and Nora Ephron amongst others. In an interview with the LA Times in 2012 to promote a book she wrote about the whole ordeal, Lynn recounted what her and other women were told in their job interviews” “Women don’t write at Newsweek. If you want to be a writer, go someplace else.”

She described her former job as akin to what you see in ‘Mad Men’, except the difference is 46 women who worked at Newsweek ended up suing the company in 1970, and today there are female reporters and writers at the publication. Needless to say, in the wake of ‘Mad Men’ no longer a TV series, we hope audiences will flock to watch this show to see a different perspective on what the media workforce was like in the 60s and 70s.

Does this mean the industry is about to get hit with a wave of diversity and gender equality? A trickle or a healthy-sized stream is probably a better analogy, as there is still a long way to go. Although digital platforms and streaming on-demand is giving broadcast and cable a steady run for its money in terms of fragmenting audiences even more so than what cable did to TV, there is yet to be a follow-on trend in the more traditional media arenas.

But it hasn’t always been like this. In fact we shouldn’t even be calling this new push for diversity the “golden age” of TV for women because according to Nell Scovell at the New York Times, this has happened before. As a former writer on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’, Nell says the 1990s saw a huge influx of female-driven TV shows that were dominating screens.

“It happened a quarter of a century ago. In 1990, Susan Harris’s ‘The Golden Girls‘, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s ‘Designing Women’ and Diane English’s ‘Murphy Brown’ squared off for Outstanding Comedy Series. ‘Cheers’ and ‘The Wonder Years’ rounded out the field, and when the envelope was opened, I was sitting in the audience cheering as they announced ‘Murphy Brown’,” she writes.

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“Women were on a roll that night in 1990, but it didn’t seem like I was witnessing a golden age. It just seemed obvious that women could compete at the highest levels of comedy and win. Only decades later did I realize it was a spike, not a trend,” she adds.

In fact her view is that things have gotten worse, pointing out how ‘The Tracey Ullman Show’ had a staff of 11 writers including four women back then, but by comparison the brand new ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ has 19 credited writers, only two of whom are female.

Nell believes by 1997 the trend of women dominating TV as they did died down, and it wasn’t until the likes of Tina Fey as creator and showrunner of a series like ’30 Rock’ started the momentum in a new way. The phenomenon of female showrunners is undeniable, and could be the key to kick-starting the gender equality stakes in TV again.

The 5th annual ‘Boxed In’ report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University recently released stated how creators and executive producers “play an instrumental role in shifting the gender dynamics for both on-screen characters and other individuals working in powerful behind-the-scenes roles,” said the report’s author, Dr. Martha Lauzen, who is the Center’s Executive Director.

“For example, on broadcast programs with at least one female creator, women comprised 50% of writers. On programs with no female creators, women comprised 15% of writers,” she continued, compellingly pointing out that when conscious diversity decisions are made at the very top, it creates a very important and much-needed trickle down effect, which is why in some cases, quotas ARE needed.

The study looked at one randomly sampled episode from every broadcast, cable and Netflix series that aired during the 2014-15 season, and to see the difference in percentage of women on screen and behind the scenes in key roles such as writer, executive producer and director, click here. Just a heads up (which is probably not going to be surprising to you) when women are in those key roles, the presence of women in a production in general increase, like Martha pointed out.

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She said her study should be enough evidence to the powers that be in Hollywood what needs to change, but by and large it is still very much in denial.

“Studies from multiple sources have now made women’s under-representation undeniable. Heads of studios will name a few women directors they have worked with over the years to suggest that if there is a problem, they are not to blame,” said Martha.

The fault shouldn’t just be placed on men, because after all, writers and creators are often told to “write what you know”.

“People tend to prefer to work with others who reflect their own demographic profile, and people tend to create what they know,” said Martha.

And in keeping with Viola Davis’ speech at the Emmy’s after her win where she stated “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity”, that is what is needed in TV and film.

“When more women are in the gate-keeping jobs, when they are in those roles, then the amount of women in those shows increases exponentially,” said Cathy Schulman, the president of Women in Film, as reported in The Atlantic.

Essentially it does come down to that one crucial word: opportunity. When networks recognize the need for it, when women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community are afforded it, all of a sudden new possibilities start to bloom and a much wider section of the viewing audience around the world starts to see themselves reflected in the entertainment they consume.

Here’s to more networks like Amazon understanding the fundamental difference between quotas and opportunities that make way for greater creativity.

For a visual explanation of how much further we still have to go to reach gender equality in film and TV, a company called Frame Your TV out of the UK created this rather helpful infographic:

Gender-Inequality-Hollywood-Infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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