Film industry report may hold solutions for cinematic diversity

The 2019 Report on Women in Canada’s Film and TV Industry found that women of colour and indigenous women are significantly under-employed, but this may change in the future.

As the new Netflix release “Chambers,” hit online perusers of television shows, the show offered viewers the first indigenous female lead on a Netflix television series, ever.

The hiring of actress Sivan Alyra Rose to play the lead Sasha Yazzie, allowed the Apache actress to shine in the spotlight on “Chambers” release date on April 26. Some may believe the to be timely, while others believe it’s been a long time coming.

A 2019 report by Women found that although there has been some movement toward gender balance in Canada’s film and television industry, women – especially women of colour and Indigenous women – remain significantly under-employed. It also found that the gender of the creative leader of cinematic and film projects does have a major impact on gender balance and diversity.

Leah Rachel

The study, which examined more than 5000 contracts issued between 2014 and 2017 also found that women’s creative leadership is the key that unlocks gender balance and greater diversity.

No indigenous women worked on any of the 24 series studied in 2017. Between 2014 and 2017, Indigenous women received only 0.69 percent, which is 22 of 3206, of contracts studied. Over four years, out of the 3206 contracts, 47 went to women of colour. In 2017, 1.81 per cent of TV contracts went to women of colour. Women of colour made up less than 2 per cent of writers, 0 per cent of cinematographers and 5 per cent of directors. In 2017, 28 per cent of TV writing, directing and cinematography contracts went to women. Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of women in key creative TV roles increased by 11 per cent.

The findings in the report are sobering as women’s share of writing, directing and cinematography work in both film and TV remains below 25 per cent. Women of colour are not experiencing the same gains as other women and worse still, over the course of the study, Indigenous women’s participation dropped from insignificant to negligible, a very troubling result. However, there is reason for optimism as well.

On TV series show-run by female directors and in other positions of creative power, men and women work in equal numbers. As well, on TV series show-run by women of colour and Indigenous women, not only is there gender balance, but there is far greater diversity among the writers, directors and cinematographers employed. This includes films produced by women and women of colour and Indigenous women which showed a similar effect.

Increasing the number of women in creative leadership positions is a straightforward strategy that can yield results quickly.

This can be seen with the creator of Netflix’s “Chambers,” as Leah Rachel was relatively unknown in the entertainment world, but once being given the opportunity to present a story that has captivated audiences into hoping for a second season, she broke the mould with her inspiration for the show.

While another reason for optimism is that many organizations and individuals are striving to make change. Telefilm and CMF have made public measurable commitments to gender parity since Women in View’s last report. Telefilm also made specific commitments to Indigenous filmmakers. The results of these funder-initiatives are not reflected in this report but will be evident starting in the 2018 production year. The effects of the CBC commitment to gender parity can be seen in the dramatic increase of women directors hired. The 15 per cent growth between 2016 and 2017 demonstrates that public commitments are very effective.

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