Broadcaster Magazine

New Report Looks at Gender Imbalance in TV and Film Directing

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  • 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 the Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen, says gender equality needs to be put 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 2024’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 television and film industries with the aim of finding out why inequalities exist and providing solutions.

    In February 2024, 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 notes 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,” says Coles.

    “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 four per cent.” That four per cent figure was an analysis of major Hollywood, American-financed films shot globally.

    Coles also looked at the directors used on seven major U.S. TV shows that shot in Canada between 2024 and 2024.

    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,” says Coles.

    “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,” says Coles. “That’s actually a huge problem for creativity.

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