This year’s Golden Globes ceremony was markedly different from years past; instead of celebrities floating down the red carpet clad in colorful, designer, attention-grabbing garb, most of them were dressed somberly in black, a symbol of the new Time’s Up Movement. Unless you live under a rock, you’re probably familiar with the recent wave of awareness of the disdainful and even violent treatment working women endure, not only in Hollywood, but the world over.
While there has been a sizable spotlight placed as of late on the indignities and sexual harassment many women face across the entertainment industry, another pressing issue needs to be further addressed: the gender-based hiring and wage inequality that often precipitates said indignities and harassment.
Hiring inequality for women is pervasive worldwide, however, while some industries have seen gains for women over the past couple of decades, Hollywood collectively has not. This is particularly true when it comes to female screenwriters. According to the 2017 Celluloid Ceiling Report from the San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, “women accounted for 11% of writers working on the top 250 films of 2017. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from 2016 and from the figure achieved in 1998. Eighty-three percent (83%) of the films had no female writers.”
Historical Comparison of Percentages of Women Employed Behind the Scenes on Top 250 Films by Role
Source: 2017 Celluloid Ceiling Report, SDSU
As you can see from the chart, women’s progress has remained fairly flat over the past 20 years…not only in screenwriting, but in all of the listed fields, including directing, executive producing, producing, editing, and cinematography.
One area where women have seen a tiny gain in employment is in television writing, with an increase of about one percentage point from 27.5% to 28.7% of the workforce from 2008-2014, according to the most recent WGA Hollywood Writers Report. However, as the report states, “in the end, women … remained severely underrepresented among the corps of film and television writers (…by a factor of nearly 2 to 1 in television and nearly 3 to 1 in film…).”
Wage inequality also continues to be a key issue in Hollywood, routinely making headlines when it’s revealed (whether through leaked documents, hacked emails, or the like) that female stars make considerably less than their male co-stars of equal or lesser industry stature. However, it’s not only actresses that are feeling the pain of wage disparity—female writers are as well. According to the aforementioned WGA report, “women television writers earned 93 cents for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts in 2014, which represents a 2 cent increase in relative earnings since the previous report. Female film writers, however, only “…earned 68 cents for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts in 2014, down 9 cents since the last report.”
It seems from these numbers that it’s often one step forward, two steps back when it comes to the advancement of female writers. While there might be nominal gains in one area, there are often losses in another. The WGA report goes on to mention that “the gender earnings gap in film continued to widen a bit after 2012, the last year covered in the previous report, despite a 5.5 percent increase in film earnings for women writers between 2008 and 2014.”
With so few women in positions of authority in television and film, and with their work valued less than male counterparts, it’s not too big of a jump to conclude that this imbalance can lead to anything from inappropriate to shocking behavior on behalf of some men in power.
It often seems to take some sort of scandal (like the Sony hacks, the New York Times Harvey Weinstein exposé, #MeToo movement, and the recent Michelle Williams/Mark Wahlberg reshoot story) to shed some light on the “open secrets” that Hollywood harbors. However, reports have shown for years that hiring and wage inequality isn’t so much of a secret as it is an established, proven problem that many have chosen to ignore. Well…time’s up. The numbers don’t lie. The days of willful ignorance of these issues are over…although only time will tell if any true, lasting changes in Hollywood will ever be made.
The silver lining is that there are initiatives, like the Sundance Institute Diversity Initiative, the NAACP/CBS Master Writing Fellowship, and WeScreenplay’s Diverse Voices Screenwriting Contest that aim to give a voice to the underrepresented and disenfranchised. Not only does the Diverse Voices contest only accept submissions from anyone whose background and/or project checks off a box beyond “cis white male”, a generous donation goes towards different charities. This year, WeScreenplay will be contributing to The Academy Gold Talent Development and Inclusion Program. To affect real conversation and real change, it’s imperative that diverse writers keep telling their stories through as many outlets as possible.
Rebecca Norris is a producer, writer, and filmmaker with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Her recent award-winning feature film, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, has been distributed on Amazon Streaming and DVD. Rebecca is also a script analyst and consultant who has read for many companies, including Sundance, ScreenCraft, Bluecat, and the International Emmys, as well as her own script consultancy, Script Authority. Rebecca blogs for Screencraft, The Script Lab, WeScreenplay and Script Magazine, exploring the film writing and production process and encouraging writers to produce their own work. Follow Rebecca’s posts on Twitter at @beckaroohoo!