This is the first Emmy season since the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements came together to, among other goals, improve the narrative of female representation in Hollywood. But how much have things really changed? The women of Netflix gathered in Hollywood, CA for brunch to discuss just that.
The panel at a brunch hosted by the streaming service called “Rebels and Rule Breakers” brought together actresses and showrunners who are invested in creating lasting change in the entertainment industry They are protesting, they are speaking up for themselves, and they are creating the work environment they want to see in the world, but this tipping point isn’t tipping as far in our direction as we’d hoped. In fact, for women behind the camera, they are still few and far between. Regina King, an industry veteran and star of Netflix’s new show Seven Seconds, spoke to this disparity, saying her new Netflix show was “the first time in 30-plus years” that she has worked with female show creators.
Alison Brie, the star of Glow, offered insight into why having women in leadership roles is important. “The energy that happens on set when women are trying to impress a male boss is just a different type of energy,” said Brie. Brie walked the walk with her look at the brunch, evoking a punk aesthetic — a genre of music and fashion well-known for subverting the male gaze.
During the panel, multiple women credited mentorship as a key to equality. For some, that is how they got their own opportunities to lead. “We need to mirror what we want to see. We need to find ways to celebrate inclusive behaviour, educate, liberate, and mentor,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said. “We have to clear a path for those to follow and then we have to reach back to lift them up.”
For Netflix, that mentorship was a staple out of the gate with one of their first original shows, Orange Is the New Black. Showrunner Jenji Kohan has long been one of the most notable women in the industry, and series star Danielle Brooks payed homage to the “subconscious mentorship” she offers. Previously, Brooks told Refinery29 about starting on the show, saying, “All I had was one page of sides. I didn’t know who else was in this script. I’m thinking, 'I’m gonna be that girl, right? The funny Black girl, the funny big Black girl.' Then I come to set and I see all these women that are different shapes and sizes, some of which are very similar to mine. I see that I’m not the only Black girl in the room, I’m not the only person of color, I’m not the only plus-size woman. That was eye-opening to me. That’s when I realized, 'Oh, I can be myself in this business. There’s a place for me.'”
The conversation has changed, but the actual numbers may not have changed as much as we thought. Compared to network television, streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are known for offering more opportunities for women to call the shots and play dynamic roles on screen. How do they measure up to cable and network television or film?
According to a study on diversity in film and television conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, women represent only 12% of directors on streaming platforms with network and cable having about 15-17%. The study described the lack of women, people of colour, and queer people in these roles as an “epidemic of invisibility.” Streaming platforms still have far more opportunities for women than film behind the camera. By comparison, only 4% of directors in film are women.
The world has been looking to the entertainment industry to present an image of a fairer workplace where women are able to have the same opportunities as men. Hollywood has been the most vocal about making this change which has made them an example for what the future with accountability and opportunity could look like.
We have seen a surge of support and interest in female-lead content, but in the grand scheme of things, the industry still has so far to go before we reach the parity we are striving for. What is important though, is that there are larger platforms for women to do that than ever before.
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