Equal Representation for Actresses: Proposing Positive Change

Stars join the call for equal gender representation on stage and screen by 2020

On 28th February 2018, ERA 50:50 (a UK campaign group backed by thousands of supporters including Emma Thompson, Olivia Colman and Lena Headey) brought together 200 of the most powerful names in the entertainment industry in one room and called on them to change the way women are represented on stage and screen. Proudly sponsored by Spotlight, this event was aimed at not just challenging but changing this status quo.

Guests included Olivia Colman, Gemma Arterton, Lily James, Gemma Chan, Miles Jupp, Doon Mackichan, Ophelia Lovibond, Amanda Redman, Tobias Menzies, James Nesbitt, Philip Glenister, Stephanie Cole, Imelda Staunton, Shazad Latif, Jim Carter and Jess Phillips MP, Tulip Siddique MP, Tracy Brabin MP and Sophie Walker, Founding Leader of the Women's Equality Party. 

Topics included the entrenched ageism in the entertainment industry, the homogenised view of women presented in the media, the prevalence of portrayals of sexual violence against women, and the desperate lack of diverse female narratives and voices on stage and screen. ERA 50:50 also highlighted the low level of commissioning of female writers and directors and used part of the evening to illustrate that female led drama is not a commercial gamble but rather the evidence suggests the opposite.

Scottish BAFTA award-winning actress Deirdre Mullins said, “Despite women film makers receiving far less financing and distribution, films with female writers, producers and stars out perform male-driven projects in the same categories. If you want audiences and money – go female.” The top three grossing films of 2017 were all female led.

Offering a series of solutions during the evening, ERA 50:50 asked all production companies, broadcasters and theatres to achieve a 50:50 balance of representation across their yearly content or season by 2020. This would mean that overall representation of men and women is balanced across a period of time, whilst still allowing for different gender balances within individual productions.

Other solutions suggested included embracing the NEROPA casting tool, encouraging people with power in the industry using their influence to engender parity, casting 50:50 for background artists, encouraging patrons to offer funding dependant on 50% female talent involved in the production, educating the next generation of content makers about the importance of equality, committing to 50:50 onstage representation, committing to 50:50 writers’ rooms and safeguarding women in the workplace.

Guests in the room were incredibly responsive to the presentation and keen to take action where they can to bring about change. Here are some quotes from the evening:

It is happening, I feel there is a seismic change and it is so exciting. I feel so invigorated and honoured to be a part of it.
Ophelia Lovibond
Shifting preconceptions of what gender representation should be in our industry was the invitation of the night...asking us to go back to our spheres of influence and talk about it where we can.
Tobias Menzies
On the News Quiz, over 8 series, half of our guests have been women, half men. We made a decision, we stuck to it - so could everyone. Even if you only have a little bit of power, make positive use of it.
Miles Jupp
In 2018 it seems bizarre that we don’t have a representative media. It’s not even a woman thing it’s a society thing.
Jess Phillips MP

Solutions presented by ERA 50:50:

1. Seek out female writers

The Top 20 writers’ agencies have a predominantly male presence on their books. Request to see more female talent or go to different agencies to find female writers. And once you’re working with female writers, allow them to write in their own voice.

2. Embrace the NEROPA Tool

There is a wonderful and practical way of approaching gender neutral casting: Take a look at NEROPA. Using NEROPA leads to truer representation and more diversity, we will see more women on our screens from a variety of backgrounds and ages.

3. Use your influence

If you’re a leading actor or actress who has casting approval you could be actively influencing the gender balance of your next project. Make the use of NEROPA contractually wherever possible.  And if you’re able to, why not insist on Favoured Nations to bring female colleagues up to your pay grade.

4. Cast 50:50 background artists

If you’re production is casting a crowd scene watch out for gender imbalance and make a point of casting 50:50 women and men.

5. Safeguard women in the workplace

If you’re in key creative roles discussing depictions of sexual violence, have more than one women in the room and open the floor to honest, open discussion about how sexual violence is portrayed.

6. Commit to 50:50 writers’ rooms

Focus on getting equal numbers of women in the Writers’ Room and subscribe to the principle of equal pay for equal work.  Be active in developing a pipeline of female writers.

7. Commit to 50:50 onstage representation

If you run a theatre, follow the lead of the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Kings’ Head and Jermyn Street Theatre and ensure a 50:50 gender balance across a year or season (not per play as that would limit your choices), just as Daniel Evans has done for his forthcoming season.

8. Fund 50% female talent

Qualifying for funding should involve a demonstrable execution of equality. Funding from public money particularly should represent the public, 51% of whom are women.

9. Educate the next generation of content makers

Film and Drama Schools training the next generation of content makers and actors, educate on unconscious bias, how that informs decisions when putting together a cast and crew.

10. Use job vacancies to achieve 50:50

Is the make-up of your board inclusive and diverse? Is equality in the DNA of your building? Use upcoming vacancies as an opportunity to ensure this happens. Follow the example of the corporate world who have learnt the more diverse your team, the more money you will make.

11. Serve your audience

Distributors – are you really serving a sophisticated and intelligent audience fully? Female led films make money.

12. Donate - The future is 50:50

Work with campaigning groups – consider asking your network whether they can partner with ERA 50:50 and contribute either financially or in kind to the campaign.

Read more about the event.