Monday, 2 September 2013

FInd The Lady


There’s a new game sweeping the internet. Have you played it yet? It’s not Candy Crush or Scrabble. It’s called ‘Count The Women in the BBC Drama Trailer’. Want to play? Here you go…
 

 

Now, I’ve had estimates on Twitter ranging from 3 to 20. There are bonus points to be earned. How many lines of moody dialogue were delivered in a female voice? I’ll give you a clue; it’s a number between zero and fuck all. How many of the shows featured have a female lead? How many of the male actors featured could you name? How many of the women? For the record, the programmes showcased in the trailer are Sherlock, Ripper Street, The Great Train Robbery, What Remains, The Musketeers, The Escape Artist and By Any Means. How many of those shows do you think have female protagonists?
 
 
Sidebar: I think the trailer is also distinctly lacking in racial diversity and I didn’t see any disabled characters either. But as I’m white and relatively able-bodied, I’ll talk about the lack of vaginas, not melanin and wheelchairs. Feel free to comment on any of those other issues, though.
 
 
Now, someone on Twitter pointed out that this is just a trailer. It’s an advert and is designed to sell. He rationalised that men sell action and drama. That they are men that other men want to be. Well, I don’t want to be a man. So what I supposed to aspire to? To be shagged by them? Or, if you look at British drama’s recent record, to be shagged by them and then killed in well-shot, soft focus ritual killing?
 
 
How long are we going to carry on reinforcing the idea that women are passive and men active? Apart from anything else, it’s dated bullshit. Women are in the police, fire service, the armed forces, politics and the frontline NHS. They are also criminals and prisoners (not just their wives). They win gold medals for us in the Olympics and Paralympics. I really thought this might be the year that was reflected on my TV screen.
 
 
Let’s take a look at one specific BBC TV slot in particular. The Saturday teatime drama slot. Where you’ll find/would have found Doctor Who, Merlin, Robin Hood and very soon Atlantis. That’s the coveted slot when families are supposed to sit down together to watch something exciting and inclusive. Something that will have kids running around wielding imaginary sonic screwdrivers or good old-fashioned swords pretending to be their favourite characters. But who are the little girls supposed to pretend to be? A Timelord’s companion? A chambermaid who marries into the Camelot Royal family? Where are the female role models? It won’t come as a huge shock to hear that the protagonist of Atlantis is called Jason, not Jessica.
 
 
Look, I’m not saying that women are invisible on telly. Thank the Goddess for Vera, The White Queen and Scott & Bailey. But it’s not an improving picture and this trailer made my heart sink. But I’m all about solutions, not problems. What can we do about this?
 
 
Easy-peasy. Employ more female writers and directors, because it’s not just actresses that are conspicuous by their absence from that trailer. None of the lead writers of those eight shows are women. Not one. That's just not good enough.
 
 
I was heartened to hear that Doctor Who is actively looking for female directors to work on the next series. But what about the writers?
 
 
At this year’s BBC TV Writers’ Festival, Steven Moffat was asked why the show hadn’t featured a female writer since 2008. His answer was (in my opinion) defensive and unsatisfactory. He claimed that female writers had been offered episodes and had turned them down. I have no reason to disbelieve him, but I do wonder exactly how many female writers have been approached.
 
 
He also claimed that not enough women write genre and was backed up by his interviewer Toby Whithouse in reference to his show Being Human. I assume they meant that not enough women are writing sci-fi, horror and fantasy. My follow-up question would be; if not enough women are writing genre TV, what are you doing to change it? How about looking beyond sci-fi and fantasy? How about just looking for really good writers? Because a working knowledge of the Tardis is useful for a Doctor Who writer; but isn’t a working knowledge of structure, great dialogue and character actually more important? In my opinion, Mr Moffat is robbing himself of some great writers by being so utterly limited in his search.

 
As I said in a previous blog, I don’t believe in positive discrimination on writing teams. I do, however, believe in the positive impact that a diverse writing team can have on a TV series. I think a diversity of experience can only be a good thing when developing original, surprising stories and characters. In fact, I believe it’s increasingly essential. I also believe it won’t happen without some actual action on the part of producers, showrunners and commissioners.
 
 
I’m throwing down the gauntlet to those people. The next time you're putting together your publicity package for the new season's drama, can we have a better ratio of women on screen. And can they not be murder victims or the protagonist's wife? Can we actually hear a woman's voice on the trailer? I don't think it's much to ask. You may disagree, feel free to comment.

 

24 comments:

  1. Slightly off the point, but there's a great-looking movie coming about a woman battling to make it as a trailer voice artist in Hollywood, In a World:

    http://youtu.be/NuxApRnekWc

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    1. That looks great. And I believe that Lake Bell wrote and directed it as well as starring in it.

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  2. have you seen this? Too hard-core Whovian for me to make it to the end, but worth taking a look at. And apparently there's a website for female Dr. Who fans called Dr. Her. http://ofdiceandpenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/sexism-in-steven-moffats-doctor-who.html

    Also, when I asked the National Lampoon editors why there were few to no women contributors, I got the same answers: they couldn't find any, nobody applied, etc. How little has changed over the decades! I may have to put the chapter dealing with this up on my blog so people can access w/out buying whole book.

    Speaking of which, an Amazon commenter said I "devoted more space than necessary to the magazine's supposed sexism. In fact, one wonders, slogging through long pages of this stuff, if it wasn't the main reason she got a book deal." Yeah, one chapter out of 24 - far too much. Sigh.

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    1. Well, you know how we women will go on and on and on.

      :-)

      Lxxx

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  3. So many complex issues involved here, but I'll comment on one, the supposed lack of female SF/fantasy/action etc writers.
    I'm pretty sure there are dozens of them out there. But they're all writing Eastenders and Silent Witness and whatever to pay the bills. (As, indeed, are many male writers with similar interests.) if you judge a writer only by what genres they've worked in so far, and not what they want to do in the future, you're bound to limit your talent pool...

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    1. That's exactly it, Debbie. It's a appallingly vicious circle and makes it look like sci-fi/fantasy/horror etc are one big boys club.

      Of course, the best women eschew the club and make their own series. Like you're good self!

      Lx

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  4. Bang on Debbie Moon! As usual, well said Lisa, agree with you - the Dr Who franchise is notoriously male orientated, both in terms of directors and writers. There are women at the top in telly, but sadly not enough working as directors and writers. There are women producers in telly (quite a few notables) but this is not reflected in the programmes commissioned. However, we have Sally Wainwright, Kay Mellor and Lucy Gannon. We don't have enough of them though. Onwards and upwards....

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  5. Love Scott and Bailey because the women are strong without being men in dresses, complex and the relationship between them is far more realistic.

    And I can't believe I am still hearing that women don't write/like genre. I think I might collect up all my female friends and "enlighten" them.

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    1. Exactly. It's the same argument they use for why women don't get a fair crack of the whip at Comedy.

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  6. Perhaps these male writers feel threatened by female ones. I've seen Moffat in interviews, and he doesn't seem the type that would get along with them. Don't ask me why, just a vibe he gives off. Arrogance maybe. But I'm all for female writers, and they can handle even the most male-driven genres like action.

    One of the best episodes of "Airwolf", arguably one of the strongest shows of that genre, was penned by one of the recurring actresses on the show. She later became the Co-Exec. Producer and Head Writer of a completely different series, that beared similarites to "Doctor Who" in some respects. "Quantum Leap". Regardless if the creator of both shows was her husband (Don Bellisario), she still proved that women could write for the more exciting genres, and "Quantum" dabbled in pretty much every genre and period with its time-travel concept.

    Then later on during "Airwolf's" third year, another solid hour was penned by a freelance female writer, and when the show relocated to Canada for its final low-budget season, the head writer was a woman. And some of the best scripts of the entire series were written under her. Proof's in the pudding.

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    1. Good point. All anyone, irrespective of gender, is asking for is a chance to prove themselves.

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    2. Martin, there's plenty of evidence that there aren't enough female writers given chances in genre TV, so there's no need to make up unpleasant things about public figures based on a few interviews - interviews in which they're supposed to be positive and proud of their show. I've been on the receiving end of that sort of speculative nonsense and there's no need for it.

      Everyone else: yes! There's a long, long list of female writers who would kick ass at any genre show, and I hope to work with them some day.

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    3. Yeah, alright James, calm down there. It was obviously my own opinion, speculative or not. You clearly don't share it, but did you have to make a thing out of it on here? No. And there was no need either.

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    4. Martin: I am calm, not making a thing out of anything, I only replied to you! I know it's your own opinion, that was my point - an opinion you're basing on a few interviews to insult someone, which doesn't help us convince anyone that we're right on this issue of the need for more female writers/lead roles.

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    5. Deary me. Drop it and move on. You're making a thing out of it, whether you realise it or not. And regardless if you only replied to me. What a silly thing to say. If you thought what I said was an insult (when in-fact it was merely an observation, you're just being too sensitive), I dread to think what you make of what's said across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Why don't you go and single those people out first, before trying to lay down the moral high ground law here.

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    6. Actually, Martin. I think if you say something you should be prepared to defend it properly when it's challenged. That doesn't mean turning on the person that has challenged your opinion.

      By the way, the whole 'you're just being too sensitive' thing is an accusation that is often levelled at women speaking up for better representation. We are told to 'calm down' and 'move on' all the time. It's reductive, insulting. unhelpful and doesn't further the discussion.

      Representation is an emotional area of discussion and people are entitled to feel strongly. Basically, play the ball not the woman or man.

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  7. Very good points as always. It’s quite tragic. Having just gone to Frightfest, I can also confirm that the Horror genre is still heavily-weighted in the male contingent (although it’s getting better), with 2013’s crop of horror having very few female-penned or directed scripts.

    Thankfully there were a lot of strong, female protagonists on display this year, many of whom didn’t have to get sexually assaulted before becoming ‘strong’ (which is a nice change…).

    Some will argue women don’t want to write this ‘kind of thing’, but exactly what DO they want to write if it isn’t drama, action, horror or sci-fi?

    Period drama? Romantic comedies? Yeah, because that’s not sexually stereotyping women…

    I’m not 100% clear where the fault / issues lie and who is struggling to properly address this problem (whether it be the agents, producers, production companies etc…) but it’s getting embarrassing, as that testosterone-fuelled BBC trailer shows.

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    1. I don't think the blame can be laid at one doorstep in particular. I think it's combination of ingrained attitudes to gender, cultural norms and a lack of desire to change it. We can only work on the latter of those things, but we face the 'women just don't write genre' trope and often a lack of imagination when it comes to female characters. It will change, it's just taking a hell of a lot longer than I expected.

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  8. Hi LIsa, I'm a jaded psychologist who recently jacked in the day job (many reasons, don't ask) and found that once I freed up my creativity I was desperate to write - well I was once I found a project and invented some characters that mattered to me. As it happens, what I'm writing has strong female characters (more of them than males, though not by conscious design) and carefully crafted (if I may sound so up my own arse) main protagonists with significant disabilities. I've been following an internet trail from the BBC writers room and found your vid, then this blog, which really intrigued me for all the above reasons, plus I'm female myself would you believe? I know, how dare I. I would be very interested in chatting about writing, women in writing, a female Dr Who, all that good stuff. If not, perhaps it's just good to let you know I'm out here, taking in your observations, receiving the challenge and suiting up. And I bet I'm not alone. :-) Tracey

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    1. Hi Tracey,

      Thank you for that (sorry I didn't see your comment earlier). It's great to hear about people consciously writing characters that break the mould. Keep up the good work and come and find me (and many, many other writers) on Twitter for back up and banter. Lxxx

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  9. What's more - do the BBC not realise there are more mature people out here - AND there are something like 8 women to every one man in higher age groups - unlike in Ireland where there are 8 men to every woman - I think I'm emigrating...

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  10. I think you're quite right. I think there are many sections of society being let down by both the BBC and other channels., Lx

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