The New York City mayor’s office has launched a groundbreaking initiative that is aimed at increasing the representation of women in film and TV. It is being described as a first-of-its-kind in the nation, and we certainly hope it will not be the last.
The initiative is part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and includes $5 million in grants to support female-centric film and theater projects and a script-writing competition for 30-minute pilot scripts. With numerous data-driven reports showing the lack of opportunities for certain groups of people, initiatives like this is what will help jump start a new wave of diversity.
“Study after study has confirmed that women – along with people of color, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, and other groups – are consistently underrepresented both on camera and behind the scenes. For the first time ever, a municipal agency will be launching five initiatives aimed at addressing gender inequity in the film, theatre and television world,” said a press release from the Mayor’s office.
Over the next 5 years, NYC will spend $7.5 million on:
(1) a $5 million fund that will provide grants to support film and theatre projects by, for and about women;
(2) pitch workshops for women filmmakers and a film financing conference connecting women filmmakers with financing for their projects;
(3) a screenwriting contest for NYC screenwriters to broadcast a six-episode series on New York City’s channel 25;
(4) an inspiring new block of programming on channel 25 focused entirely on women and their perspectives; and
(5) a report analyzing the gender inequity of directors in the film industry.
The Mayor’s office has taken note of a couple of key organizations which annually track the entertainment industry’s progress (or lack thereof). The first is the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, whose 2015 study showed women made up just 7% of directors on the top-grossing 250 films, 18% of individuals directing independent narrative features, and 29% of directors working on documentaries.
The other institution is USC’s Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication, whose media and diversity director Professor Stacy L. Smith regularly talks about the findings of their studies which outline the inherent bias within the industry.
In February this year, the school found only 33.5% of speaking characters in films were women; behind the camera, just 15.2% of directors and 28.9% of writers across film, television and digital series were female; and 22.6% of series creators were women across broadcast, cable and streaming content.
New York City is the first municipality to look at these statistics and use part of their budget to help create change. It may sound trivial to some, but with film and TV being such a powerful vehicle of communication, it can become a tool to spark inspiration and empower people to know what is possible according to the stories, characters, and opportunities they are exposed to on-screen. We’re all well aware of all the negative aspects of the media, but we’d do well to remember how it can be a force for good, also.
“The de Blasio administration is committed to expanding employment opportunities and making sure New York City is a great place to live for all. As we grow our entertainment industry, it is only logical to make sure our women and girls have the skills they need to fill these jobs. We will encourage more women to follow their dreams of working in the entertainment industry and give them the tools to do so. And thanks to the good work of Commissioner Menin, our young girls will see more women in media and have more role models,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, Honorary Chair of the Commission on Gender Equity.
Commissioner Julie Menin stressed how important it is to the Mayor’s office to elevate the role of women in the entertainment industry, because women should not be seen as a “niche” market.
“It’s incredibly discouraging that while women comprise 52% of the City’s population, less than 10% of the top grossing films are directed by women. I hope that our efforts pave the way for others to follow suit, and look forward to seeing these initiatives make a substantive impact on filmed entertainment in New York City,” she said.
Over the past few years we have seen the power of representation and what can happen when women are given a chance to create entertainment from the female gaze. Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ has given voice to millennial women’s issues and a real-world perspective on sexuality that we have not seen before.
Jill Soloway’s ‘Transparent’ has elevated transgender issues to the mainstream, showing the industry that audiences are more than ready to see shows about characters that are more complex, than cookie-cutter. Shonda Rhimes has single-handedly revolutionized prime time TV with her internationally-lauded shows that put women, people of color and LGBTQ characters front and center in a nuanced, authentic way, instead of the tokenism we are so sick of seeing.
Jenji Kohan’s ‘Orange Is The New Black’ has proven by it’s multiple industry awards that viewers not only enjoy a show focused entirely on women (and especially LGBTQ, older, and ethnic women), but we have been waiting for a long time for something like this.
Mindy Kaling’s ‘The Mindy Project’ sends a message to every average-sized woman of color that what they have to say, and their lived experiences, are just as important as all the others. So much so, that they too deserve prime time status instead of the “other-ing” we see a lot of.
And more recently, Issa Rae’s ‘Insecure’ is sending a message to major networks that having a show created, written by and starring a black woman, as well as a cast made up of mostly women and minorities, should not be seen as a threat to the “old guard” of the entertainment industry. Rather, it is a solid and encouraging reminder of the diversity it is representing in the real world.
Like Jill Soloway said at the recent Emmy Awards when she accepted her second statue for directing on ‘Transparent’, when women are given opportunity to showcase their stories and stories that have been excluded by the mainstream, “you change the world”.
A number of NYC-based representatives weighed in on the Mayor’s initiative, stating how thrilled they were to see it being launched.
“Just like government, our media and entertainment sectors can’t fully serve the public if they aren’t fully inclusive,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.
“The voices of women need to be heard. And in today’s world the media and film industries are powerful channels for those voices. Yet the statistics for women at the top of the film industry are worse than those for women in finance. New York City’s $5 million fund for women writers will foster and free powerful stories to be told that will lift us all. Diversity of talent matters,” said Barbara Byrne, Vice Chairwoman of Banking at Barclays, and a producer of the film ‘Equity’.
“Women should make up as central a role in the entertainment industry as they do in the rest of society,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.
This initiative joins a number of others that the MOME has spearheaded in the past, including include the Made in NY Writers Room, a mentorship program for TV writers from diverse backgrounds, #NominateNYC, an initiative encouraging entertainment professionals from diverse backgrounds to nominate themselves or someone they know for consideration for membership by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the creation of the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema which is the first public graduate school of cinema in New York City committed to cultivating new and emerging voices in film, and a $1 million grant to CUNY J-School’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media to bring a key sector of New York City’s media landscape into the digital age.
To learn more about the program and find out you can be part of this initiative, click here.