Equality and diversity in the spotlight

CharactHer, a new campaign by the European Commission, features inspiring women professionals and puts a spotlight on gender equality in the male dominated film and media sectors. A recent report by the European Audiovisual Observatory identifies 3 challenges: difficulties in measuring progress on on-screen representation, the complexity of collecting data on diversity, and the need for intersectional approaches.

Overcoming these challenges would help to address the “gap between the diversity of society and that of media content, both in quantitative (underrepresentation) and qualitative (misrepresentation or stereotyping)”. “Films largely reflect prevailing cultural attitudes about gender roles, norms, attitudes and expectations. (…) Meanwhile, depictions of minority groups in film and the media can be influential in the dissemination of stereotypes” (CharactHer). Although, stereotyping such as whitewashing (using white actors to play non-white characters) and straightwashing (downplaying the homosexuality of the original character) are no longer common practice, inequality persists:

Between 2015-2018, female directors accounted for only 22% of the directors of European feature films’ production and for just 25% of the screenwriters (EAO, 2020). In the UK, in 2015, only 4,4% of the film sector workforce belong to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic group (BFI, 2018). Even in Sweden where gender equality seems to have been achieved, differences remain, as the higher the film budget, the lower the equality (SFI, 2018). On the contrary, “the percentage of female speaking characters and leads/co-leads increases significantly when a woman director is involved. A similar trend can be observed with women screenwriters and leading characters in contrast to those stories penned by men only” (CharactHer).

The ability for female audiovisual authors to make a living of their work is a reason why they may choose another profession or leave the sector altogether - work-life balance and gender pay gap are other parts of the problem. Getting fairly remunerated for the exploitation of work is not the full answer, but it is a part of the solution, that needs to be addressed.

Some of the bodies and regulations that contribute to change, highlighted in the European Audiovisual Observatory report are: the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE), the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers (that issued recommendations in 2017 on gender equality in the audiovisual sector), the cultural support fund Eurimages and its initiatives. On an EU-level, the EU directive on Audiovisual Media Services addresses non-discrimination from a content perspective as well as the improvement of accessibility for persons with disability and the elderly. In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on gender equality in the media sector, calling on EU countries to promote content on gender equality and tackle stereotyped portrayals of women and girls. Moreover, the Creative Europe MEDIA programme supports relevant projects and many agencies and authorities working in the audiovisual sector have (just like the SAA) working groups in place to exchange information and good practices.

Before Brexit, the UK was the EU front runner in terms of requiring broadcasting to promote equal opportunities in accordance with the UK Equality Act, which includes 7 self-reported characteristics. Today, the EU countries at the forefront are France, Spain, and Belgium (detailed in the report). Some good examples are about integrating gender equality into policies and granting criteria (however, there are non binding measures related to diversity in film and audiovisual funds in the EU). Other actions are partnership with research and monitoring bodies, databases of female professionals, working with civil society, and diversity charters and standards (see e.g. the guidelines for Netflix in the UK).

The SAA welcomes the current spotlight on equality and diversity. We will continue to advocate for an unwaivable right to remuneration for audiovisual authors as an essential mechanism for them to make a living and sustain a career, monitor the gender and diversity issues and exchange with our members. See our social media campaign #WeLoveAuthors #WomenWednesday featuring our female SAA Patrons.  


A. Ryng