The Data We Need On Women And The Entertainment Industry


I’m pretty excited about the new initiative that’s a partnership between the Sundance Institute and Women in Film to provide more data on the experiences of women in film and television. I think it’s important, though, that we get away from simply reporting the number of movies and television shows that are written, created, directed, or executive produced by women, and to try to get some of these kinds of other numbers:

1. Salaries for women in the industry. One of the easiest ways to keep women from advocating for salary and funding parity in any industry is to keep them ignorant about what they make relative to each other, and relative to men. If women in entertainment were willing to disclose what they make on their projects, they could make clear how much Hollywood values women, and how compensation goes up and down relative to the success of prior projects in comparison to men. That kind of data could be the basis not just for advocacy, but for legal action.

2. Financing for projects lead by women. It would be interesting and important to see what kind of budgets women and men get relative to each other when they’re working on comparable projects and bringing comparable experience to the table. I’d also be curious to know if projects created and produced by women end up having to rely more on promotional placement, a sign of how the industry views female consumers, and the amount it’s willing to invest in women’s projects.

3. Economic performance on projects created and produced by women. It would be good to know not just box office but consistent ratings data and ad rates for women’s projects. We need to debunk the idea that women can’t bring in big money for the industry, whether it’s at the box office or with advertisers. It would also be useful to know if television networks undervalue products created by women when they take them to advertisers.

At this point, we know that women are hugely disadvantaged in both the film and television industries. And we know that the gains women make don’t persist from year to year, or from generation to generation, and that Hollywood is good at finding and making space for female tokens. We need numbers beyond representation to make the case about causes, and to demonstrate trends in mindset. Otherwise, we’ll never know what substantive barriers we need to overcome, other than the all-too-vague assumption that women can’t write/direct/produce good, in order to really make a difference. Longitudinal data is easier to embarrass people with than general allegations of persistent sexism.