Movie and TV Tax Credits and The Employment of Women and Minorities Behind the Camera

The New York Times has a long roundtable on how to improve the representation of women in front of and behind the camera, focusing mostly on film. A lot of the suggestions are cultural, ranging from encouraging better research on women’s ticket-buying patterns to treating women’s money as if it’s as valuable as anyone else’s. And Martha Lauzen, who heads up the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, and whose work I’ve relied on substantially in my reporting has an even blunter suggestion:

Regulation, tax incentives and hiring mandates offer possible solutions to the gender imbalance in Hollywood. Broadcast and cable networks are now vertically integrated, meaning they produce and distribute their own programming. This was not always the case. In the 1970s and ’80s, federal regulation stipulated that the broadcast networks could produce only a certain percentage of the programming on their stations. This regulation helped encourage an environment in which independent production companies could operate.

In the early 2000s, the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors (unsuccessfully) proposed that networks and large cable and satellite interests be prohibited from producing more than 50 percent of their programming. If this legislation were coupled with significant tax incentives for women-owned production companies, this one-two punch might help redistribute resources, making greater diversity a real possibility.

Perhaps such regulation could be collected in some sort of Gender Equality in Media Act that would also require the major film studios to hire a certain percentage of women in important behind-the-scenes positions. In addition, as only 11 percent of films currently feature female protagonists, tax incentives could also be given to films that tell the stories of girls or women.

As far as I can tell, the California Film and Television Production Credits, for example, don’t give any preference to women and minority-owned production companies. I don’t think I’d be comfortable providing tax incentives on the basis of content—that is really not a slippery slope I want to start down. But given how many projects go after production tax credits in all the varying states, and given the debate over how much they actually help local economies, those credit programs could do some substantive good if productions involving women and minority-owned businesses, or with women and minority directors, got priority when it came to handing them out. I imagine that would be an awfully speedy way to make some improvements in hiring and representation that, as of now, aren’t improving naturally on their own.