More Roles for Actresses in the Future?

September 22, 2013

Emmy-nominated Michelle MacLaren, Director of Breaking Bad

Emmy-nominated Michelle MacLaren, Director of Breaking Bad

At this Sunday’s Emmy Awards, for the first time in its 65-year history, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided that 50% of the best television episodes aired in the last year were directed by women. This statistic really stands out when you consider that of nearly 3,100 TV episodes in the 2011-2012 season, only 15% were directed by women. Of the ten 2013 Emmy nominations for Directing Episodic Television, the five female nominees went to Michelle MacLaren for Breaking Bad, Beth McCarthy Miller for 30 Rock, Lena Dunham for Girls, Gail Mancuso for Modern Family, and Leslie Linka Glatter for Homeland.

It has been eighteen years since the Emmys awarded a woman for directing a drama; that rare honor went to Mimi Leder for ER in 1995. Similarly, it’s been 20 years since a female director took home an Emmy for directing a comedy; that went to Betty Thomas for Dream On in 1993. Indeed, since 1980, women have been nominated for directing a drama a mere sixteen times, whereas men have been nominated 153 times. Why the huge discrepancy?

Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film, Martha Lauzen, PhD has tested several aspects of women’s roles in the entertainment industry–both on screen and behind the camera. The results of her studies have challenged the age-old notion that films featuring female protagonists bring in less profits than films featuring male protagonists as well as the perception that films directed by females bring in less profits. “What we actually found was that there was no statistically significant difference between films featuring female protagonists and male protagonists; or women working behind the scenes. What we found did make a difference was the size of the budget.” Lauzen then noted if women were given the same budgets as men, they would likely display similar profit margins. 

The significant jump in female nominated directors has many people talking. Does it indicate an overall shift in how the TV industry views women? And will it affect how women will be employed in the future? According to Memento producer, Jennifer Todd, female directors generally tend to make films that are more character driven, and emotional. Do you think that an increase of female directors would result in more positive representations of female characters? Also would having more female directors translate into a more balanced ratio of male and female roles in their story lines, and feature a wider array of women’s concerns, struggles, and strengths? It could be argued that the collective media is the most powerful force in influencing cultural perceptions. If so, what influence would this kind of change have on culture in general?