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What Will It Take for Emmys to Close the Gender Gap?

The actress categories at the Emmy awards are always an embarrassment of riches, and this year is no different, featuring 52 worthy nominees across nine categories.

However, acknowledging women’s performances in Hollywood is a given in those categories since the Academy still awards male and female actors separately. For a more accurate picture of how women truly fared on the Emmy ballot this year, consideration must be paid to those who work behind the scenes — and who broke through in categories that are traditionally dominated by men. And those numbers tell a completely different story.

The good news is that the 2017 Emmy nominations see a wide slate of female-centric programming dominating key categories. This is most notable with newcomers “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which picked up 13 nominations for streaming service Hulu; HBO’s adaptation “Big Little Lies,” which garnered 16 nominations; and “Feud: Bette and Joan,” which boasts a whopping 19 nominations for cabler FX, including one for digital short form.

Rodolfo Reyes for Variety

And the love for femme-focused programming didn’t stop with those three. HBO’s high-concept sci-fi western “Westworld,” which received 22 nominations overall, is an ensemble drama with several strong female protagonists on journeys of self-discovery, while Netflix’s period drama “The Crown,” which received 13 nominations, centers on the young Queen Elizabeth II. Streaming service Netflix’s two-hander “Grace and Frankie,” which follows women of a certain age starting over in both their personal and professional lives, returns to the ballot this year with four nominations.

These series run the gamut in female storytelling, proving the 21,000-plus voting members of the Academy are interested in rich, complex shows with equally complicated women at the center. But while the Academy has great made strides on the storytelling front, it still has a way to go to close the gender gap when it comes to nominees in such key categories as writing, directing and editing.

Only two of those shows — “Westworld” and “Grace and Frankie” — have women at the helm behind the scenes. And when it comes to “Westworld,” Lisa Joy co-runs the show with her husband, Jonathan Nolan.

Diving deeper into the lists of the individuals in key creative roles, the low percentage of female representation is still pretty prevalent. While 17 of the picture editors nominated across categories are women, only one of them is nominated solo (Jennifer Lilly for “Master of None”). The others made it onto the ballot as part of teams of editors submitted for their particular shows. While that double-digit number might seem like progress, consider that the overall total of editors nominated in eight categories topped out at almost 100. Suddenly the picture looks different.

Fewer women made the cut in the notoriously male-dominated area of directing, though at least in the drama category, the percentage was much stronger (43%, with three out of seven nominees being female). Ballot staple Lesli Linka Glatter is once again recognized for her work on “Homeland,” and this year she is joined by two other women in an overall group of seven nominees: Reed Morano and Kate Dennis are each up for individual episodes of “Handmaid’s Tale.”

“While the Academy has certainly taken strides to be more inclusive, there is clearly still a long way to go — not only for voters but also Hollywood at large.”

Three women are up for five programs in the documentary category for directing, though one (Alexis Bloom for “Bright Lights”) shares the nomination with a male co-director. Ava DuVernay and Elizabeth White broke through for the Netflix documentary “13th” and the BBC America docuseries “Planet Earth II,” respectively. However, over on the comedy directing side, only one of the six nominees is a woman (Jamie Babbit for “Silicon Valley”), and when it comes to limited series directing, not even one woman made it on the ballot: all six nominees are male.

Similarly in the writing category, none of the six nominees for limited series are women. What is bleaker still is that only one woman is nominated each in the drama and the comedy writing categories — and even then, they are represented as co-writers with male partners. For drama, Joy is up for “Westworld,” again alongside Nolan, while for comedy, Lena Waithe is up for “Master of None” alongside co-creator Aziz Ansari. The same pattern is repeated in documentary writing, with three female nominees all sharing the honor with male writing partners.

Tina Fey is the only female to get a comedy series nominee — an honor she shares with Robert Carlock for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” There are no women in charge of the limited series in the running this year. Yet, things do look slightly up in the drama series category simply because there are two women represented this year, a notable improvement over last year’s zero — again, Joy (and Nolan) for “Westworld,” as well as Melissa James Gibson with Frank Pugliese for “House of Cards.” If you’re keeping count, that means there are three women represented at all for 19 drama, comedy, and limited series — but a big, fat goose egg when it comes to solo female showrunners.

Interestingly, though, there are three women nominated in the new-this-year category of music supervision. Two — Susan Jacobs and Nora Felder — are nominated on their own, while Kerri Drootin is up alongside a male partner. Perhaps the Academy was able to be more open-minded with this category because it was the first time they had to consider such names. The precedent has certainly been set with this race now, though whether subsequent years of this category prove just as fruitful to females still remains to be seen.

Overall, the imbalance in gender representation feels so much greater this year because of the fact that so many of the series being celebrated focus on powerful women. While the Academy has certainly taken strides to be more inclusive, there is clearly still a long way to go — not only for voters but also Hollywood at large, who, more often than not, is still relying upon men to tell female stories.

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