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Latina Speaking Roles Reach Historic High, While Female Roles Overall Dip, New Report Finds

The percentage of Latina characters in speaking roles across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms hit a historical high last television season. But speaking roles for women overall actually declined year-over-year, a new report finds.

According to the 2017-18 Boxed In: Women on Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University, the percentage of Latinas in speaking roles for the 2017-18 television season was 7%, which was a 2% increase from their representation during the previous television season (2016-17).

This step toward progress for Latina representation did not prove to be a trend for women across the board. Black characters remained steady at 19% of all female characters in speaking roles, and the percentage of female Asian characters in speaking roles also remained unchanged at 6%. And female characters overall only made up 40% of speaking roles, which actually represents a 2% decline from 2016-17 — which broke down to 41% of speaking roles on broadcast, 40% on cable and 39% on streaming.

“Boxed In” dug into the creative to find that 63% of female characters had identifiable occupations and 50% of them were seen in their work environment, actually performing their jobs, while 76% of male characters had known professions and 61% were depicted working.

Behind the scenes, female representation declined as well. Women comprised 27% of creative decision-making roles such as show creators, directors, writers, producers, editors and DPs across all platforms — down 1% from 2016-17.

“The findings indicate that strategies aimed at increasing the numbers of women creators and executive producers would help make subconscious bias work for women rather than against them,” said Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, and professor, Television, Film & New Media. “These individuals hold the keys to viewers seeing more female characters on screen and more women working in other important behind-the-scenes craft areas including writing, directing, and editing.”

Digging deeper, 69% of series employed five or fewer women in those key creative roles, while 2% employed 14 or more. Series with at least one woman creator featured 47% major female characters, while series that were created solely by men featured 38% major female characters. Series with at least one executive producer saw 42% major female characters, while those with exclusive male executive producers saw 33% female characters.

The same pattern followed for hiring of additional behind-the-scenes roles. Series with at least one woman creator hired 27% female directors, while series created solely by men hired 13%. Series with at least one woman creator hired 45% female writers, whereas 16% of female writers made up rooms on shows created solely by men.

The “Boxed In” report has been documenting women’s roles for over two decades, monitoring over 38,700 characters and 50,700 behind-the-scenes credits.

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