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Number of Female Writers in British Film and TV at ‘Abjectly Low Levels’

Amid calls for equality in the film and TV business on both sides of the pond, a damning new report for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has laid bare the lack of female writers getting work in the U.K.

The report shows that only 28% of British TV drama is predominantly female-written, a proportion that drops even lower, to 14%, in primetime. The report’s authors point to “Victoria,” “Call the Midwife,” “Fleabag,” and “Catastrophe” (pictured) as examples that debunk the notion that female-led projects cannot achieve commercial, critical, and ratings success.

The feature film figures are even worse, with 11% of U.K. movies predominantly female-written, dipping to below 7% for those with a budget topping £10 million ($13.4 million). Yet budget data combined with U.K. and worldwide box office gross reveal “that films written predominantly by female writers tend to have higher revenues, both domestically and internationally, than those written predominantly by their male counterparts,” the report said.

The statistics are sobering for an industry supposedly tuning into the messages of the Era 50:50 and Time’s Up movements. “Girl With a Pearl Earring” scribe and Writers’ Guild president Olivia Hetreed said that for years she has been asked about the paucity of female screenwriters in the industry and that she reassured people the situation was improving. Now she realizes that is not the case. “This new research shows that the number of women writing films has flatlined at abjectly low levels,” Hetreed said.

The findings span 10 years of British film and TV, a period during which little has changed. The report’s authors sought to move beyond anecdotal evidence to hard numbers in order to demonstrate the gender inequality in the industry.

“Faced with such clear evidence, we expect that commissioners, especially public funders, will work much harder to give equal opportunities to women and other underrepresented writers, who in turn will produce work reflecting all our hopes, fears and aspirations,” Hetreed said.

The Writers’ Guild has launched an “Equality Writes” campaign calling for better representation. The movement gathered steam after a group penned an open letter to U.K. broadcasters earlier this year when ITV, Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster, unveiled a drama slate featuring one woman writer out of nine.

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