A woman smiles into the camera.

Tracey Deer on improving gender balance in Canadian TV and film: “You have to be brave to change things”

After covering the Canadian television industry for five years, I assumed the gender balance was even. I know several female showrunners like Emily Andras (Wynonna Earp), Sarah Dodd (Cardinal: Blackfly Season), Jennica Harper (Jann), Catherine Reitman (Workin’ Moms) and Michelle Lovretta (Killjoys), many female writers and female directors. And, after the CBC announced they would ensure 50 per cent of directors on their projects would be female, I naively thought, “All good.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A recent report by Women in View examined more than 5,000 contracts issued between 2014 and 2017 in television, and between 2015 and 2017 in film. The report has been tracking gender balance in Canada’s film and television industry, and the most recent uncovered some movement toward gender balance since the first study in 2012, but women of colour and Indigenous women remain woefully under-employed.

“There are still gaps and, sadly, it’s women who are making the change,” Women in View’s Board Chair Tracey Deer says. “Women showrunners are hiring women. We need our male colleagues to get on board as well and then I think we’re going to see some massive changes.” Deer, who most recently directed, co-created and co-executive produced Mohawk Girls, believes the industry is slow to change because it has been male-dominated for so long. Add to that the industry is a collaboration—when you find someone you work well with, you’ll hire them again—and it’s an uphill battle for women.

“I don’t fault [men] that,” Deer stresses. “However, it’s complicit, and part of this problem. We need to shake it up, expand our network and not keep working with the same people over and over again.” There is some good news: between 2014 and 2017, there was a jump in women filling 17 per cent of the jobs to 28 per cent. But just 1.81 per cent of contracts went to women of colour, and Indigenous women only .69 per cent.

In 2017, no directing, writing or cinematography roles in television went to Indigenous women. Of the 3,206 television contracts issued during the full four-year period, just 22 went to Indigenous women, and only 12 of 1,637 film contracts. Just .87 per cent of writing roles and 5 per cent of directing jobs went to women of colour.

“There are lots of us out there who are at the calibre that is needed to do the work,” Deer says. “We constantly want to be bringing women up. But to hire women isn’t inherently throwing a bone to women, it’s about doing your own project a greater good by bringing on the different perspective that women, specifically women of colour and Indigenous women. We all bring different perspectives to our work and that makes it richer, not poorer.”

She believes the major change needs to begin at the top, at the broadcast level and the funding agency level, with a mandate to have a certain number of women and men. The people are there, Deer says, and ready to work.

“I talk a lot about people being brave,” she says. “You have to be brave to change things. When it rests just on the individual to do the right thing and be brave, it’s a really scary thing. It has to happen across the board.”

You can find more information and reports on the Women in View website.