On Screen Girl Power!

Over recent years, more and more television shows have featured strong female leads and plot lines revolving around feminism and combating the objectification of women. And with recent ongoing allegations and lawsuits against powerful men in the Industry, things for women are certainly shifting . . .

This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean more women have been cast in these shows. You may be surprised to learn that the number of women working in television, on and off the camera, hasn’t increased by large sums over the last decade!

Women have comprised between 41-43% of all speaking characters on broadcast television for the last 5 years. They have comprised of approximately 28% of all creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working on broadcast network, cable, and streaming programs since 2012.

Women dressed as handmaids promoting the Hulu original series "The Handmaid's Tale" stand along a public street during the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Film Interactive Festival 2017 in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 11, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

This year’s Emmy Awards were revolutionary for women on screen. Big Little Lies and Handmaid’s Tale swept most of the big awards of the night including Best Limited Series and Best Drama Series, respectively. Another history-making moment occurred when Julia Louis-Dreyfuss won Best Actress in a Comedy Series for the 6th time for the same character for her role as Selina Mayer in Veep. No other actor and actress has this title. Julia Louis-DreyfusIn the show, Dreyfus portrays the stoic Vice President and later President of the Unites States and has kept viewers laughing for 6 seasons straight.




Big Little Lies is based on a novel by female writer Liane Moriarty. It stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern. Laura Dern picked up the award of Best Supporting Actress. During an emotional speech Dern mentions the lack of some in the industry. Although the show is written and directed by men, these women have helmed the producing of the show and have been the roots of it’s success. The plot centres around three mothers all struggling with either marriage or parenting issues. The show explores contemporary feminine issues such as domestic abuse, sexism in Hollywood, misogyny — all topics that have been far overlooked up until this point in the entertainment industry.


The Handmaid’s Tale is also based on a novel by female writer Margaret Atwood. It includes similar themes of women in subjugation to misogyny in a patriarchal society. The show also depicts how women can gain individuality and independence under this system. Although technically a dystopian story, the plot contains moments and stories that are shockingly similar to today’s events. Reed Morano won Best Direction of a Drama for this series. She is the first woman since 1995 to win in this category. Finally! Ann Dowd also won for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Actress Elisabeth Moss won for Best Actress after 7 nominations for similarly feminine-empowered roles.

Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd


It is suspected that many of these shows are coming in response to the recent political climate. None of these shows specifically mention Trump or his policies. But, they deal with issues that have been brought to the forefront since his presidency. A prime example is the destruction of women’s rights. The messages these shows convey are extremely relevant and ones that audiences are looking to see on TV nowadays.

Feminine presence and gender inequality in television and movies has been measured for decades now. This problem dates back to around 1985 with the emergence of the Bechdel test.

The idea of the Bechtel test was created by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. It was in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. In order to pass the test, the show/film must:

  1. have at least two women (with names) in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

Based on several studies, approximately half or a little more than half of all movies pass the test. It has also been found that the movies that pass the Bechdel test have smaller budgets than those that don’t. However, they also make more money in the box office.

sandra-bullock-will-take-home-an-insanely-large-paycheck-for-gravityThe Bechtel test has been becoming more and more important for filmmakers. According to Entertainment Weekly, if passing the test were mandatory, it would have jeopardised half of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Picture nominees.

Clearly, the test has flaws in some ways. The movie Gravity portrays Sandra Bullock as an independent female astronaut. Bullock’s character is considered very female-empowering. But still does not pass the Bechdel test, since she is the only female character in the movie. But with a few tweaks and changes, the test has the potential to be the next required criterion for movies and TV shows to come.

You can see the full list of movies that pass or fail the test here: http://bechdeltest.com/



Other TV shows featuring women at the forefront:

  • Z: The Beginning of Everything – Amazon Prime
  • Chewing Gum – Netflix
  • Jessica Jones – Netflix
  • Grace and Frankie – Netflix
  • Camilla – Youtube
  • Outlander – Starz
  • Orange is the New Black – Netflix

By Lindsey Davis, current Intern at Mark Summers Casting & Management
Follow me on Instagram: @davislindsey
Follow the team on Twitter: @MS_Artists and Instagram: @marksummerscasting_mgt

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