Only one of every three film and TV acting jobs today goes to a woman, according to current Screen Actors Guild statistics. And the situation has improved only marginally since the union began monitoring it seven years ago.
To draw attention to the disparity between male and female employment levels in show business, SAG officials have called a meeting today with representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers, the Writers Guild, network and studio executives and production company casting people.
The topic to be discussed: "Are Reel Women Real Women?"
In a letter inviting 45 industry leaders to attend, SAG President Patty Duke wrote in part: "The purpose is to afford industry leaders an opportunity to review past efforts at improving the depiction and employment of women in the entertainment media. We are confident that our combined efforts, both in public policy and private initiative, can achieve our common goal: the realistic reflection of women in our society."
"SAG women are getting just 2% more roles than we were five years ago," said actress Timothy Blake, national chairwoman of SAG's Women's Conference Committee. "On the positive side, things haven't gotten worse. But this tiny improvement really isn't enough."
According to the latest SAG statistics, compiled in part from employment records supplied to the union by film and TV producers:
--43% of the union's 69,029 membership is female, and 53% of the U.S. population is female. Yet women get only 33% of all available roles. (SAG does not make a practice of breaking the employment figures down by TV and film work.)
--Women older than 40 get 10% of all roles, while men older than 40 get 30% of all roles.
--At age 50, women earn half what men earn.
SAG has often discussed these inequities privately with the networks and studios. It has also successfully sought stronger guarantees regarding employment for minorities and women whenever it negotiated a new contract.
"We are now stepping up our efforts," said Rodney Mitchell, SAG affirmative action administrator. "We have begun to question whether middle management has enough influence to bring about change. We want to involve senior management--make them aware of the problem and get a commitment from them to use their resources and persuasive powers to open up casting to women."
Studio and network executives set to attend today's symposium include Fredric Bernstein, president of worldwide production, Columbia Pictures; Peter McAlevey, vice president, feature production, Disney; Leslie Moonves, senior vice president, network development, Lorimar TV; Nancy Nayor, vice president, theatrical talent, Universal Pictures; Allyn Stewart, vice president, theatrical productions, Warner Bros.; Joel Thurm, vice president, talent and casting, NBC.
Producers Alliance President Nick Counter, who is also slated to attend, said, "Our interest in this is getting the creative people together with SAG to brainstorm. The bottom line with us is that the roles are pretty much laid out in the script, and the roles that are created predate our involvement. The key point is to continue to raise the awareness of the creative people.
"Our agreement with SAG is that the American scene be portrayed in a realistic manner. As a consumer, I have noticed a considerable amount of change. Ten or 15 years ago you didn't see women judges and doctors on the screen."
But there is still room for improvement, SAG's Mitchell said. "Our contract has a clause that says, 'Producers shall endeavor to employ women and minorities in each production.' So far, we haven't achieved that."
In the past year SAG has undertaken two projects to improve opportunities for female performers in commercials:
--The New York Women's Voice-Over Committee invested $10,000 in a McCollum/Spielman Research study to "determine the relative effectiveness of utilizing a female voice-over vs. a male voice-over in television commercials." Voice-overs are the off-camera voices.
"For a long time it was said that women didn't have the authority," SAG's Blake said, explaining why men traditionally did 80% of all voice-over work. "The study proved we came out equal. We are about to launch a six-month campaign to get this information out." Their first ad will appear next month in Advertising Age, a widely read marketing industry trade paper.
--Blake said SAG has also "put together a tape of commercials done by the four protected groups--women, disabled, people of color and older performers--and sent it around to advertising agencies, saying this is what we'd like to see. It's not so much about giving women the jobs but about giving them the opportunity to audition.
"We're trying to approach the problem in a positive way. I don't think we--the performers--should tell the writers what to write, the directors who to cast or the producers what to put in their films. All we can ask them to do is look at the American scene and put women into realistic roles. Women are doctors and lawyers. They also deliver mail and climb up telephone poles."
Traditionally, Blake said, there have always been more roles for men than women.
"Shows are budgeted from the top," she said, and in many cases a film's four biggest and best-paying roles are likely to be for three men and one woman. Then, she said, the big money is gone.
"Women aren't in the same position to negotiate," Blake said. "It's hard for them to turn something down over money or billing, because so many women can do the same role. In many cases the man's role is more important, so producers are apt to pay more to get what they want. Then they cast his wife."
One of SAG's attempts to increase the number of women's roles is to encourage writers and casting directors to give women some of the "nondescript" roles--less important roles that are not specified by gender. It is a slow but steady process.
The Casting Society, consisting of more than 200 casting directors in motion pictures, television and theater, began meeting with minority groups four years ago. "When we first started, we didn't understand the problem," said Jennifer Shull, senior vice president, head of talent, Columbia Pictures. "Now every single casting director has signed a pledge. We know the problem, and we're trying to do something about it. We are committed to the policy of equal employment opportunities.
"In an average script, maybe 10% to 15% of the parts are 'nondescript.' On those parts, we feel we have a responsibility to bring in women. And if the producer and director are agreeable, we'll sometimes suggest, 'How about a woman here?' even though the script states 'man.' Many times they will say, 'That's a good idea.'
"At our meetings we'll report whenever we are able to make headway. It's a matter of education and awareness. When people see the disparity, they will try to change it."
Susan Rose, director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women, said, "The 1986 SAG Affirmative Action report indicates how far women still have to go. Today, women 40 and up are leading full lives--working and raising families. They are an integral part of contemporary society. It is important that our film and TV industries recognize this and depict women equally, as well as in a realistic manner."