Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hear me roar

Several weeks ago, The Englishman's Boy aired on CBC to glowing reviews. I'd read the book, slowly, reluctantly, wanting to like it more than I did but just not able to get into it. I've never met a western I liked. No, not even Unforgiven or Legends of the Fall. And yet the critics raved, so I tried to watch, tried to be the good TV, eh? person, and got about 10 minutes in before giving up.

And then I thought: I wish there were a female critic writing regularly about Canadian television.

I'm not going to pretend that no woman on earth likes westerns, or that a female critic would share my taste more than a male one, or that I don't enjoy and admire John Doyle and Vinay Menon and Jaime Weinman and Bill Brioux and Alex Strachan and others.

So it was a silly thought. But then again ... not really. There is a decided lack of estrogen in the critical community here.

Dana Gee of the Vancouver Province has been bumped from the TV beat, continuing the trend of newspapers abdicating TV criticism to the wire services and the web. Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press and Gayle MacDonald of the Globe and Mail report more than critique. Kate Taylor of the Globe and Mail fills in for Doyle infrequently and isn't watching the same shows I am, even when she is.

Today I was reminded of that by a post from Jaime Weinman of Macleans. I'm happy he weighed in on a recent Gayle MacDonald article about female screenwriters with a less vested view than others I'd seen disparaging her thesis: that women have made huge gains in the last decade in TV writing rooms. I was also happy to see that one commenter later semi-retracted the disparagement.

It wasn't particularly surprising that the contrary opinions I'd seen – the "it's not even an issue" comments – were from white male writers. It's great if the Canadian tv industry doesn't have the gender imbalance the American one does, though credits watching makes me think otherwise. However the issue's certainly not dead in the US, and most Canadians get their entertainment from that pool.

The WGA has a Diversity Committee to assist female and minority writers and issues an annual report called Whose Stories Are We Telling about the makeup of the Hollywood writing workforce:

"This year’s [2007] report has a familiar ring to it: while there have been some advances made by women and minorities in some sectors, white male writers continue to be a disproportionately dominant portion of the writing workforce. .... One of the few bright spots is for women writers in TV where median income rose significantly (though employment percentage numbers rose very slightly [to 27%]). ... For minority writers, past trends showing gains have either slowed or stopped altogether."

But, you know, as long as white male writers don't think there's an issue.

Even in the Canadian TV blogosphere diversity is not obvious, as was hit home to me when begging for help with the upcoming TV, eh? live Internet radio show. Apart from my non-Canadian TV-associated friends, my entire mailing list is white and I'm not sure there's even 27% women on there.

The last thing we need is to lose any of the voices currently out there, behind the screens or in front of them, but it would be nice to have more voices from more places. Two women can differ just as much in opinion than a man and a woman, but it seems obvious that if we had more diverse voices writing for and about television – men and women, white and black and brown and purple, straight and gay, urban and rural – we'd all be richer for it.