The opening episode of new BBC One thriller Trust was followed by a hard-hitting discussion about the discrimination women face in television at a North West Centre event in late June.
Trust is made by Nicola Shindler’s Red Production Company and stars Jodie Whittaker as a nurse, who, out of desperation, steals the identity of her friend, a former hospital doctor, and starts afresh, working in Edinburgh. But she lives with the constant threat of being discovered, not only by her colleagues but by someone else hot on her trail.
Although Trust scriptwriter Dan Sefton is male, women outnumber men at Red by 24 to three. This sets it apart from most production companies, and the producer of Trust , Emily Feller, and one of the directors, Amy Neil, were on hand, with Broadchurch and Doctor Who star Whittaker, to discuss how to get more women into television.
The RTS event at the Lowry Theatre, Salford was chaired by ITV Granada Reports presenter Ann O’Connor, who asked: “Why don’t female directors get the jobs?”
While half of the students at film school are female, only 13% of directors currently working in TV are women. For writers, the percentage of women drops to 10%.
Whittaker believes that, while it is the norm to “work with people you’ve already worked with”, this vicious cycle must be broken. “There is the perception that there is no-one [female] at the right level,” she said.
Neil agreed, adding that the language used in the TV industry can exacerbate the problem; male directors are spoken of as “new, up-and-coming”, while a female director at the same stage of her career is often referred to as “inexperienced” or even “a risk”.
Feller argued that role models were important. “When I was starting out, apart from Nicola, there were no young women with children,” she said, adding that young women need to “see it to be it”. She said that people still ask women: “How do you work the childcare?”
Whittaker said we must “take the gender out of the role”, while Neil suggested that quotas could encourage hirers to bring women into the industry, as long as they “deserve to be there; not there to tick a box”, added Neil.
All photos by Claire Harrison