Hire more women, write better characters: Why we care about women in The X-FIles writer's room

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Aug 9, 2017

There was good news this afternoon for those who hoped the upcoming season of The X-Files might feature more women behind the camera. After an earlier report that the 11th season of the drama would include zero female writers or directors, FOX executives have announced that two of the 10 episodes will now be written by women. Two female directors have also signed on to helm two of the episodes.

This is certainly a step forward for the revived series, which received some intense backlash for the initial report last month, including a tweet from series star Gillian Anderson lamenting the show’s lack of female representation behind the camera. Anderson is one of only two women who ever directed an episode of the series’ 202 and one of only six women who have contributed scripts.

As we’ve previously pointed out, women have always been a part of the history of The X-Files, as science advisors, other production staff, and, of course, as part of the fandom. One of the show’s two main characters, Dana Scully, has long been lauded for breaking gender norms and inspiring girls and women to pursue careers in STEM fields. But that single character doesn’t mean the show hasn’t had severely problematic moments, from portrayals of transgender characters to those of sexual assault, and the use of Scully as a pawn in her male partner’s story.

It is for these reasons, among others, that fans of the show are calling for more representation, and why this most recent announcement is only a small boon. Two is better than zero, but it’s still only 20% of the staff, far from gender parity.

This desire isn’t just SJW nonsense, either. It’s supported by science. Just last week, the University of Southern California released the results of a study done by the Department of Computer Science, which analyzed 1,000 movie scripts. The study used a computer model to parse scripts for character details (gender, age, race) as well as dialogue and compared things like amount of dialogue spoken and the kinds of language used in that dialogue. The goal was to get an idea of how different characters are portrayed based entirely on the dialogue written for them in films.

You can see where this is going, right?

The study largely confirmed what many already know to be true. White male characters vastly outnumber female characters and characters of color. In 1,000 scripts, there were 4,900 male characters to the 2,000 female characters. Of those characters, 83% were Caucasian.

That representation discrepancy was even more pronounced behind the camera, as the study also compared the genders of those on the creative teams, including writers, directors, and casting agents. It found that the number of male writers outnumbered women by a factor of seven, while male directors outnumbered their female counterparts a staggering 12 to one.

But how do all of these numbers interact, and how does this study support the outcry for more female writers and directors on shows like The X-Files? In addition to pulling out the raw numbers, the study’s authors also compared the distribution of character genders in films written and/or directed by women to those in films written and/or directed by men. They found that if you want to increase female representation in your project, you start in the writers’ room. According to the study, if there was a woman in the writers’ room, female representation was 50% higher, on average.

These results track with a similar study last year that found that 50% of films with an entirely male writing staff fail the Bechdel Test.

This is exactly why fans and critics spend so much energy advocating for female creatives behind the camera. It’s why there was so much push for a female director on Wonder Woman and why many are imploring Warner Bros. to hire a woman to write/direct the upcoming Batgirl installment. Hiring women means better female representation. At the very least, it means more female representation.

By the same token, it stands to reason that if women in the writers’ room means more female representation, then POC or WOC in the room would lead to more representation of those groups as well.

It’s a simple solution to a problem that is plaguing Hollywood, and when there is such a wide gap in representation on screen, it’s a problem that will require drastic, deliberate action to fix.