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19 January 2018

WFTV Backing NEROPA, A New Initiative to Address Gender Balance on Screen

On Thursday 18th January, Equity’s Women’s Committee hosted a special event at BFI Southbank to call for the UK film and TV industry to start using NEROPA, a new diversity tool created by German actress Belinde Ruth Stieve which aims to enable film and television productions to better reflect the societies in which they are set. Women in Film and Television went along to the event to support the launch.

“The best thing is, it doesn’t cost you anything other than the couple of hours the people spend looking over the script. It doesn’t harm their scripts, and they can get clear results in a quick time.”
– Belinde Ruth Stieve

We all know how dire the statistics are when it comes to gender representation in film and TV, both on and off screen. Despite a greater awareness, there’s been no real significant change in decades. In recent years, broadcasters and industry bodies have set up standards and targets for productions to work towards. That’s something, at least. But what about the practical tools that can actually help productions to meet those standards and hit their targets? So far, those have been lacking. That’s where NEROPA comes in.

It stands for NEutral ROles PArity and it shines a light on those roles in a script which are gender neutral, i.e. characters whose gender is not significant to the plot, but which inexplicably tend to end up as men on our screens. For example, The BFI’s Filmography reveals that just 15% of unnamed doctors in British films since 1985 were female, whereas they account for 52.2% in reality. And that in 2017 women represented just 30% of the total casts of UK films, versus 47% of the UK workforce as a whole. By identifying the gender neutral roles within a script – all roles, including leads – NEROPA makes it possible for a production to redress the imbalance to better reflect the world we live in and, in turn, have a positive impact upon it too.

How it works

A team of three go through the script to do the NEROPA check. This could be the director, the casting director and the producer, for example. It’s important that it’s three people so that there can be differences of opinion, and that any disagreements can be settled with a 2-to-1 vote.

They each mark the script using colour coded pencils – blue for women, pink for men, and green for neutral. Then, those identified as neutral are allocated alternately female – male – female – male, so that those roles are gender balanced.

Presenting her tool to an audience of industry delegates at the BFI, Belinde made it clear that NEROPA in no way effects the plot, and that it’s cheap to implement. “The best thing is, it doesn’t cost you anything other than the couple of hours the people spend looking over the script. It doesn’t harm their scripts, and they can get clear results in a quick time.”

If a character needs to be a man (Belinde used the example of a sperm donor!) then that character must obviously remain male. Or if the plot of a film necessitates that the cast is overwhelmingly single gender then, again, that is not to be interfered with. NEROPA is for those roles which really needn’t be a specific gender, so that they don’t continue to end up disproportionately male. Belinde also suggested that if a production is willing to give the Casting Director more scope to fine tune the NEROPA allocations, the roles can then be diversified further to include a range of ages, ethnicities and so on. She is also hoping to expand the thinking beyond the binaries of male and female, to include intersex and asexual, for example.

What now?

“We believe NEROPA can play a part in achieving greater gender balance on our screens, provided that those in positions of power are willing to get behind it too.”
– Kate Kinninmont MBE

NEROPA was launched in the German film industry two years ago and there has been a positive response to following its simple rules. Women in Film and Television is backing the initiative and is behind Equity in calling for all industry organisations in the UK to get behind it. The BFI’s Head of Inclusion, Jennifer Smith announced at the event that the BFI approves of the method, and it is hoped that others will follow suit.

Commenting after the event, WFTV Chief Executive Kate Kinninmont said: “We are 100% behind the NEROPA initiative. Belinde has created a simple but brilliant tool because it enables productions to easily identify those roles which are gender neutral and ensure that they are balanced 50/50 male and female. It’s not asking writers to change their stories, or for productions to spend lots of money but just to take a little bit of time to make a positive change.”

She continued: “As Belinde points out, we grow up with fewer images of women than men on screen, and those women we do see are less diverse in age, profession, and ethnicity. Time’s Up. The time for change is now, and we believe NEROPA can play a part in achieving greater gender balance on our screens, provided that those in positions of power are willing to get behind it too.”

Belinde is now looking to continue to raise awareness about NEROPA in Germany, the UK and beyond. She is presenting the method to film schools and is willing to run workshops for interested organisations.

If you would like to find out more, you can visit the NEROPA website.

Belinde also writes a blog about women in film and has conducted research into gender representation. You can take a look at her blog here. (English translation follows the German).

You can also follow Belinde on Twitter: @SchspIN

Thanks to Equity’s Women’s Committee for running the event.