Women in Horror: Cycles of Inequality in the US Television Industry

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsConference Presentation


This paper connects twenty-first century television horror with genre history by unearthing hidden, forgotten or undervalued contributions that women creators have made to the horror genre’s evolution. It examines the industrial context and (very) slowly-changing gender inequalities of US television specifically through gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-71) and recent HBO series Lovecraft Country (2020). Dark Shadows is traditionally attributed to producer Dan Curtis, yet 592 episodes (of 1,225, including the first and the last) were directed by Lela Swift. Virtually unheard of today, Swift worked alongside Curtis as part of a carefully chosen—largely male—team to bring Dark Shadows to the screen. In 2020 when Misha Green’s Lovecraft Country finished, its 10 episodes had employed 5 female directors (of 10), 4 female writers (of 7), and a female composer. Both Swift and Green are trailblazers for women in TV horror, whose careers demonstrate the continuing consequences of social capital and inequality in media industries. The Boxed In Report on women in US television 2020-21 found that ‘programs with at least 1 woman creator employed substantially higher percentages of women in other key behind-the-scenes roles and featured more female characters than programs with exclusively male creators’ (2021, p6). Similarly, the Women’s Media Center 2021 Report: Gender & Non-Acting Primetime Emmy Nominations notes that ‘in the rare instances that a TV program has a female-majority team of producers, writers, directors, or editors who get Emmy nominations, the show most likely has a woman as a showrunner or a female star who is also an executive producer’ (2021, p2). This paper analyses Swift and Green’s contributions to the development of horror and what their experiences tell us about how women have historically and more recently succeeded in making such contributions in the face of deep-seated industrial inequalities.
Period2 Jul 2022
Event titleFear 2000: Horror Undying
Event typeConference
Conference number6
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • television horror
  • television industry
  • production studies
  • feminist media studies