Despite a seemingly healthy dose of movies — like Gravity and The Hunger Games (pictured) — featuring strong female characters, Hollywood still tends to marginalise women on screen.
Women on screen marginalised to just 30% of speaking roles.
Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence have shown that female leads can carry big-budget films, but Hollywood still marginalises women on screen to just 30% of speaking roles, according to a new report.
Women remained dramatically under-represented in 2013 despite films such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Gravity heralding a supposed banner year for female actors, the study, titled It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, found.
In the top 100 domestic grossing films in the United States, females comprised 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of speaking characters – a degree of marginalisation largely unchanged since the 1940s.
“It’s gender inertia. We’re seeing very little change in the number of female characters that we’re seeing on screen,” said the study’s author, Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television, Film & New Media at San Diego State University. Recent box office hits such as Gravity starring Bullock, The Hunger Games starring Lawrence and the animated feature Frozen, featuring the voice of Kristen Bell, masked the “remarkable stability” of women’s marginalisation over decades, she said.
The Heat, starring Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, was another film that prompted buzz over supposedly widening roles for female actors.
“Many people think the number of female protagonists and characters must be increasing which is why it’s important to look at the numbers.
“It’s very easy to be misled by a few high-profile cases,” said Lauzen.
Hollywood’s public face is often female: Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler the Golden Globes, Cheryl Boone Isaacs is president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
But only 13% of last year’s top 100 films featured equal numbers of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters. The results were based on content analysis of more than 2,300 characters.
A New York Film Academy study published last year also showed enduring inequality in the number of speaking parts, the requirement for nudity and earnings.
Cate Blanchett alluded to the problem in accepting the best actress Oscar for Blue Jasmine.
“Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences - they are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”
The San Diego study found that female characters were younger than male counterparts and less likely to have clearly identifiable goals or be portrayed as leaders
of any kind.
Almost three quarters of all female characters were white, followed by black (14%), Latina (5%), Asian (3%), other worldly (3%) and other (2%), according to the study. “Moviegoers were as likely to see an other-worldly female as they were to see an Asian female character,” it noted.
Women also remain heavily under-represented behind the camera. Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar for the 2009 drama The Hurt Locker, followed in 2011 by Bridesmaids, raised hopes of a “Bigelow effect”, opening doors for women on screen and behind the camera.
“We now know that didn’t materialise,” said Lauzen.
In a separate study of the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2012, she calculated that women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors – a 1% improvement since 1998. – Guardian News & Media