Women of the Year

Statistics are showing women are still grossly underrepresented in film

They've had a third of the speaking roles in movies in the past ten years.

By: Jaya Saxena

I know we all hoped Wonder Woman and Girls Trip were harbingers of a new era of woman-centric film (or at least shut up anyone claiming movies with women and non-white stars don't sell), but according to the University of Southern California, we may have to cling to Diana Prince for a long time. Researchers analysed representation in 900 films from 2007 to 2016 to track portrayals of gender, race, disability, and LGBT characters. Surprise, women are still horribly underrepresented in film, and offensive stereotypes aren't going anywhere.

In front of the camera, there were on average 2.3 male characters for every woman, with no meaningful change from 2007 to 2016. Of the top 100 films of 2016 (determined by the list of the 100 top fictional films on Box Office Mojo), 34 had a woman lead, eight had a woman lead over the age of 45, and just three had a lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial group. Women were also much more likely to be shown in "sexy attire," and, disturbingly, "teenage females (13‐20 yr olds) were just as likely to be depicted in sexually revealing clothing and with some nudity as young adult females (21‐39 yr olds)."

Behind the camera, it's not much better either (oh, you thought it was time for the good news?). 20.7% of producers are women, 13.2% are writers, 4.2% are directors, and just 1.7% are composers. Across 1,006 directors of the 900 films analysed, 53 were Black men, three were Black women, and two were Asian women.

Representation in film is important because, if we're meant to see film as a reflection of narratives that matter to our population, right now it's still perpetuating the notion that only white, cisgender, straight, male, and able-bodied narratives matter. Filmmakers have used all sorts of excuses to justify these numbers, arguing that making characters women or LGBT wouldn't be honest to the stories they are trying to tell. But that's because they chose to tell those stories in the first place. They could choose different ones.

So what's to be done? USC researchers say there are about 40 speaking characters in every movie, so if "writers were to simply add five female speaking characters to every film, it would increase yearly the percentage of female characters on screen." It's a small ask, given that these could be inconsequential background characters, but it would lead to equal representation of women on screen by 2020.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of BoJack Horseman, spoke about how obvious a choice this was to make — once it was pointed out to him by head designer Lisa Hanawalt. He said there is a "tendency for comedy writers, and audiences, and writers... to view comedy characters as inherently male, unless there is something specifically female about them," and that until Hanawalt started designing characters he had assumed were men as women, he didn't realise he was making this assumption.

"The underlying assumption there is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that," he wrote. "In case I'm not being a hundred percent clear, this thinking is stupid and wrong and self-perpetuating unless you actively work against it."

Still, background character equality is a low bar to clear. USC also recommends high-profile talent add equity clauses in their contracts, which would specify "a more equitable process for auditioning and casting on‐screen talent and interviewing and hiring for behind‐the‐camera jobs," and that shareholders make these demands of companies. And as consumers, we can support films that center underrepresented narratives. Which means I can continue giving all my money to the Fast and Furious franchise.

Via: ELLE US