It seemed like it was a great year for women in Hollywood with the box office and critical success of female-driven films such as Bridesmaids and The Help. For goodness sake, Bridesmaids sparked a whole film and television trend of female-driven comedies starring women and written by women. But according to a new report, “Females were ‘dramatically under-represented’ in the United States’ top 100 grossing films last year, accounting for 33% of all characters at a time when they made up nearly 51% of the U.S. population.
The 33% is a slight increase from 2002 but it’s still not impressive. Plus though there were more female characters over all, there were less female protagonists. “Thus, while there are more female characters on screen today, fewer stories are told from a female character’s perspective,” according to Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University which conducted the study. The average female characters in last year’s films were younger than the male characters, less likely to be portrayed as leaders and more likely to be identified by their marital status (hmm I guess Bridesmaids didn’t help that cause.) It said that 73% of the female characters were Caucasian, 8% African American, 5% Latina and 5% Asian (with the rest in smaller categories, including aliens and animals).
Earlier this year George Clooney commented on this issue in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “It’s much harder to get a film with a woman lead made. When a man hits 40 is when roles just begin to happen. And for women it doesn’t happen. I find that to be a very concerning issue.”
The number of women in front of the camera is quite similar to the number working behind it as well. According to the most recent study from the center, women made up 18% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the 250 highest-grossing movies last year. That was only one percentage point higher than when the center began studying employment figures in 1998. “It is my impression that women are still viewed as “riskier hires” and, as a result, are not considered for the big-budget, high-profile films and/or films in genres other than romantic comedy and romantic drama,” Lauzen said in an interview last year.
Earlier this year film legend Jane Fonda said that while women have made strides in front of and behind the camera, the entertainment industry needs more female decision-makers. ”Until more women wield the power to decide what movies and TV shows get made, Hollywood culture won’t really yield all the fascinating complexities that are the realities of women’s lives,” she said. “Until then, we’re accepting supporting roles in an industry many of us have devoted our lives to.”
Thankfully though in the last few months and this summer we have been seeing some very strong female protagonists in films such as The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Avengers and the upcoming Lola Versus.