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Does Hollywood have a woman problem?

  • Published at 02:23 pm August 24th, 2018
Women who are survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and their supporters, protest during a #MeToo march in Hollywood, California on November 12, 2017

It does not help that women are frequently cast in roles that capitalize on their youth and sensuality—over their acting abilities

It is no secret that women face many obstacles in Hollywood’s film industry—from the sexual harassment and assault that necessitated the #MeToo movement, to the disparity in income when compared to their male counterparts. The underrepresentation of women in Hollywood is evident – both in front of and behind the camera – with female professionals making up less than 12% of industry. This is ever more noticeable when considering that women comprise 50% of the cinemagoers. 

Women make up less than 25% of the protagonists of contemporary films; keeping in mind that men make up nearly 60% of protagonists, it is clear there is an imbalance in the representation of gender in the American film industry. Often these roles compartmentalize and depict women as stereotypes and clichés that no longer – or never did –represent the reality of women today; a flaw that evades major film studios and their target audience’s expectations.

From its inception, the success of the film industry worldwide has been in part due to the crucial role women played on both sides of the camera. Women have played major roles in the history of world cinema; notable examples being filmmakers Alice Guy-Blaché and Lois Weber. The former was the first female director in cinema history and the latter was one of Hollywood’s first female directors; Weber is reputed to have pioneered the split-screen filmmaking technique still commonplace in film.

In more recent times, 2017 proved to be a standout year for women’s representation in Hollywood.—the most recent “Star Wars” film, “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Wonder Woman” all featured a female protagonist, and are among the highest grossing films of the year. In the case of “Wonder Woman,” Patty Jenkins became the highest-grossing female director of all time. Additionally, Rachel Morrison’s work in “Mudbound” garnered her Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography, making her the first woman ever nominated in the category. 

In light of these successes it would be easy to conclude that the issues regarding women’s representation in the Hollywood film industry are unfounded, however, in the top -grossing films of 2017, women representation has the following statistics:

•       8% of directors

•       10% of writers

•       2% of cinematographers

•       24% of producers

•       14% of editors

As evidenced by these numbers, women are still not widely represented in Hollywood, despite recent achievements by female filmmakers. One can attribute this gender disparity to the expectations placed upon women by studio executives, and by extension, their anticipated audience’s expectations. Despite women making up half of the cinemagoers, film productions continue to be plagued by gender imbalances regarding both crew and casting.

It does not help that women are frequently cast in roles that capitalize on their youth and sensuality—over their acting abilities. On the other end of the casting spectrum, female actors over 30 find themselves relegated to the diminutive roles of playing a male lead’s girlfriend or wife—in major or awards-tailored productions of any year.

While there are obviously exceptions to this issue, as seen by the diversity of roles played by Meryl Streep or Jennifer Lawrence, these are unfortunately exceptions. Female actors continue to find themselves typecast as stereotypes or clichés. Of course women have always played the roles expected of them by studio executives and audiences—whether the ubiquitous “sex kitten” à la Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, or the maternal figure like Julie Andrews’s Maria Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”

So, why do women still find themselves marginalized in Hollywood? Taking into account the aforementioned imbalance in the American film industry, it is no surprise that women advocate for more active roles in both crew and casting. The #MeToo movement sheds further light on this predicament as gender disparity has led those in positions of power to victimize many women in Hollywood.

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