File this report under Things-We-Already-Knew-But-Still-Feel-Crummy-To-See-Proved-In-The-World. USA Today wrote up a recent study that showed women receive less than a third of speaking roles in films, and that female teenage characters are more sexualized than any other demographic in movies. The study looked at more than 4,700 speaking roles in all films from 2008, and it’s a dim outcome: while men had 67% of the speaking roles, women held merely 33%.
As a refresher, 2008 was a year that brought us women-centric flicks like Tina Fey’s Baby Mama, Sex In The City, Mamma Mia! and Vicky Christina Barcelona, and sequels like The X-Files 2 and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2. There was even Diane English’s (poorly received) remake of The Women, with a slew of famous actresses like Annette Benning, Bette Midler and Jada Pinkett Smith. Still, women were more likely to be shown than heard, a Hollywood trend that probably hasn’t improved much in the years since.
Women were found to be heavily absent behind the camera as well. The article notes, “For every five male directors, writers or producers, there was one female.” And while we may have gotten our hopes up in 2009 with Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director, last year’s award season was nothing but same old, same old, with female directors Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) and Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) notably absent from the Director’s Guild Award nominations.
Lisa Cholodenko (L) and Debra Granik (R) with winning director Tom Hoople and Danny Boyle
And some female directors don’t seem to think progress is on the horizon. the LA Times blog recently reported female director Jodie Foster saying that even with female executives at the studio, they’re not hiring female directors. “Name the lists that come out of the female studio executives,” Foster noted when reminded that she had some women allies in the industry. “[It’s] guy, guy, guy, guy. Their job is to be as risk-averse as possible. They see female directors as a risk.”
Think things could get any bleaker? They can. The most disturbing part of this study of women’s roles in 2008 films is the portrayal of females, especially teenage girls. The article notes: “Female teenage characters were more likely to wear sexy, provocative clothing (40%) than other women — even more than those age 21 to 39 (32%). And the teen girls were as likely to appear partially naked as the older women (30%).” Add to this that teen girls were twice as likely to be referred to as “attractive” in the films than their counterparts in their 20s and 30s (and three times as likely than characters over 40). Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, who researches film and media’s impact on youth, was not surprised by the results of the study. “This is sending a powerful message that it’s important for girls and young women to be sexual objects from a very early age,” she says.
So is there any hope? You can count on feminist mag Bitch Magazine for its Movies blog to keep tabs on females in film, behind the scenes and on the screen. And the non-profit organizations like Women In Film and New York Women in Film and Television provide information and resources for women in the industry. Here’s to hoping these statistics help get more women speaking in films, and speaking up.