The Naked Truth: Hollywood Still Treats Its Women as Second Class Citizens
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/sakkmesterke
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By Monday morning, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the sci-fi adventure thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence, will have taken close to half a billion dollars in global ticket sales. A female-led blockbuster is rare in any year, and all the more so in one marked by box-office disappointments and industry turmoil.
Nevertheless the film's success is likely to intensify rather than diminish calls for greater sexual equality in film. For despite the success of women-led films such as The Hunger Games and Cate Blanchett's Oscar-tipped performance in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, or directors like Kathryn Bigelow and writers such as Lena Dunham – and most recently the taboo-busting French lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Colour – Hollywood remains stubbornly set in its ways regarding sexual equality.
The New York Film Academy has published a remarkably comprehensive study that demonstrates just that: enduring disparities are revealed in the number of speaking parts given to men and women; the relative number of roles requiring full or partial nudity also shows a stark difference; and the sexual divide in offscreen jobs and the gulf in earnings between male and female actors is laid bare.
In publishing the survey, the academy called for a discussion about why, when women comprise half of ticket-buyers and nearly half of directors entered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, their numbers fall away dramatically at the top end of the industry. "By shedding light on genderinequality in film, we hope to start a discussion about what can be done to increase women's exposure and power in big-budget films," its publishers state.
Examining the top 500 films from 2007 to 2012, the survey found one third of speaking parts are filled by women and only 10% of films are equally balanced in terms of roles. The average ratio of male to female actors is 2.25 to 1.
"Like in any big industry, change takes time," points out Dr Martha M Lauzen, executive director, Centre for the Study of Women in Television, Film & New Media at San Diego state university, California, whose research forms the basis of the academy study. "The film industrydoesn't exist in a bubble. It's part of a larger society that tends to have biases and prejudices."
According to Lauzen, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinema- tographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2012 – an improvement of only 1% since 1998. Counting directors alone, women accounted for only 9% – the same figure as in 1998. Lauzen says it is relevant to compare the number of women in positions of power in film, onscreen or off, to the number of women in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies. "All of these are highly coveted, high-status positions – and when you're talking about those kinds of positions, they remain dominated by men."
The most surprising thing, Lauzen says, is the apparent lack of change. "A filmgoer might reference Hunger Games and think things must be OK. It's easy to be misled by a few high-profile cases. But you have to do the count; and the numbers show we're not seeing any change." According to Forbes, the 10 highest-paid actresses made a collective $181m (£110m) versus $465m made by the top 10 male actors. At last year's Academy Awards, 140 men were nominated compared with 35 women. There were no female nominees in directing, cinematography, writing or in several other categories.
When it comes to the silver screen itself the results of Lauzen's research are even more stark: 29% of women in the top 500 films wore sexually revealing clothes compared with only 7% of men; 26% of actresses appear partially naked, compared with 9% of men, and the percentage of teenage females depicted with some nudity has risen by a third since 2007. While those figures may be skewed by one film alone (Harmony Korine's hit teenage skin celebration Spring Breakers) the overall pattern of sex bias is unmistakable.