What kinds of movies make the big bucks? According to a new study, movies with strong leading ladies surprisingly do. Yay for feminism, right? Well, not so fast. While women in Hollywood have celebrated many successes in recent years, they still face many obstacles as well.
Let’s take a look at some of their successes first.
According to vocative.com, movies that passed the Bechdel Test, a system that evaluates whether a movie has two or more women in it who have a conversation about something other than a man, had significantly higher domestic box office revenues.
This year was also great for women over 40 in Hollywood. Sandra Bullock, 49-years-old, starred in Gravity which raked in over $650 million worldwide. Bullock also starred in The Heat alongside Melissa McCarthy, 43, proving that the female buddy comedy can be hugely successful.
43-year-old Tina Fey and 42-year-old Amy Poehler will host the Golden Globes for the second year in a row and one in which an overwhelming number of nominees are women over 40 — like Bullock, Cate Blanchett (44), Judi Dench (79), Emma Thompson (54), Meryl Streep (64), Robin Wright (47), Connie Britton (46) and Julianna Margulies (47).
This is all good news, right? We want movies and TV shows that showcase incredible women on screen and actresses that are awarded for their amazing talent.
The problem is that when you look at the big picture we still have such a long way to go to achieve gender equity in Hollywood.
While there have been lots of leading ladies dominating the big screen, 2014 is expected to have an astonishingly low number of women behind the camera. Only 4 percent of all movies currently scheduled for release this year have female directors, and of the 149 films, only six are from female filmmakers.
That’s not all. When you try to find black women in Hollywood the numbers are even more sparse. People are often quick to name Kerry Washington, Scandal‘s leading lady who made history by being only the second black woman to receive an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. (She lost to Claire Danes of Homeland).
Despite Washington’s great success, black women are completely absent from the best actress, best director and best screenplay categories in this year’s award shows. In addition, of the 250 box office releases in 2013, less than 50 featured a black woman in a leading or supportive role.
Hollywood’s focus on a woman’s appearance is also alive and well, especially in tween programming. In fact, a new study has found that while women and girls always have to look perfect when on screen, the same scrutiny does not apply to men and boys. Instead the men and boys are overwhelmingly portrayed as brave. So the girls get pretty, and the boys get brave. Not the type of messaging I would want imparted on young viewers.
When you think of all these shortcomings, it’s clear that there is still so much that needs to be done to level the playing field for women in Hollywood.
“The movie industry is failing women, and until the industry starts making serious changes, nothing is going to change,” said New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis.
Dargis could not be more right.
How can we solve the problem of sexism in Hollywood?
Geena Davis has the answer, and it’s really rather simple:
Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it’s not a big deal?
Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.
What do you say Hollywood? Can you handle it?
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr