Saturday, 18 May 2013

Women: Hardly Seen & Rarely Heard

Some worrying news emerged for actresses this week. No, it's not that the casting 'She's kind and hot. She's thin but she has big boobs' exists but it's news that female speaking roles in films are the lowest they've been in five years. A study of the top 100 grossing films in the US in 2012 showed that of the 4475 speaking roles, just 28.4% of those roles were female. If you're wondering what that looks like in graph form, wonder no more...

Pretty upsetting, right? But all joking aside (please, take time to appreciate it, it took far longer to make than you'd think...) it's a pretty serious statistic. If just over a quarter of speaking roles in films are being played by women then something has gone seriously wrong. And what's even more disturbing is that a third of those women lucky enough to be allowed to speak on screen were then put in clothes deemed sexually revealing. Those who read my website Casting Call Woe won't be surprised that this figure is so high, but still, it makes for pretty depressing reading. And it gets worse when you look at female teenage roles where just over half were considered to be dressed provocatively. That's bloody horrible and what's worse is that these figures are improving, they've been very steadily getting worse.

And it's not just actresses that are getting a rough deal, it's happening for all women in the industry. If you look again at the top 100 grossing films in the US last year (don't look too hard, Prometheus is in there...) then the lack of female writers, producers and directors is even worse. In that list there are just 9 female writers, 35 female directors and 164 female producers. Compare these to the 103 male directors, 223 male writers and 693 male producers and it all starts to get very disconcerting indeed.

So what's being done to redress the balance? Sadly 2013 doesn't look like it's going to help balance the scantily-clad figures. First up we have The World's End which I know a lot of us are excited about. But take a look at their trailer and it's a minute before a woman utters a line, and that's the only line said by a woman amidst shots of women dressed in school uniforms. And it's hardly surprising as when you look at the film's IMDb page there are just 2 women listed on the first page among 13 men. But that's just one film that focuses on male friendship so what about the other films coming up this year? Well there's The Hangover 3, Pacific Rim, the next in the tedious The Hobbit trilogy, the next Anchorman, This Is The End and The Wolverine. Yes, these films have women in but it's safe to say that men feature pretty damn heavily. Most of them are written by men, directed by men and feature a lot of men. "Where are the women?" I hear you cry. I honestly have no idea. There's a few in the new Hunger Games film and I think The Great Gatsby got a couple but, on the whole, there few and far between, much like their costumes.

The problem isn't the lack of women within the industry. There are women out there. Lots of them, all doing brilliant and wonderful things. The problem is that the industry seems to want to target a male audience and that seems to mean that men are top of the menu while the ladies are at the back in the 'sides' section that no one can seem to find.

Oh, and if anyone dares use Bridesmaids as an argument, that came out two years ago. It won't work any more.


  1. I must admit I am getting rather tired of all this anti-male resentment from women in the industry. Could it be that fewer women actually want to be directors/producers/writers, hence the imbalance? Or maybe - dare I whisper this without being castrated - these men have worked damn hard, are very good at what they do and actually deserve their success? As a male how am I supposed to feel on behalf of my gender? Embarrassed, ashamed guilty? certainly not pride at our achievements in the entertainment industry. Do you believe there is an all-male conspiracy to keep women out or treat them as sex objects? As a male performer and writer I work very hard and, believe me, my gender hasn't had me propelled to the dizzy heights - it's a slog and many times I have felt like throwing in the towel. Incidentally, there are far more top female casting directors than men ( I could do a graph if you like) - are they secretly colluding with male directors to keep woman out or show them as sex objects? Is the industry really targeting a male audience or are you viewing it through the narrow prism of sexism? There have been some smashing films out recently which, I would argue, target male and females (with some very strong female leads) not to mention pensioners of both gender. I enjoy your blogs and think you write extremely well and raise some important issues - but please don't assume we are all conspiring to keep women out or shivering on the sidelines a bikini.

    1. Thank you for your comments and I'm sorry if you feel I'm making out that there's a 'male conspiracy' to try and keep women out of my film. I don't think I've said that because, mainly, I don't believe that to be the case. I'm simply making the point that women are woefully under-represented in film and I don't think anyone can argue that. Yes, there are films out there that have some great female leads in but, most of the time, those women will be outnumbered by men. I'm not taking away the brilliant work that men do in the industry and I'm not saying that, just because you're a man you have it any easier. But, it's very difficult when the big blockbuster films just aren't featuring women as much as men, both in front of and behind the cameras. Yes, there may be more top female casting directors out there but there power is limited by what has been written. They are not creating the roles and are simply finding the right performers for the characters have been written.

      Again, sorry if you felt that I was attacking men and presuming you're all trying to keep women off our screens as that certainly wasn't my intention. I'm just merely trying to point out the inequality that currently exists.

      Thanks again for your comments and raising a counter-argument, it's much appreciated.

  2. I think part of the problem is the "more of the same, but different" mentality that dominates the mainstream film industry and has for a while. Producers SAY they want new ideas, exciting ideas, stuff that's not the same old shit hashed up, warmed over and covered in parsley. However, when it comes to signing off on an eight figure sum, suddenly they cling, like small children to their cuddly toys, to tried-and-tested formulae that will rake in more cash than they cost. To take your list:

    The Hangover III - proved popular with lads, made a fucktonne of dosh. Let's do another!
    Pacific Rim - high concept Del Toro monster movie. Wait, he did Pan's Labyrinth and Blade II, right? Win!
    The Hobbit - Tolkien. Jackson. More kiddy-friendly, but the fans will still go anyway. Green light.
    Anchorman - See The Hangover III.
    This IS The End - See The Hangover III.
    The Wolverine - An X-Men movie's bound to lose money one of these days, right? 'Till then, let's keep making 'em.

    Basically, the terror of making the next Heaven's Gate/Escape From LA/John Carter Of Mars tends to frighten the bean-counters straight back into their comfort zones, all the more so when you've got a global financial crisis - which may, perhaps, explain the worst-in-five-years nature of your stats. It sucks balls, but I'm honestly not sure what to do about it, other than keep supporting grass-roots projects and hope one of them gets big and prompts a paradigm shift.

    You do get films with strong female protagonists emerging from time to time, typically when Angelina Jolie shows an interest (off the top of my head: The Others; Salt; Wanted; Bound), though strong female protagonists who don't get their cans out are definitely fewer and further between. They have to have an A-List actress attached most times though, which helps you not a jot.

    I'm a little puzzled by your stats; how are there over 800 producers of just 100 films? Or does this include execs/associate producers as well as plain producer credits?

    By the way, while the castings you list at the top of your blog posts are both heartbreaking and hilarious, I'm assuming they're mostly student/amateur filmmakers? All those bastards ever want to do is make films about fellow male 20-somethings, and treat anyone from outside of that demographic as props and plot points at best (I generalise, of course). Speaking as a 36-year old actor, I despair of getting anything decent most of the time myself.

  3. I think, in any industry and in everyday life we men have to remain positive about ourselves, but recognise that, in general, more men have a tendency to be more overbearing and more ego-centric than women and therefore we should be ready gladly and supportively to stay quiet, listen and let others shine.

    Art reflects culture and vice-versa. The only question I would have over the statistics Miss L is using, would be to do with market forces. You're looking at the top 100 grossing films in the US. That means the ones that people want to spend money to watch and production companies are prepared to invest in. To what extent, therefore, are the statistics a reflection of what sells rather than what is 'good' or 'wholesome' media? If you're asking the consuming public to be more high-brow in their choices... good luck.

  4. I did rather fire off there and Hollywood blockbusters are nearly always a testosterone fest. Writing, as you've quite rightly pointed out, is at the root of it. At a more grass roots level though I'm not entirely convinced that's the case. I just get very riled at some females' perception that us chaps have it easier in the profession, are given more opportunities and don't experience sexism ...walk a day in my shoes...etc. and all that..I still think you do a great job in highlighting the lunacy of our industry.

  5. The people that read this blog (and it's very good!) aren't up for these sorts of jobs anyway.

  6. Now I agree with the assessment that there is an imbalance, what I disagree with is the examples given. The Worlds End was a project brought together more through the desire for Pegg, Frost and Wright to work together again, they like working on passion projects and as a result I don't think there was any agenda to discriminate. Let's remember no-one is forced to write parts for either gender and it's not really for us to judge a trailer before seeing the whole film.
    Maybe at the heart of things is a sense of apathy, a sense of 'you'll never break the cycle' much in the same way the UK has fallen into it's current attitude to elections and voting and maybe it's the frustration that too many women decide to tow the line and give in to the whims and fickleness of the industry. Watching someone like Megan Fox rise to prominence with questionable talent but of course stunning good looks and the archetypal Hollywood business model can be massively frustrating, it sends out the wrong message and dictates the 'fashion' that too many (certainly american) actresses seek to follow. Now in an ideal world the triumph of Olivia Colman, Tilda Swinton and Maxine Peake would be a role model and beacon for all actresses to be proud of, strive towards and revel in, but of course the mainstream media doesn't agree, but despite that these actresses have started to be recognised and carve out great careers through uncomprimising grit, determination and a shed load of talent.
    Every Actor whether male or female or trans-gender come to think of it has to have the same mantra, 'Never give up'... seek to do things on your own terms, never compromise your moral or ethical or professional standards for the 'easy route'. We chose this career we know the risks and there always comes a time when it's all or nothing. Not every actor must work inexplicably hard to carve out a niche and a stable career, that's the horrible truth of it, once again their moral flexibility will give them the edge in this industry.
    Perception is the key, if women look at the industry and make the judgement call that 'it's too hard', 'it's sexist', 'There's not enough roles written' yes anyone would be disheartened, give up, not bother, but that is not exclusive to women. It's ALL actors. If you want it enough, you'll find a way, that is all there is to it, there are ways and means for everything and there will be sacrifice.
    If we want the industry to reflect our values then help celebrate those who represent it, give lip service to those who have clawed their way upwards not those who already had the benefits of wealth, education, inside connections and nepotism. If we want to change the industries perception, if we want to encourage those who may be disillusioned, let's endorse the positive role models.