Last week, the Internet reminded us all why comment moderators exist, when poor Felicity Jones dared to be in a Star Wars Film.
Yes, despite The Force Awakens being one of the biggest and best films of 2015, some people still aren’t convinced by the idea of a female lead character, mainly because apparently it’s ‘political correctness gone mad’.
And to make my point perfectly clear, I think anyone who argues that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue’ needs to admit that Indiana Jones, James Bond and the multitude of other faultless male characters are just as guilty as being ‘Marty Stus’ – but no-one seems to give a shit about that.
Meanwhile, the movie industry has been rightly criticised for its gender and racial disparities on and off screen in recent months, with a number of high profile actors coming out in support of the complaints.
Don’t take my word for it though, the people over at Polygraph have done the maths and taken 2,000 scripts from a whole host of Hollywood movies, spanning all the way back to 1980s, then used an algorithm to match the dialogue with actors’ IMDB profiles.
Unsurprisingly, they found out the disgraceful reality for women in film. Basically, male actors have considerably more dialogue than their female counterparts, and as men age more roles become available to them while women fall out of favour as they age.
The above table shows the way that male actors tend to get more roles as they get older, and yet the opportunities for female actors decrease as they age. In addition, 39 per cent of male actors on screen are aged between 42-65, compared to just 20 per cent of women in the same bracket.
Even the family favourite, Disney, is guilty of this particular cinema sin with 22 out of 30 Disney films having a majority of male dialogue.
Take Mulan, for example, which has a female lead, and yet her dragon, Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy), has 50 per cent more words of dialogue than the titular star.
Other damning statistics show that a mere 18 per cent of films contain at least two female actors in major roles, whereas this happens for men an overwhelming 82 per cent of the time.
But why? Recent blockbuster successes, Frozen, Mad Max and The Force Awakens have shown that audiences are willing to watch films with a female lead and yet male main characters seem to be the Hollywood default.
Well, it’s partly a business decision, and the traditional thinking in Hollywood is that male led films do better financially than movies with women in the lead, the thought being that while women will see a film led by a man or a woman, men are only interested in male led films.
But is that true?
If we look at the box office takings so far for 2016, we can see that while the vast majority of the year’s top earners are male led, the year’s biggest film financially, Zootropolis, has a woman (well, female bunny) heading the picture.
Another study, by the Black List, found that female led films actually tend to bring in a greater return on investment than male led movies, so how long can Hollywood cower behind outdated stereotypes before we start to admit that there’s a problem?
Now, initial snark aside I think audiences, aside from a few rotten apples, are willing to accept women in films and that the problem begins at a studio level – essentially, there’s a lack of faith in these films from ‘the suits’.
Once again, don’t take my word for it, take the word of Marvel’s current CEO, Isaac Perlmutter, who in a leaked email to Sony’s Michael Lynton, admitted that because female led superhero movies don’t make bare dollar, they’re ‘disasters’.
His email read:
As we discussed on the phone, below are just a few examples. There are more.
1. Electra (Marvel) – Very bad idea and the end result was very, very bad. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/
2. Catwoman (WB/DC) – Catwoman was one of the most important female character within the Batmanfranchise. This film
was a disaster. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/
3. Supergirl – (DC) Supergirl was one of the most important female super hero in Superman franchise. This Movie
came out in 1984 and did $14 million total domestic with opening weekend of $5.5 million. Again, another disaster.
Now, never mind the fact that I’ve had farts with more substance than those particular films, but Mr Perlmutter seems to be fundamentally missing the point.
Just because female superhero films have done badly in the past, it doesn’t meant that they’ll always do bad. They just need to actually be good and well written, like Netflix’s recent Jessica Jones series, for instance.
Thankfully, some film makers are taking a stand against this short sighted thinking. Take The Force Awakens, for example, which is casting done right. It ultimately makes no difference whether Rey is a boy or a girl or if Finn is black or white in the film.
In fact, it makes such little difference to the film that you could substitute a cactus into either part and it would make fuck all difference to the story (you know, as long as it could talk), and yet J.J. Abrams cast a girl in the role as part of his effort to diversify Hollywood and its relatively limited casting pool.
To make matters worse, the gender pay gap, which is present across all industries in the U.S, is still a huge problem in Hollywood with female actors earning substantially less than their male counterparts.
There are also huge issues with the representation of women in films. A report by the Annenberg School at USC’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, released back in 2014, revealed that only 28.1 per cent of characters in that year’s top 100 films were female and, of that percentage, only 21 had a female lead or co-lead.
On the other side of the camera things are even worse, with women making up just 1.9 per cent of directors, 11.2 per cent of writers and 18.9 per cent of producers.
This aggravates the problem of representation as the report found that in shoots where women held important positions off-screen, women were featured more often, and in less sexualised roles.
The issue with this lack of representation is it means there’s a limited number of female role models for young people who want to get involved in film, which is a shame because we’re potentially losing unique voices.
So, although things are improving for women in the film industry, the division between gender remains just as important an issue as race in Hollywood.