Sexism in the film industry

With only a few hours left until this year’s Academy Awards will be kicked off in the Dolby Theatre, I wanted to re-share the editorial I wrote about the issue of sexism in the film industry. I actually first shared this piece two years ago, but the issue is still just as bad — if not worse — and since we’ll have to wait at least another year before we can see a woman receive the Oscar for best achievement in directing again, I feel the need to express what I think about it.

With today’s increased awareness around gender inequality, one would think that the film industry – with all its power and influence – would set an example for equality, but sadly, Hollywood is just as sexist as the rest of America.

This is an important issue to address because research has shown that the viewers’ opinions, values and perceptions are likely to be influenced by the films and TV-shows they watch. Film is one of the few remaining mediums that still possesses such power, and with the descending significance of newspapers and radio in our society, the film industry’s role is more important than ever.

According to Forbes’ list of top ten highest paid actors in 2013, the men made a total of $465 million, while the women collected only $181 million. Before we draw any hasty conclusions, we must take into consideration that male actors are more frequently cast in action films, and those films are more likely to bring in more money than for example drama and comedy – where the females are better represented. But the gap is still too big to be ignored.

In recent years, the “Bechdel Test” has been used to determine women’s role in the film industry. And to pass the test, the movie must have at least two female characters in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man. Well, you might not even have noticed why a test like that would be necessary in the first place, but the horrifying truth is that less than 57 percent of the films in today’s popular culture actually passes it. That means women are either excluded or play insignificant roles in almost half of the movies on the market!

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre (2015) Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Columbia Pictures. 
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Dwayne Johnson and Rufus Sewell in Hercules (2014) Photo: Paramount Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

It’s nothing short of a shame that the film industry’s power of influence has, too often, been used to glorify the stereotypical male hero, while the women seems to have been placed on the screen simply as “set-props.“ In my opinion, if the character doesn’t speak a single word, is partially naked, or dressed in sexually revealing clothes – which is the case for nearly 30 percent of all female characters, she is, in fact, more of a set-prop than a character.

There has, however, been a positive development within the industry, both on and off the screen in recent years. Marilyn Monroe’s image as an objectified temptress has become less attractive, and an increasing number of actors and female directors have taken a stand in the issue of gender inequality. When Hollywood’s own first lady, Angelina Jolie, was asked to play a “Bond girl,” she refused to take the part, and said she’d rather play James bond himself. Not long after, she was cast for the leading role in the action movie “Salt” – a role originally created for Tom Cruise. This is the kind of change we need!

Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt in Salt (2010) Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Unfortunately, the gender imbalance on-screen is just as present behind the camera. Did you know that the first Academy Awards were held almost a century ago, and that during that time, only one woman has won the Oscar for Best Director? Out of all those 88 award ceremonies, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman who has had the pleasure of stepping onto the podium and receiving that 8.5-pound golden wonder with the inscription “Best Achievement in Directing” on it. This, of course, cannot be blamed solely on the Academy, as they are voting on the best films regardless of who made them. Whether or not the voting is fair and unbiased is a topic for another editorial, but there are too few female directors out there, and too few producers who are willing to give them a chance.

Kathryn Bigelow with her Oscar at the 2010 Academy Awards. Photo: Jason Merrit / Getty Images.

Maybe not surprisingly, there has, according to the New York Film Academy’s research, been shown an 11 percent increase in female characters on the screen when a woman directs the film. So, if we want a change, we, the women, will have to take matters into our own hands. There is absolutely no reason why a female should be any less equipped for creating movies that will both pass the Bechdel test, win Academy Awards, give a voice to other women within the film industry, as well as contributing to creating a healthy female ideal for the rest of the world to follow.

Maria Lavelle

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