How Sexist Is The Film Industry?

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The Guardian recently reported that actress Carey Mulligan feels that the film industry is still “massively sexist.” Mulligan lamented that the industry was suffering from a “lack of interesting roles for women to play.”

Mulligan’s comments echo those of other women in film who have been talking about the lack of meaningful roles for women for years. Halle Berry has called attention to the fact that women of color, in particular, face an uphill battle finding roles in film.

Having been the first Black woman to receive an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball, she’s said of the film industry, “I’ve always had a hard time getting roles, being [a woman] of color.”

But are these laments well founded? A study carried out by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen analyzed the top 100 grossing films of 2014. Of those top 100 films, only 12% had films that featured women as the protagonist. The numbers suggest that it’s even worse for women of color.

Despite recent successes with films such as 12 Years A Slave, The Representation Project released data from an analysis of the 500 top grossing films of all time. Of those 500 films a jaw dropping number of just six featured protagonists who were women of color.

Perhaps more telling, a grand total of one of those films was a live action film. The other five were animated films like Mulan, Pocahontas, Spirited Away, and The Princess And The Frog. This would suggest that even when characters who are women of color are written, they don’t necessarily equate to actual roles for screen actors who are women of color.

But what about behind the camera?

Sundance released a three year study today that details the stunning lack of female representation in film direction. The study reveals that the number of female directors of top grossing films has actually decreased in the past 13 years. With a ratio of 1 female director to every 23.3 male directors.

The study suggested that this lack of of representation of female directors in top grossing films may have something to do with what happens at the point of distribution. At the level of distribution that offers the most financial reward, male directed films outnumbered female directed films at a ratio of six to one.

The study stressed that despite the fact that female directors are showing up at festivals like Sundance with films of equal quality to that of male directors, they are unlikely to receive distribution from top companies.

If they do manage to snag a deal with a top distributor, female directors’ films are less likely to have their films distributed to wide audiences. Although Sundance’s study didn’t provide demographic breakdowns outside of gender, directors who are women of color seem to be even less represented.

Back in 2013, the LA times wrote an article that featured comments from Ava Duvernay, the woman who directed the Oscar winning film Selma.

When asked about women of color directors, Duvernay stated, “I pretty much know us all personally.”


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