There are some moments in life where the phrase “something is better than nothing” or “that’s good enough” apply. The state of gender equality in Hollywood is not one of those things. Entertainment Weekly posted an article today saying that sole female protagonists made up 29% of the 100 highest grossing films of 2016. The point they were trying to make is that it’s up from 7% in 2015 and while that optimism might be the way some look at the world, it’s not good enough. That is, as EW calls it, a “baby step” like this is something worth celebrating. We should not be happy with 29%, but furious that the number isn’t higher.
The study (pdf) from the San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film breaks down the numbers even more and there is not a single statistic mentioned that doesn’t make my blood boil.
Some of the statistics include: women accounted for 37% of major characters (up 3%), and 32% of major and minor speaking roles (down 1%). The racial breakdowns of these female characters came down to 76% white, 14% black, 6% Asian, 3% Latina, and 1% other races.
“The findings for race and ethnicity were a mixed bag. The percentage of Asian female characters doubled in 2016, and the percentage of black female characters increased slightly, but the percentage of Latina characters decreased slightly,” says Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the center.
Some of the other numbers included in the study show that women were more likely to have a significant role in a film if at least one female writer or director was part of the creative team. 57% of those movies had female protagonists, while in films with an exclusively male creative team, the number dropped to 18%.
The characters themselves are not the only instance in film where women were practically non-existent in 2016 — the issue extends to film makers as well. On the awards circuit, of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, only one (Hidden Figures) had a female writer. In January of 2017 Variety revealed that just 7% of all directors working on the highest grossing 2016 movies were women. The numbers don’t get much better when it comes to more behind the scene work, with 24% producers (down 2%), 17% editors (down 5%), 4% sound designers (down 1%), 13% writers (up 2%), and 5% cinematographers (down 1%). In June of 2016 the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film also found that the male to female ratio of top film critics on Rotten Tomatoes was 23% women to 73% men, and the numbers only vary by small points when it comes to women just working as film critics or freelancers.
These are a lot of numbers here with very little in the way of answers. A major problem here is that Hollywood is in the middle of a huge blockbuster push with titles needing to make millions upon millions of dollars just to break even. The studios are hardly willing to take a risk on what those movies are about, let alone an unknown female director or writer. The same fear that governs the lack of creativity in our stories in Hollywood also dominates the lack of diversity within the ranks of directors and writers.
The various articles that have addressed this issue don’t skirt around the fact that the numbers are bad, but they still make it sound like we should be grateful for the progress we have made. The EW article starts with the words “baby steps”.
It’s time that we stop accepting baby steps and start fighting for nothing less than strides.