Sexism and gender equality in Hollywood

broken film reel

In recent months, there has been an increased attention surrounding gender equality within the film industry. The Hollywood sect have begun to publicly question the pay difference and employment of women in the sector.

The matter of women’s equality in Hollywood was recently raised through a new study conducted by the University of Southern California. According to the report, in the top grossing films of 2014, less than a third of all-speaking characters were female. In 2008, female actors were in 32.8% of all speaking roles across 700 films. This was down to 28.1% in 2014. Of the top films, only 21 featured a female lead, of which none were over the age of 45.

The study also found that female characters are nearly three times more likely to be sexualised than male characters. Behind the camera, women didn’t fare much better – there were only 28 female directors across the top 700 films from 2007 to 2014. There were also only 33 female writers and 175 female producers in the top 100 films of 2014.

However, many actresses have been using the red carpet, interviews and award shows to generate an increased profile of gender equality within the entertainment industry.

In February, at the famous Oscar awards, Patricia Arquette used her speech as an opportunity to raise awareness of the disparity between the pay of women stars and their male counterparts. During her award for Best Female Actress, she said, “to every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Emma Thompson has also been vocal about sexism and ageism within the acting industry. Speaking to the Radio Times, she said, “I don’t think there’s any appreciable improvement and I think that, for women, the question of how they are supposed to look is worse that it was even when I was young. So, no, I am not impressed, at all.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, recently shocked with the revelation that she was not given an acting role as she was deemed too old to play a 55-year-old’s girlfriend. Dame Helen Mirren also weighed in on the ageism argument, saying, “We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”

There has also been an increased number of women on the red carpet and in interviews refusing to answer questions that are ‘stereotypical female’ – such as about clothing, beauty and their sex lives. Compare this to the questions their male counterparts are asked and the unequal nature of the industry is apparent.

In one such interview, Fantastic Four actress Kate Mara was asked why she cut her hair, as it was ‘beautiful’ before. At the 2014 SAG Awards, Cate Blanchett asked a cameraman who was looking her up and down, “do you do this to guys?”

This isn’t just an isolated case though – Scarlett Johansson was asked about her underwear; Anne Hathaway refused to answer continuous questions about whether she was losing weight; and when Mayim Bialik was asked if she could solve calculus, she responded with, “I was actually trained in calculus for several years. I’m a neuroscientist.”

This led to actress Amy Poehler starting a Twitter campaign called #AskHerMore, encouraging interviewers to move away from the usual superficial questions.

There has however been some improvement during recent years. The Hunger Games is a prime example of a recent film with a female lead – one that topped the movie charts and brought in £414.75 million into the box office.

The recent remake of Mad Max, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, has also received praise from women supporters for promoting a female heroine in equal measures to the male lead.

Behind the scenes, Meryl Streep has launched The Writers Lab to promote female screenwriters over the age of 40. In a self-funded initiative, Streep and the New York Women in Film and Television group will mentor eight writers in the hope to develop and promote women screenwriters.

Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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