Plan International released research today revealing what continues to bring in the big bucks when it comes to movies: Stereotypical tropes and sexist portrayals of female characters are still ubiquitous.
The report titled “Rewrite her story: How film and media stereotypes affect the lives and leadership ambitions of girls and young women” looked at the top grossing films in 2018, including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Deadpool 2, and Mission Impossible-Fallout.
In total, 56 films were analysed from 20 different countries including the United States, India, Canada, and Japan. The report, which specifically explored how female characters in ‘leadership positions’ were portrayed, found that women and girls were four times more likely than men to be shown wearing revealing clothing and sexualised. 30 percent for female characters, compared to 7 percent for their male equivalents.
It also found that female characters were almost twice as likely to be partially nude on screen, while women in leadership positions were more likely to be sexually objectified than men. 15 percent had the camera focused on their body parts in slow motion compared to just 4 percent of men.
You know what this is called? It’s called the ‘Male Gaze’ and Hollywood knows that framing stories through its mechanisms rakes in money.
Movies are powerful. They inform us on how to move through the world. We should never underestimate their power to shape our desires, control our attitudes, alter our behaviours and formulate our ideas on what is valuable. Movies are often, without our awareness, prescribing what we ought to value in women. They subtly coerce us to see a woman’s worth and currency as dependent on her physical aesthetic.
It’s really not hard to spot this harmful trend. Just look at the way Marvel presents its female superheroes. Let me ask you this – what was the last film you saw? Were there more than two female characters? Did they speak to each other? If so, did they speak to each other about something other than the male characters?
This is the Bechdel Test, and you’d be surprised to discover that many films don’t pass the criteria at all.
There are twice as many men as women in films – 64 percent compared to 36 percent And men speak twice as much as women, 67 percent compared to 33 percent.
For example, the first Star Wars film released in 1977, contains just one female lead. Apart from Princess Lea, there are three other female characters, but of the films’ entire 383 minutes, they speak for a total of 63 seconds.
The Director of Plan International Australia Advocacy, Hayley Cull, said these latest findings were just one example of the systemic gender inequality that prevails worldwide.
“It is deeply concerning that in 2019, harmful sexist stereotypes still dominate on screen. Women are rarely portrayed as leaders on screen, and when they are they’re far more often sexualised than men. This undermines girls and young women and has a negative impact on their aspirations to leadership in all walks of life, because it’s true that you can only be what you can see.”
The report also noted that women comprised just 20 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.
Men dominate the film industry. New Zealand director Jane Campion remains the only woman to have won the Palme d’Or, the top film at the Cannes Film Festival. Only one woman has won Best Director at the Academy Awards’ ninety year history. And in 2017, Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever to be nominated for a an Academy Award for cinematography. She didn’t win. All previous winners have been men. Ninety years.
Previous research conducted on females aged 15-24 by the same institute found that 9 out of ten believe women leaders aren’t treated as well as men in leadership positions and 9 out of 10 expect women leaders to be sexually harassed. What we see in films ends up reinforcing these dire expectations.
And just 1% of films employed ten or more women in roles like directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers. In contrast, 74% of films employed ten or more men.
Plans to improve those figures in Australia are under way. Last month, Screen Australia announced a new Gender Matters target– to have 50% of the key creatives across all projects that receive Screen Australia development and production funding to be women.
Cull recognises the detriment to girls this issue is causing, saying in a statement: “We don’t just see gender inequality on our screens, we see it every day in countries around the world. Gender inequality holds girls back from reaching their potential. It leads to horrific injustices like limited or no opportunities to get an education, a career or to be a leader. It leads to child marriage, early pregnancy and poverty.”
Actress Geena Davis, chair and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said in a statement: “Film and media powerfully influence how the world views girls and how they view themselves. Girls need to see themselves reflected on screen and to see positive and authentic characters that can inspire them. Content creators and storytellers in entertainment and media have an opportunity to support and influence the aspirations of girls and women and stop reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.”
But that’s not to say that merely having more female-dominated, female centric films will solve the problem. The latest movie to cause craze around a female-dominated cast is “Hustlers”, and it’s made more than sixty million dollars in North America since its opening in mid-September. But the stars spend most of the film half naked. I’m conflicted about movies that seem to celebrate female empowerment, when all they’re really doing is adhering to outdated standards of what qualifies for a woman.
The report was released to coincide with the launch of the Give Equal campaign which seeks to encourage donations to help girls overcome barriers to become leaders and kicks off on the International Day of the Girl, next Friday.
Cull believes the partnership will encourage much needed change.
“We can’t change the past but we can change the future. That’s why we’ve launched our new campaign Give Equal, which raises much needed funds to provide girls in developing countries with education, and opportunities to lead and thrive. We know it can make a difference – and that creating a better now for girls, means a better future for everyone.”