We've reported that female-fronted films have been a major hit with audiences, from Frozen to The Heat, Maleficent to The Hunger Games. But Geena Davis is reminding us all that despite audiences' clear interest in seeing stories about women, modern cinema is largely ignoring them.
As an actress, Geena Davis was a role model to young women with roles in such beloved classics like Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own, and even the flopped (but fantastic) pirate adventure Cutthroat Island. Since then, Davis has become a role model of a different sort, founding the Geena Davis Institute of Gender In Media. This institute has recently released a study exploring gender bias in 120 films from the 11 countries, including the U.S., India, and the U.K. The results are shocking. We'll break down the most disturbing discoveries below.
Some details on the films that were a part of this study: the 10 foreign nations were selected were chosen because they were the most profitable film industries outside the U.S. The films examined were rated G, PG, or PG-13 (or the rough equivalent of those MPAA-based ratings) and were released between January 1st, 2010 and May 1st 2013. The reason for focusing on non-R-rated cinema is in line with the Geena Davis Institute of Gender In Media's findings that young girls need positive role models in media to help encourage them to greatness. Or put more simply as it is at their site See Jane, "If she can see it, she can be it."
Now onto the findings.
Images courtesy of SeeJane.org
Only 23% of films feature a female protagonist. If you pay attention to the onslaught of movie trailers and posters throughout the year, the first number is probably not too much of a surprise. Week after week, movies with male protagonists outnumber those with female protagonists. For instance, this week the only wide releases are The Equalizer and The Boxtrolls, both with male leads, and a female in a supporting role. Two weeks back was The Maze Runner, This Is Where I Leave You, A Walk Among The Tombstones, and Tusk--and only This is Where I Leave You could even argue for a female protagonist, though Tina Fey is more a supporting part of an ensemble there.
Only 31% of speaking roles are given to women. This statistic is downright depressing. Blame it on how women are largely kept out of the protagonist role, but it's shocking that 69% of speaking roles go to men. This would include under-five lines spoken by minor characters too. Meaning even bit parts like a crew member on the Enterprise who barks a status update, or doctor delivering a prognosis. These roles should hardly be dependent on gender, and yet it seems they are. Out of 5,799 speaking roles in 120 movies, only 1,798 went to women. The study also broke down these stats by nation. The U.S. only has 29.3% female characters, falling behind Australia, Russia, China, Germany, Korea, Brazil, and the U.K.