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New study suggests women in film are seen and not heard

Despite the fact that women make up half of the population and a number of female-led movies have been dominating the box office over the past several years, a recent study has discovered that men outtalk women two to one in Hollywood films.

According to new research from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, less than a third of all speaking characters were women in the top-grossing films from 2007 to 2017, a figure that has barely budged during those ten years.

Other findings showed that from the top 100 films of 2017, 43 did not have a black female character and 65 were void of an Asian or Asian-American female character.

Meanwhile, out of the 1,223 people who directed the 1,100 top films between 2007 and 2017, there were only 43 different female filmmakers.

Probably most damning of all was that only one transgender character appeared in any of the top films between 2014 and 2017, the movie being Hot Pursuit, which was lambasted by organizations including GLAAD for its inclusion of a transgender woman who existed purely to give the audience a cheap laugh when her identity was revealed.

These findings arrive at a time when the birth of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have led to organizations and initiatives spotlighting the issue of representation and diversity in the entertainment industry.

The NY Times explained in its report of the study: “The findings show that for all the talk about the need for representation onscreen, and the heightened scrutiny in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and the #MeToo movement, Hollywood has been slow to enact much meaningful change.”

Regarding the conclusion that men do most of the talking in films, a study carried out in 2016 looking at the dialogue in major blockbusters discovered similar findings – that men dominated the speaking parts, particularly when it comes to Disney, superhero, and franchise films.

For example, out of 22 of the 30 Disney films that were surveyed, male characters had considerably more dialogue than the female ones – even when the films were ostensibly centered on a female character. As outlined by Vox, “In films like The Little Mermaid and Tangled, this was often because even though women were central to the plot, there were more supporting male characters involved in driving the action.”

However, the dialogue breakdown still shows women were outspoken by men even in films that have been typically praised for their representation of strong female characters in central positions. For example, in The Hunger Games, while Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss is given plenty of talk time, most of the dialogue is shared among the male supporting actors.

This trend can be seen in more recent films as Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and The Fate of the Furious, where despite there being a number of key female characters, men still dominated the script space.

Of course, the indie film sector is a place where broader representation is often present. So if you wanted to swim away from the mainstream, you’ll find numerous films from the past few years that counter these findings. Just take Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird for example – despite being a unique and standalone film from a first-time female director, it went on to bag numerous wins during the awards season, including an Oscar nomination.

While there are a number of male characters who enjoy sizeable speaking parts, including Timothée Chalamet’s Kyle and Tracy Letts’s Larry, it’s the interaction between Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), her mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), and her bestie for lyf Julie (Beanie Feldstein) that directs the film’s narrative, and to great effect – Lady Bird is one of the most touching, unique, hilarious, and honest depictions of a mother and daughter relationship in a coming-of-age setting, one that got audiences right in the feels whether they wanted it to or not.

But let’s also not forget that we are seeing a move towards more balanced female representation on screen outside of the regular damsel in distress or sexy sidekick character tropes and this is being reflected in blockbuster flicks too.

Just take a look at the superhero subgenre, where Gal Gadot rules as Wonder Woman in Patty Jenkins’s 2017 epic and Black Panther’s female characters such as Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Danai Gurira’s Okoye, and Letitia Wright’s Shuri show that women can be goofy, powerful, strong, and totally kickass within a typically male-centric setting.

And with a Black Widow flick, a Batgirl feature, and a Captain Marvel movie led by Brie Larson in the pipeline, there’s no denying the industry is shifting towards a fairer representation of complex female characters. Movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up only stand to speed things up further – so perhaps next year, those statistics will look slightly less out of balance and women will continue to be seen and heard on the big screen.

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