During the past decade, Hollywood has come a long way when it comes to gender diversity in their casts. However, why is it that male lead movies and tv shows “sell” more? Why is it that female lead movies are always corny romantic comedies and chick flicks? And why are women always portrayed as attractive but dim-witted people? In this article, we’ll see that when it comes to gender diversity, Hollywood still has a long way to go.
Let’s start off with tv shows. I think we can all agree that the most famous (and probably the only one) all-female cast is Orange Is The New Black, which follows the lives of a group of women in prison. This series addresses various serious social issues like the prison system such as racism, corruption, rape (guards raping female prisoners), and transgender people not getting the treatment they need. It also talks about racism within the prisoners, mental health, and the list goes on. In addition, the show helped viewers realize not all incarcerated people are actually guilty, and if they are, they’re not “evil” or “bad” people, it humanizes the inmates.
Another show that promotes gender equality in Hollywood is Game of Thrones. This series is part of the few good ones who actually portray strong, intelligent, badass women such as Cersei, Daenerys, Arya and Sansa Stark. For once, women are portrayed as people of power who don’t need a man to help them get where they want to go.
However, there are not many tv shows that have that kind of strong female presence. For example, Marvel and DC comics series are very known and have a huge fan base. However, out of all of them, there are only two that have a female heroine: Jessica Jones and Supergirl, and they’re not the most popular ones. Granted, both shows have a lot of fans but they’re not as nearly as comparable to shows like Arrow, the Flash, Daredevil, Gotham, and other male superhero series.
When watching Breaking Bad, I was quite heartbroken. I had heard so many good things about that show and I was eager to see where the story went. However, two male leads, and no strong female presence? Disappointing. There is of course Skyler White, Walter White’s wife, who was very present throughout the show, and she did stand up to him a couple of times and showed intelligence, but the show just left us wanting more from her.
Another very famous tv show is Stranger Things who mainly follows the lives of four male characters. There is of course Eleven, who is a young girl and is also part of the group, and Max who joined the gang during the last season, but is that really enough? Two female characters against four?
We’ve come a long way in the last few years with shows like Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, One Day At a Time, The Mindy Project, and other series who have a strong, smart female lead. However, these series represent a very small percentage of Hollywood.
All throughout movies history, men have gotten way more opportunities to lead all kinds of movies such as action, comedy, thriller, superhero, dramas and so on. Women definitely show up too but they always play love interests or secondary roles. Just imagine having a female play James Bond, wouldn’t it be so cool?
Researchers from Creative Artists Agency and Shift7 studied the 350 highest-grossing films from 2014 to 2017 (105 of them had female lead roles while the rest had male lead roles). The study found that movies with female lead roles outperformed the ones with male lead ones. The data also found that the films that passed the Bechdel test, meaning two female characters had a conversation about something other than a man, outperformed those that didn’t. “There is a perception in our industry that female-led films don’t make as much money and that’s partly why we don’t make as many of them, and we just wanted to know: Is that true? And we found, when comparing apples to apples in terms of budgets, the data do not support that assumption; in fact the female films slightly outperformed at every budget level.” says Christy Haubegger of the talent agency Creative Artists Agency.
Here is a list of the highest-grossing movies of 2018:
- Avengers: Infinity War -> male dominated cast
- Black Panther -> male lead
- Jurassic World : Fallen Kingdom -> male lead
- Incredibles 2 -> main character dad
- Aquaman -> male lead
- Venom -> male lead
- Mission: Impossible -> male lead
- Bohemian Rhapsody -> male cast
- Deadpool 2 -> male lead
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald -> male dominated cast
According to the previous list, all of them have male dominated casts. Avengers being at the top of the list, in which a bunch of men are preparing to protect the world with the “help” of one or two women, and that is a perfect representation of gender inequality. In the same movie, those actresses are of course dressed in very tight suits that perfectly form to their curves. The same thing goes for basically all of the remaining movies on the list as for all other superhero movies. Generally, the gender roles are stereotypical: men fighting crimes and saving the world while having women at their sides helping them, probably acting as a love interest and praising them all along their missions. This is a huge misrepresentation of women in the world, especially in media, and only furthers the very common gender stereotypes. However, Hollywood is making a lot of improvement by introducing some female dominated casts in which women demonstrate courage and confidence, are not dependent on men, and can be the primary protagonists. A good example is the movie Oceans 8 that have an all badass female cast. According to a study made by “Box Office”, Oceans 8 all-female cast bests male-led trilogy with $41.5 million opening.
Now let’s come back to the Bechdel test. What is it? It’s a very simple test that can be applied to all movies. It has three very simple requirements:
- The movie has to have at least two women in it (both must have names),
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man
Pretty basic right? Well, you might be surprised about the percentage of movies who actually fail the test. According to a BBC research, only 49% of the Oscar best picture winners have past the test since 1929. Movies that win Oscars are supposed to be good, and well made. I find it just tragic that even among the supposedly best movies of Hollywood, more than half fail this simple test. You know what other very famous movies don’t pass it? The Avengers, Avatar, The ENTIRE Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (the other Harry Potter movies barely pass), and the list goes on.
Granted, Hollywood has come a long way in the past decades, however, all of this shows that we still have a very long way to go. Next time you watch an episode or a movie, try and see whether it passes the bechdel test, or how many female characters it has and whether they’re actually smart and present. You’ll be surprised by your own observations.