Wonder Women: Hollywood and the Representation of Women in the Current Industry

There was a time recently when it was basically impossible to hear anything about Hollywood without there being some sort of discussion about gender.

This past year has seen the powerful #MeToo movement come to the forefront, in the wake of film production giant Harvey Weinstein – amongst many other prominent stars and figures – being exposed for sexual exploitation and misconduct. It has sparked debates and brought many issues surrounding gender inequality to people’s attention. But it seems to have fizzled out.

Now the initial outrage passed and new news has become old news, and people have stopped hashtagging, what has actually changed? Just last week Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused of sexual assault, was voted in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. And lets not even start on Donald Trump…

It seems almost ironic that, in the same time scale of these horrific allegations and revelations, Hollywood is beginning to see an emerging female narrative. The top three films of 2017 all featured a strong female lead: Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Wonder Woman (the first ever female superhero film directed by a woman).

Wonder Woman was the first superhero film to be directed by a woman

In addition, a number of slightly smaller productions have demonstrated how Hollywood is beginning to acknowledge the success of female-centric content. It seems that Hollywood is beginning to realise that female cinema-goers need more than generic ‘chick flicks’ or archetypal characters. However, they still do not seem to receive the same amount of respect as more male dominated films and are often dismissed by awards ceremonies.

This highlights the vast chasm between the number of successful male directors compared to females in the same position – since the Academy’s conception ninety years ago, only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has ever won an Oscar for Best Director or Best Film.

And no, its not just because men have made better films. The entire system is structured in a way that prevents female filmmakers from progressing. And, even when they do make incredible films, like Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird, they are still trampled on by the big boys with fancy cameras and expensive CGI.

Without simply listing off a number of different films about women that have been released in the past year or so, it would seem that an emerging trend can be identified in the increasing number of films revolving around female characters. Moreover, these female characters and their narrative arcs vary hugely, moving away from one-dimensional archetypes. Part of what makes these films so significant is their difference from what has been made before, breaking down stereotypes to provide more realistic representations of women.

Described as ‘an antidote to Trump culture’, and a Rotten Tomatoes record-breaking film, Lady Bird is a perfect example of this new generation of filmmaking that speaks from a feminine point of view. Written and directed by a woman, the film follows a complicated and dynamic female character. The coming-of-age film grapples with relatable issues such as identity, insecurities and a turbulent mother/daughter relationship.

This idea of being an antidote to Trump culture suggests that perhaps some of these films are a response to the patriarchal and often questionable approach Trump has towards women, along with the xenophobic culture his administration perpetuates more generally. It seems likely that many of the films this year that give a voice to those who may not have been represented previously are a direct response to Trump’s presidency and a climate where women’s voices are being dismissed as lies or false accusations.

Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’

Nonetheless, gender representation within Hollywood is not just about the amount of women in front of the camera; who is behind it is equally, if not more, important. As suggested by the lack of women who have won acclaimed awards for their direction, there is a huge disparity between the number of women and men working behind the camera, not just as directors or writers, but throughout many different avenues of filmmaking. Most film crews currently consist of far less women than men; it would seem that due to the fact that there are proportionally less women in many different departments within filmmaking, consequently less films about women are being made.

Most of the films this year leading this female revolution are written, directed or produced by women – women tend to make films about women more than men do. Gender diversity report ‘It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World’ strongly indicates this, as the findings in the report show that in 2016, in films with at least one female director and/or writer, females made up 57% of protagonists, whereas in films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for only 18% of protagonists.

This is significant, as it proves a correlation between the amount of women (or lack of) in creative positions within film production, and the amount of women on screen playing a major role. It also, therefore, suggests that in order for this disparity of representation to be rectified, more women need to be working within film production, particularly in highly crucial roles such as writing and directing. Similarly only 4% of the directors of the top 100 films of 2016 were women, again demonstrating the lack of gender diversity in the top roles of filmmaking.

This deep-seated unbalance within film production is intrinsic within nearly every department and every stage of filmmaking. A 2017 diversity report stated that of those working behind the camera, across 1,438 content creators, there were 5 female directors (4.2%), 38 female writers (13.2%) and 213 female producers (20.7%).

These exceptionally small figures provide some insight into the vast lack of female representation within filmmaking and suggest that, though films about a diverse range of women are beginning to emerge, the problem is not simply solved by making films about women – this gender imbalance is a systemic part of Hollywood behind the scenes.

I myself have had some experience of working on much smaller scale sets as a production assistant/runner and nine times out of ten the only other females working are wardrobe, hair and makeup, or the art department.

Gender of behind the scenes personnel of the top 250 grossing films, according to Forbes and Statista

Perhaps it must be considered, therefore, that these unflattering figures regarding the lack of women across all avenues of film production within Hollywood may be a contributing factor to some of the negative revelations that have come out of the industry this past year or so. Though of course we cannot make the assumption that this misconduct is solely male, it cannot be a coincidence that this behaviour exists in environments that are male-dominated.

Perhaps one positive by-product of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and its aftermath is that it is forcing people to reflect upon the lack of diversity within Hollywood and to question how such misconduct could have been allowed to happen.

These revelations highlight abuses of power and go straight to the headlines, being big news for a week, but we often forget that there is a pervasive, more subtle form of misogyny going on that is often more difficult to call out and therefore more difficult to stop.

It goes without saying that this type of misconduct occurs in many industries and workplaces, however Hollywood is one of the few industries that is constantly under a microscope, as well as being highly socially and culturally significant and influential in a global media landscape. How 50% of the population are treated in the workplace and represented on the big screen is incredibly significant.

It is due to Hollywood’s global cultural significance and representational influence that a diverse representation is consequently so important. Its role as such a major pillar of society is reflective of everyday life and therefore to deny many people of a voice is arguably a hindrance to social progress and equality.

What becomes clear is that there is an undeniable imbalance within Hollywood regarding gender and diversity. We can also see that this significant imbalance is beginning to be acknowledged and addressed, instead of simply being brushed under the red carpet.

There has been an optimistic increase in the amount of female-driven content within Hollywood, however there is still much to be done. This imbalance behind the scenes must be rectified in order to truly improve the cinematic representation of women, instead of simply masking it with films led by a female protagonist.

It seems that this is beginning to be acknowledged by industry members and trade press, and events like the Golden Globes and Oscars dominated by #Time’sUp and #MeToo clearly highlight a move towards a more equal future within Hollywood. However, more needs to be done than simply wearing a #Time’sUp pin. It will certainly be interesting to see the ways in which the industry addresses these issues in the coming year or so, and whether changes begin to occur.

‘Time’s Up’ badge

One hundred years after women were granted the right to vote, it is not unreasonable to question why women are still not equally represented in all walks of life. We can only hope that the emergence of films portraying a range of diverse women is not simply a trend, but instead a step in the right direction towards a more diverse and inclusive Hollywood.

The human sex ratio is approximately 1:1 and females also make up just over half of the cinema-going population. This begs the question, shouldn’t popular culture reflect real life and, more importantly, shouldn’t such a huge section of the general audience be catered to equally to their male counterparts?

We are beginning to see women demand more from Hollywood, demanding content that reflects real life women rather than a one-dimensional, man’s version of a woman.  It is certain that a seismic shift is simmering in Hollywood, and most importantly, this feeling of change is beginning to seep out and infiltrate many different industries and places of work. Hollywood has always been the figurehead of Western popular culture and has always been highly influential.

The women – and men – leading this change within the industry, therefore, are also potentially changing things much further afield, and giving a voice to those, particularly women, who have not had one previously. This is undoubtedly an extremely interesting and perhaps historical time for Hollywood and demonstrates how, as it has done many times before, Hollywood holds its strength in the face of adversity and has the potential to lead the way.

words by Ella Glazer

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