a new study by USC shows that the hollywood bias is stronger than ever
A new study has revealed that women had less than a third of speaking parts in the 700 most popular films released between 2007 and 2014.
Researchers from the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, as part of USC’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, concluded that there was an ‘indisputable bias against featuring females, people of colour and LGBT characters on screen.’
The study found that there has been little improvement in the representation of women in popular films in recent years, with 21 of the top 100 films featuring a female lead in 2014, compared to 20 in 2007.
Media representation of minorities is important, as representation has the ability to shape our perceptions and understanding of the people we see, or don’t see, on screen. When women are portrayed one-dimensionally, or are simply absent, in films, it speaks volumes about what is considered to be women’s diminished place in society. In her acceptance speech at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Jane Fonda reiterated that women need to be creating films and making the decisions, not just acting, to ensure that the narratives of women and their lives are presented accurately in movies, and to eliminate the potential risk that women will feel that their own stories are unimportant.
Unfortunately, USC’s study found that behind the camera, the statistics are not improving for women in the industry either. Out of the top 100 films of 2014, only two were directed by women. There were three women directors in the top 100 films of 2007. A similar study earlier this year by San Diego State University’s Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that there were more women working behind the scenes in the film industry in 1998 than there are today.
Further to this, there has recently been an increased outcry from actresses in the industry about the gender bias and ageism in Hollywood. Actresses including Emma Thompson, Salma Hayek and Tina Fey have taken swipes at an industry that provides women with degrading roles in which they are submissive to men, and throws them away once they have aged. At the age of 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal claimed that she was recently considered ‘too old’ by casting directors to play a 55-year-old actor’s love interest. No movies in the top 100 films of 2014 starred a female lead over 45. Women such as Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are merely considered the exception to this rule.
However, Patricia Arquette’s Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year may have hit the wrong note in discussions around gender equality and bias. She argued that now is the time to fight for women’s equality, as ‘we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights.’ The notion that the fight for equality for other minorities is over and that attention can only be placed on one cause at a time was criticised by many as ignorant and unfair.
USC’s recent study also provides a reminder that it’s not just women who are discriminated against and ignored in Hollywood. Of the top 100 movies of 2014, the study found that 73.1% of all speaking and named characters were white. Only three of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014 were directed by African Americans. USC professor Stacy L. Smith, the author of the study, emphasised that the report displayed a ‘dismal record of diversity’ for minorities in general, not just women.