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UK-USA films low on gender balance

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women in film, UN women, Geena Davis Institute, Lack of women in film reflects public life.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media launched its first global study on female characters in popular films recently.

It showed that in most crowd and group scenes in films, only 17 per cent of the characters shown are women.

Yet audiences generally believe that gender representation is fairly equal.

And the ratio of women to men in film has remained basically unchanged since 1946.

‘Gender Bias Without Borders: An Investigation of Female Characters in Popular Films Across 11 Countries’ was released by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, UN Women and The Rockefeller Foundation.

The research was led by Stacy L. Smith at the University of Southern California’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The results simply reiterate what is seen in public life around the world.

Although women make up half of the world’s population, less than one third of all speaking characters in films are female, and less than a quarter of all fictional on-screen workforces are women.

And when women in a film are employed, they are unlikely to be shown in positions of power.

Geena Davis, founder and chair of her eponymous organisation, said, ‘In the time it takes to make a movie, we can change what the future looks like.

‘There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them in films.

‘How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions in movies.’

Media is an incredibly powerful shaper of ideas and beliefs, so the lack of women in substantial and powerful public roles combined with the hypersexualisation of female characters – including young girl characters from 13 to 20 years of age – is a potent indicator of the repetitive and deeply ingrained nature of the discrimination against women in all sectors of life.

The study examined the film outputs of 11 countries – the UK, the USA, China, India, Japan, Russia, Australia, France, Germany, South Korea and Brazil – as well as UK-USA collaborations.

Less than a quarter of all the films surveyed had a female lead or co-lead.

And the UK-USA collaborations and Indian films were in the bottom third for gender-balance.

One of Davis’ simplest recommendations for redressing the gender imbalance in films is to change ‘he’ to ‘she’ at the earliest stages of planning.

When women direct, there are 6.8 per cent more women in the film.

When women screen write, there are 7.5 per cent more women in the film.

While positive, there is the potential for gender bias to find yet another way to discriminate against women if female writers and directors are given jobs because of the numbers of female characters in the story.

More obviously needs to be done at every level of the industry, especially following the 1995 signing of the Beijing Platform for Action that called for the media to avoid stereotypical and degrading depictions of women.

‘With influence comes responsibility,’ Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women’s Executive Director said; ‘ The industry cannot afford to wait another 20 years to make the right decisions.’

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