May 15, 2013 1:19 pm
Hollywood has long had trouble depicting women. But for a while, things were looking up. Bridesmaids, a movie written by, for and about women, did well at the box office. The Hunger Games had a female heroine. Disney’s Brave won Oscars with a strong female protagonist. But don’t be fooled: women are still extremely underrepresented in Hollywood. According to a recent study, the representation of women is now at its lowest in five years.
The study looked at the top 500 grossing films from 2007 to 2012. In 2012, women represented less than one-third of the speaking characters. For every one female on screen, there are two and a half men. And when women were on the screen, a third of them were in skimpy, sexualized clothing. And 2012 was one of the worst years. Over 50 percent of female teens on screen in 2012 were shown in sexy clothing. So were nearly 40 percent of women between 21 and 39.
And it’s not just women on camera either. The study looked at the top 100 grossing films and found that only 16.7 percent of those films’ directors, writers and producers were women. The authors of the study have some ideas about why that might be. “Industry perceptions of the audience drive much of what we see on-screen,” study author Stacy L. Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “There is a perception that movies that pull male sell. Given that females go to the movies as much as males, the lack of change is likely due to entrenched ways of thinking and doing business that perpetuate the status quo.”
So why does it seem like things are getting better, when they’re not? Flavorwire hypothesizes that it’s because we notice and make a big deal of women lead movies:
We make a big deal when a breath of fresh air like Bridesmaids comes along but forget that every year we also get two braindead Adam Sandler vehicles where the only female role of note is a blankly smiling, blandly supportive wife. Katniss may be the star of The Hunger Games, but for every Collins adaptation, there are a dozen action blockbusters that only make room for women as eye candy. We only got Brave after more than a decade of male-led Pixar ensembles. And there’s certainly no big box-office equivalent to last year’s #5 and #13 movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Lincoln, each of which had two or fewer female roles.
And the idea that women should be depicted more in movies is questioned even by the L.A. Times, which headed the story by asking readers: “Should Hollywood put more and better female characters on screen?” Clearly Hollywood has some work to do.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.