Published on March 5th, 2012 | by Nicola Marchant2
Movie Monday: The Best and Worse Places to be a Woman in Film
In 3 days, it will be international Woman’s Day. During the early 1900s, the bubbling of feminism’s first wave gave way to an annual day intended to raise awareness for women’s rights. Now, every March 8th, events are held around the globe to serve as a celebration and inspiration to women everywhere. In commemoration, The Independent has produced a round up of the best and worst places in the world to be a female right now. Where cinema and the arts are concerned, Sweden comes out trumps.
The Swedish Film Institute employs an equality directive which states that women must make up 40% of key positions – that is director, screenwriter and producer – of the projects that receive funding. This comes as no surprise – for a while now feminists have deemed the Nordic countries as maintaining a solid grasp of equality, and indeed they top several of the categories on this list. Overall, Iceland is the best place to be a woman, Norway; a mother, and for abortion rights, it’s Sweden again.
And the worst place for women in the film industry? I would like to propose this this title should belong to the USA. And this is why: for a country that has experienced the rich uproar of feminism that gave birth to International Women’s Day, and is now home to the most powerful film industry on the globe; the distinct lack of women, coupled with the way they are consistently portrayed in Hollywood is appalling.
It may sound extreme. How can I possibly measure North America’s issues with inequality against more severe cases of female repression elsewhere in the globe? After all, as The Independent informs us – Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Qatar have no women in parliament what so ever. But they also have no film industry, and I am discussing cinema. It would be ludicrous to measure the portrayal of women amidst the several small films that barely make it out of Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Iraq on an annual basis, to the hundreds that are churned out of the US.
5% of Hollywood directors are female. Only one female director has ever won a ‘Best Picture’ Oscar – Kathryn Bigelow in 2010. And things are getting worse. According to the ‘Celluloid Ceiling Report‘ (the cinematic variant of its glass cousin) 7% of directors in 2006 were women. We have seen a 2% fall. In the last 5 years, women haven’t gained power in Hollywood – they’ve lost it.
You just have to take a look at this year’s Academy Awards to see that nothing has changed. In news that shocked absolutely no one, it was revealed that Academy Award members are 94% white, and 77% male. Every Best Picture category was directed by a man, and as hot equal rights blogger Feminist Frequency amusingly points out – only two of which passed ‘The Bechdel Test’. This was a test devised by comic book artist Alice Bechdel in 1985 to measure the relevance of a women to the plot of a Hollywood film. For a film to pass it, they must have two named female characters that engage in a conversation concerning a subject besides a man. It’s simplicity makes it even more shocking that so little of 2012′s crème de la crème succeeded in passing. And if a woman isn’t busy being ignored by Hollywood, she’s being sexualised: Angelina Jolie’s smouldering revealing leg dress received infinitely more press than any of the female actresses actually winning an award.
In a study that analysed the Best Picture categories from 1977-2010, only 36% of speaking parts were female. The reason is simple: Hollywood makes films to make money, and in their eyes, women are a riskier audience. They know what guys want: guns, CGI and sexy girls. And of course, given the ‘tough economic times’, studios are even less inclined to take a risk. But this is bullshit, as Martha M. Lauzen’s ‘Women @ The Box Office’ study found out. Out of the top 100 worldwide grossing films of 2007, no correlation was found between a film’s box office profit and its protagonist’s gender. Films with a bigger budget took a higher profit, simple as that. Hollywood just chooses to favour the bigger budgets for the male centred movies.
But it needn’t be this way. Sweden is proof that a gender equal initiative does not penalise success. The Swedish film industry has been thriving over the last few years – take the global domination of Let the Right One In, and of course, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Instead of leeching off a country’s success in churning out shot for shot remakes, Tinseltown needs to mimic the ethical values that are behind them. They’ve been taking a leaf, but missing the mark. For David Fincher’s remake of Niels Arden Oplev’s TGWTGT, Hollywood took a strong female lead from the creation of a Swede – and objectified her in a topless movie poster campaign. When they’re not too busy refusing to include women, they’re turning them into sex puppets. You just have to take a look at the new trailer for Piranha 3DD to see that things aren’t getting any better:
This brand of trashy smut may have been passable in 70s exploitation cinema, but in 2012 it’s just an embarrassment – and a degrading one at that. Recession shouldn’t equal regression. Hopefully, this Thursday will still succeed in providing hope that we can change it.
Nicky Marchant @nickyqmarchant