Still Lots of Room to Improve Diversity in Hollywood
It is not news to feminists and others who pay attention that all is not equal in the movie industry. When you pay attention, it's blindingly obvious that women are not getting the screen time, nor the same quality of screen time, as men. When women do get screen time, they are often not the subject of the scene, but its object, quite often the “sex object”. Worse, girls aged 13 to 20 are more likely than grown women to be portrayed as “sex objects” in films.
There are a lot of numbers behind this study (pdf), and they are all worthy of review. But more important, I think, is what the numbers reveal about us. First, despite persistent murmurings that the need for feminism is long past, the numbers in the film industry clearly don't support that statement. Only 8% of directors, for example, are women, and 13.6% of writers. This is significant at least in part because in films where the writer, director, or producer was a woman, women got substantially greater non-sexualized speaking roles.
I can hear the objections lining up – who will go to films that are headed by women, star women, don't over-sexualize women? The answer is, of course, women and men. Women buy over 50% of movie tickets. Women flock in droves to movies that have female-centric story lines, even when those story lines are predictable and stereotypical, like the Sex in the City movies. Why? Because we're starved for on-screen representation, even lower quality representation. Women want to be subjects of movies, not objects in movies, just like we are subjects in our own lives. And well told stories attract diverse audiences, regardless of the race or gender of those in leading roles or sitting in the director's chair.
Elizabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane in the early Doctor Who series, and reprised her role much later in the spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, died last week of cancer. The outpourings from the science fiction fan community were enormous, not only because her death was unexpected (she was young and kept her condition hidden from her fans) but because Sarah Jane was one of the first and best “subject” roles for women on television. In an era where women were often relegated to roles as screamers, decorations, moms, or maids, Elizabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane was a true companion to the Doctor, a partner in their enterprises who contributed brains and bravery as well as beauty. While we have made some strides since Doctor Who first came on the scene in the early 1970s, it is somewhat disheartening to see how far we still have to go.Continued on the next page