Announcing the Oscars nominee lineup for best director with John Cho, Issa Rae threw the best shade at the Academy. “Congratulations to those men.” We feel you, Issa! In all the Oscars’ ninety-two years, only five women have ever been nominated for the award, Katheryn Bigelow being the only one to win it for The Hurt Locker. Yet Bigelow’s win was in 2009. Why were no women nominated for best director this year? Or perhaps the better question is how. How does this keep happening? Because it’s symptomatic of a much larger issue.
Actress, writer, and producer Naomi McDougall Jones takes Hollywood to task in The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood. Drawing on her personal experiences, hundreds of hours of interviews with industry professionals, and cold, hard research and data, McDougall Jones exposes the machinations behind Tinseltown’s systemic exclusion of women from roles on and behind the camera. She also makes a business case for financing and producing films by female filmmakers. All that glitters on the red carpet sure as hell ain’t gold for women working their damnedest to make an impact in the medium. And when you factor in the number of stories about abuse and degradation, it’s painfully apparent that the cutthroat, scandal-laden industry has to become an equitable industry yesterday!
So if you tune in to the Oscars to cheer on your favorite nominees, to marvel at the red carpet catwalk of designer dresses, or to take shots every time a man goes on stage to accept an award, keep in mind these facts about gender inequality in Hollywood, courtesy of McDougall Jones.
Fact 1: In the top-grossing films released between 2007 and 2016, 25.9 percent of female characters were scantily clad (compared to 5.7 percent of men), and an additional 25.6 percent of female characters got partially or fully naked (compared to 9.2 percent of men), meaning that roughly 51 percent of the time that you saw a female character on screen, she was in a state of full or partial undress.
Fact 2: In 2017, of the one hundred top-grossing domestic films, only 24 percent had female protagonists, which is actually a 5 percent decline from 2016, when 29 percent of films had the same. This number rebounded in 2018 to 31 percent female protagonists, though this may have been a temporary up-trend in response to public pressure related to #MeToo, a phenomenon whose endurance remains heavily in question in terms of representation of women on-screen.
Fact 3: As a reality check, women are 51 percent of the US population.
Fact 4: Research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media shows that, in films, there are only one-third as many women on-screen as men. For every 2.3 men on-screen in a film, there is 1 woman. This holds true for leading characters, supporting characters, and, somewhat inexplicably, the nonspeaking background characters in crowd scenes.
Fact 5: The Geena Davis Institute revealed in another study that in 2015 films, male characters received twice the amount of screen time as female characters. This is consistent with the proportional amount of time female characters get to speak. According to an analysis by the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, of a representative sample of 1,000 screenplays of films released in 2017, 4,900 male characters had 37,000 lines of dialogue, while 2,000 female characters had only 15,100 lines of dialogue. In 82 percent of films, at least two of the three characters with the most dialogue are male.
Fact 6: Out of thirty Disney movies analyzed in 2016, twenty-two of them have majority-male dialogue—including Mulan, a movie whose (female) main character’s (male) pet dragon, Mushu, has 50 percent more lines of dialogue than Mulan herself.
Fact 7: A study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism looked at the top-grossing narrative features from 2007 to 2016. Of the 1,114 narrative feature film directors, 1,069 were men and 45 were women.
Fact 8: Of the partners running the dominant talent agencies, 96.7 percent are white, as are 90.8 percent of the agents brokering deals. Of the partners running the dominant talent agencies, 71.4 percent of partners were male and 68.1 percent of agents are male.
Fact 9: Data from the one thousand top-grossing films between 2007 and 2016 also reveals that for women who do get to direct any films at all, they make fewer over their careers than their male peers. In fact, as the following chart indicates, the highly elite club of women who got to direct a film during those ten years, 80 percent only got to direct one movie.
Fact 10: Films that pass the Bechdel test—not a serious indication of a strongly feminist film but at least a general indicator of the presence of more female characters in a film—make an average of $0.23 more in revenue per dollar spent than films that don’t. A study conducted by Gracenote, a Nielsen company, examining the 350 top-grossing films released between 2014 and 2017, found that, on average, female-featured films led global box-office revenue at every budget level. Oscar-nominated films with a “clearly definable female lead” were 33 percent more profitable than male-led films. Despite that, only 28 percent of Oscar-nominated films have a female lead.
Fact 11: Wonder Woman, released in 2017, was widely heralded as the harbinger of real change for women in Hollywood because it starred a woman and was directed by Patty Jenkins. This is progress. But Wonder Woman was also written by four men and produced by eleven men and only two women.
To find out more about The Wrong Kind of Women, listen to McDougall Jones’s interview on CultureShift/WDET, read her op-eds on Ms. Magazine and Literary Hub, read excerpts on Bitch, Salon, and Ms. Magazine.
Watch her TED Talk “What It’s Like to Be a Women in Hollywood.”