The Real Truth Behind Women in Film

To the audiences who went to see it and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.

Truth be told, the topic of women in media has been discussed to death. Usually the conversation involves the over-sexualization of women or the lack of “strong, female characters.” I put that in quotes because I hate that description. Women are flawed. They’re real humans and should be portrayed as such.

I, however, want to change the conversation on women in media because there is a more fundamental problem at hand and it is one that is rarely discussed. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, only 17% of the people you see in a group scene in a film or TV show are women. Furthermore, in family films, there is only one female character for every three male characters.

Though many more movies are passing the Bechdel test and female protagonists are becoming less of a rarity, the problem with female representation in media is far less obvious than we think. Movies and TV shows are teaching their audiences, children especially, that women take up less space and that thought becomes naturalized through continuous consumption. By the time we reach our twenties, we’ve seen enough. So the issue at hand isn’t necessarily creating more Katniss Everdeens, but changing the bus driver from male to female and writing into your screenplay that among the crowd, half of the people present are women. Easy enough.

Thelma and Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri chimed in on the conversation in an interview with Forbes when asked about how things have changed for women in film. “Well, I certainly don’t think the numbers are proportional in the amount of work that does get done,” Khouri stated. “If you look at the Writers Guild numbers, Directors Guild numbers, you’ll see that it’s not remarkably different, which is really a sad state of affairs if you’re female. Clearly there’s much more awareness about it. It’s really a matter of looking at the statistics.” One statistic to look at would be the amount of male vs. female non-performance nominations at this year’s Oscars: 151 for men and 31 for women.

And what about the roles women do receive on camera? Supporting and just dull. Olivia Wilde commented on this issue during a panel discussion by telling the story of a gender swap table read that took place for the film American Pie. “The men who joined us to sit on stage started squirming rather uncomfortably and got really bored because they weren’t used to being the supporting cast,” Wilde recalled. “It was fascinating to feel their discomfort [and] to discuss it with them afterwards when they said, ‘It’s boring to play the girl role!’ And I said, ‘Yeah. You think?! Welcome to our world!!”

So what’s the point? Women are not represented in equal numbers in the media and that fact has consequences on the way we perceive the status of the sexes. The worlds we create on camera have the great privilege of being anything we want them to be. We want a female President? Let’s make one. We want egalitarian homes? Let’s make ‘em. So my question is, why aren’t we creating optimal fantasies in the hope of influencing a better reality? 

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