Study: Women Underrepresented In Film Industry

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By Rebecca Keegan

Los Angeles Times


As film becomes an increasingly global business, a new study suggests that women are underrepresented both in front of and behind cameras worldwide.

The study, released Monday by the University of Southern California, also contains some surprises — such as that Chinese movies are more gender-balanced than American films.

Women made up 35 percent of characters in Chinese films, compared with 29.3 percent in American movies, according to researchers at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. And women directed 16.7 percent of Chinese films during the period studied—January 2010 to May 1, 2013 — as compared to none of the U.S. films.

“It is a critical time … for the entertainment industry as they expand into international territories, and particularly China,” said Stacy L. Smith, director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at Annenberg. “My interest was in … understanding what audiences in growing markets might already be watching.”

One of several recent reports to look at the portrayal of women in media, the study entitled “Gender Bias Without Borders” examined female characters in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.K. Overall, researchers found that there were 2.24 male characters for every female character, and that only 23.4 percent of films had a female protagonist.

Films from Britain (37.9 percent), Brazil (37.1 percent) and South Korea (35.9 percent) had the highest percentage of female characters, while Indian films (24.9 percent) lagged.

Among the 120 films studied, researchers found that overall women accounted for 7 percent of directors, 19.8 percent of writers and 22.7 percent of producers.

In countries with more female content creators, there tended to be more women on screen as well.

Britain, where 27.3 percent of directors and 59 percent of writers were female, had the highest percentage of female characters in its films. It’s also the country that provided the lone example of a female protagonist in a high-profile political position—Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher in the 2011 film “The Iron Lady,” which had both a female director (Phyllida Lloyd) and writer (Abi Morgan).

Women were unlikely to play the roles of powerful executives or politicians in any country, researchers found. When they did appear in such roles, the parts were often small or unusual: One character, a fictional representation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had no lines; another, a woman rallying her constituents to fight global warming, was an elephant.

Women were also far less likely than men to be cast as judges (5 percent), lawyers (9.1 percent), doctors (14.8 percent) and professors (5.9 percent).

In many of the countries researchers studied, womens’ real world employment far exceeded their onscreen portrayals. Although women comprise 47.4 percent of the workforce in France, for instance, they’re only 18.8 percent of the workforce in French films.

The study also examined at how female characters’ sexuality was presented in each country, such as whether women appeared partly nude or in sexy attire. At 39.9 percent of female characters, Germany’s women were the most likely to be scantily clad, compared to 11.6 percent in South Korea.

“Just like in the U.S., we are not seeing fictional female power brokers in popular films,” Smith said. “This is unfortunate, as stories are only a function of the imagination, and creativity should not be constrained by gender.”


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