When it comes to Hollywood films the old-adage that children should be seen and not heard actually appears to apply to women. Only 28 per cent of speaking characters in last year’s blockbusters were female.
Thelma & Louise star Geena Davis, who has founded her own media and gender think tank, predicts that, based on current ratios of male to female characters, it will take 700 years to reach a parity of gender roles and representation in Hollywood films.
She said that despite recent female-led films such as The Hunger Games and Bridesmaids, the industry has not changed “and it’s not going to”.
Speaking to US radio NPR she said: “Every time there’s a movie starring women, the media is very excited to say ‘well, this changes everything.’ That’s what happened with Thelma & Louise…and nothing changed.”
A study commissioned by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that despite women making up half of cinema audiences, there was only one female role for every three male characters in family films and children’s programming.
It also found that only 3.4 per cent of business leaders and 4.5 per cent of high-level politicians seen on screen were women.
Davis said: “What we’re in effect doing is training children to see that women and girls are less important than men and boys.
“And if you add on top of that that so many female characters are sexualised, even in things that are aimed at little kids, that’s having an enormous impact as well.”
Only 28 per cent of speaking characters in last year's major blockbusters were female, down from a third just five years ago, according to the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California.
Lynda Obst, a Hollywood producer whose films include Sleepless in Seattle and Flashdance, said the collapse of the DVD market has forced Hollywood to look to Asian and South American audiences for more revenue.
She said: “The kinds of movies that they like abroad are movies with huge special effects, and moreover, they don’t like movies with too much dialogue, so romantic comedies and dramas don’t play well overseas.”
She added that Hollywood marketing continued to cater more to men in film advertising because of a general attitude that “women will go anyway”.
It was announced yesterday that Davis' think tank has enlisted United Nations support for the first global study into how women and girls are portrayed in family films and the strong impact such images can have.
Acting head of UN Women Lakshmi Puri said yesterday that gender representation in film influences the perception of women, their self-esteem and relationships with the opposite sex.
"We cannot let the negative depiction of women and girls erode the hard gains that have been made on gender equality and women's empowerment," Puri told The Hollywood Reporter.
"We hope that the study will address factors that positively impact the perception of women in society."
The study will examine the biggest-grossing box office hits in Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Results of the study will be released in late 2014.