Matters got worse and not better for women in Hollywood last year, as a new study reveals just how few films starred female lead characters.
Of the 23,000 roles in the 100 biggest movies of 2014, only 12 per cent had a woman at the centre, according to research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University published on Variety.
The recent figures show a decline of 3 per cent from 2013 and a drop of four per cent from 2002, despite calls from high profile Hollywood stars such as Jessica Chastain to improve opportunities for women in the film industry.
Angelina Jolie, Rosamund Pike and Jennifer Lawrence proved that female-led movies can pull in cinema-goers with their respective turns in Maleficent, Gone Girl and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, but Hollywood bosses are still wary of waging box office chances on women, choosing instead to pigeon-hole them as the mothers and (often younger) lovers of male leads.
Bechdel Test Pass/Fails
Bechdel Test Pass/Fails
1/10 PASS: Frozen
It features two central female characters, Anna and Elsa, discussing the isolationist policies of Arendelle, plans to build a snowman, and the time Elsa locked their civilization in an eternal winter
2/10 FAIL: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Contains fewer than two named women so fails the test on first criterion.
3/10 PASS: August: Osage County
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts head strong female cast in family saga featuring multiple conversations about the character’s relationships, which do not centre on a man
4/10 FAIL: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Kenneth Brannagh's blockbuster includes two named women (Katya, a Russian assistant, Kathy, the protagonist’s fiancée) but they do not speak to each other throughout the entire film
5/10 PASS: American Hustle
American Hustle passes but only due to a single scene where a con artist’s wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, discusses nail polish with a politician’s wife, played by Elisabeth Röhm
6/10 FAIL: The Hangover Part 3
The wives of Doug and Stu are both named and do have a conversation but it’s about Alan, Zach Galifianakis’ character
7/10 FAIL: Noah
Russell Crowe Biblical epic scrapes in due to scene where Noah’s wife Naameh (Jennifer Connolly talks to adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) about her pregnancy
8/10 PASS: Blue Jasmine
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) have multiple conversations about something other than a man, mostly about Jasmine herself
9/10 FAIL: Gravity
Gravity fails, despite delivering a strong female role for Sandra Bullock, since its isolated outer space setting limits her opportunities for female bonding
10/10 FAIL: The Avengers
The Avengers fails because none of its female characters talk to each other at any point
“There is a growing disconnect or gap between what we might perceive as being the current status of women in film and their actual status,” said Dr Martha Lauzen, author of the study. “A few high-profile cases can skew our thinking.
“Women are not a niche audience and they are no more ‘risky’ as filmmakers than men. The chronic underrepresentation of girls and women reveals a kind of arrested development in the mainstream film industry.”
Lauzen’s research also found that just 11 per cent of all female characters last year were African-American, while only 4 per cent were Asian or Latina.
Women were also underrepresented in secondary roles, playing 29 per cent of major characters and just 30 per cent of all speaking characters.
The lack of female directors seems to be part of this problem, an earlier study found, as they are more likely to cast women in lead roles – 39 per cent of lead characters in films from female writers and directors were women, compared to 4 per cent from male writers and directors.
“People tend to create what they know and having lived their lives as females, women tend to be drawn to female characters,” Lauzen said, calling for “greater diversity behind the scenes if this is going to change.”Reuse content