New movie research shows it's lights, camera, action – just so long as the women stay silent

Studios are sticking to the old line that women don’t pull in the big bucks. Transfer that philosophy to any other business, and you'd face an industrial tribunal

Share

The women of Hollywood are losing their voices. They’re falling silent. And not in a charming, Gallic, tap-dancing way. In a dumb, got-nothing-to-say way. According to a report published this week, female representation at the movies is at its lowest level for five years.

Across the 100 highest-grossing films at the American box office in 2012, only 28.4 per cent of speaking characters were female. Just 6 per cent of the films featured a cast where the split of speaking roles was roughly 50/50, men to women. Extraterrestrials, trolls and cartoon jungle animals probably have more chance of getting a line than a living, breathing actress does.

It is deeply weird, especially when one considers that women buy just as many cinema tickets as men – and an awful lot more than trolls and cartoon zebras do. Studios are sticking to the old line that women don’t pull in the big bucks – so it is safer not to let them try. Transfer that corporate philosophy to a bank, or any other business, and you would have an industrial tribunal on your hands.

Studios might argue that blockbusters like The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man have always been male domains and that women can now steal the show in their own “female-led” blockbusters, like Bridesmaids. Or they might argue that two of the biggest hits at the box office last year – The Hunger Games and Brave – featured female leads, and never mind that one is a mythical teenager in a fictional dystopian state, and the other is a cartoon princess. Meanwhile, the only film in the Top 10 to feature an entirely human (as opposed to alien or animated) cast is Skyfall, in which the three Bond girls end up as: the target in a macho, whisky shoot-out; dead; and as 007’s secretary. Women should be seen and not heard, indeed.

At least one thing is on the up for women in film – flashing flesh. According to the same report, 31.6 per cent of actresses appeared on screen in “sexually revealing clothes”, the highest proportion since the survey began five years ago. Well over half of teenage girls on screen wear provocative outfits, up 20 per cent since 2009. (It won’t surprise anyone that only 7 per cent of teenage boys are similarly sexed up.) So Hollywood likes women so long as they shut up and strip off. No wonder Seth MacFarlane chose to open the Oscars this year with a musical homage to some of the big screen’s finest actresses and their most acclaimed roles, titled “We Saw Your Boobs”.

As for older women, they might as well give up and book a round-the-world Saga cruise now. Julie Walters, 63, spoke out this week about ageism and the lack of roles for actresses her age. She also questioned “why older men on TV news programmes tend to be paired up with younger women”. It is because there are no older women left – they’ve all been sacked at the first hint of a wrinkle. Another survey this week showed that only 26 out of 481 presenters across the major channels are women aged over 50. For a female television presenter, greying hair is a fast track to being vaporised from the screen. For a man, it is a sign that they are ready to be hauled into position as heavyweight, distinguished anchor for life.

Still, Walters – like Helen Mirren and Judi Dench – is one of the lucky ones who has made it on to the screen lately. What about all the others who have not? And what, for that matter, about all the ones in the middle – caught in the hinterland between being a hot young thing and damehood? In my job, I interview countless next big twentysomethings only to see them vanish from the radar in their thirties and forties, just as their male counterparts are building up to play Hamlet and Othello. They simply don’t have the parts. It was ever thus, perhaps. Hamlet gets 1,506 lines; Rosalind, Shakespeare’s most vocal female, just 685. Think of the biggest theatrical hits in recent memory – Posh; Enron; The History Boys; Jerusalem; One Man, Two Guvnors – all of them more or less all-male casts.

So women are becoming less vocal – in Hollywood, on television and in the West End. Does it matter? Of course it does. Culture reflects society, and if women are falling mute on the silver screen, what does that say about their position in society? Women have stories to tell – and the world wants to hear them, whether they are Hilary Mantel or Angelina Jolie, who spectacularly seized the agenda off-screen this week.

Off-screen is the key to this. While it is crucial that women of all ages are given rounded roles on screen, it is behind the scenes that the hard work’s needed. Only 4 per cent of the directors of the Top 100 films are female, and 12.2 per cent of the writers. It is hardly surprising that actresses are seeing their lines cut short, and their hemlines shortened.

Times are changing. A woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has won the Oscar for Best Director. At Cannes this month, only one film in competition is directed by a woman (which is one more than last year), but all five British films are produced by women. Josie Rourke and Vicky Featherstone have taken over at the Donmar and the Royal Court, powerhouses of new theatre in the UK. These changes will help women to find their voices again. One film about some funny bridesmaids isn’t enough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND SWALE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

Geography Teacher, full time supply role, Thanet Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The School Randstad are proud to...

Science Teacher, full time supply role, Thanet Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The School Randstad are proud to...

English Teacher, full time supply role, Isle of Sheppey

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job: Our client school is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week