Hollywood silences leading ladies as speaking roles for women slump


Adam Sherwin
Wednesday 15 May 2013 15:58

"Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close up…now give me something to say." Speaking roles for women in Hollywood blockbusters have fallen to their lowest level in five years, a new report has found.

Despite the success of female-driven films such as Bridesmaids, Twilight and The Hunger Games, the representation of women on screen in the most successful films at the box office has slumped.

The women that do appear are most likely to be teenagers who are portrayed in a sexualised manner, the study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism claimed.

Click here or on "View Images" for famous female speaking parts in pictures

Among the 100 highest-grossing films at the US box office in 2012, just 28.4 per cent of the 4,475 speaking characters were female. That represented a fall from 32.8 per cent three years ago.

Only 6 per cent of the top-grossing films in 2012 featured a balanced cast, defined by the study as females in 45-54.9 per cent of all speaking roles.

The survey has been conducted each year since 2007, when women took 29.9 per cent of speaking roles. The share of women on screen has fallen back since a small increase in 2009. Women remain “grossly under-represented on screen,” said Dr Stacy L. Smith, who led the study.

When they do get screen time, 31.6 per cent of women were depicted wearing sexually revealing clothing in 2012, the highest percentage over the five years.

For teenage girls, the number who are provocatively dressed is even higher: 56.6 per cent of teen girl characters in 2012 movies wore sexy clothes, an increase of 20 per cent since 2009.

Although Jennifer Lawrence’s sharp-shooting heroine Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games demonstrated that strong female roles can be box office winners, Hollywood executives remain obsessed with feeding the perceived tastes of young male cinemagoers, the researchers found.

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Female characters are more prevalent, and less likely to be sexualized, in films written and directed by women, the report said.

But only 16.7 per cent of the 1,228 directors, writers, and producers were female across the 100 top-grossing films of 2012.

Women accounted for 4.1 per cent of directors, 12.2 per cent of writers, and 20 per cent of producers, a ratio of five males to every one female behind the camera.

There is just one female director competing for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival which opens today - Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, sister of former French first lady and singer Carla Bruni. In 2012, there were none.

Dr Smith blamed “industry perceptions of the audience” for the imbalance. “The under representation of females on screen is surprising given population and movie attendance patterns,” she said. “Girls and women represent fully half of the US population and buy half of the movie tickets sold.”

She added: “Almost no change is observed behind the camera in the percentage of female directors, writers, and producers across 500 films and the 5 years evaluated. At least one avenue to diversifying on-screen cinematic content or reducing the risk of objectification is to hire more women behind the camera.”

Most famous female speaking parts:

Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond): Sunset Boulevard

“There’s nothing else. Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!…All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Lauren Bacall (Marie “Slim” Browning): To Have and Have Not

“You don't have to say anything. ... Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow.”

Audrey Hepburn (Regina Lampert) to Cary Grant: Charade

"I don't bite you know ... unless it's called for," Hepburn told Cary Grant in the 1963

Estelle Reiner places her ending Deli orgasm scene: When Harry Met Sally

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

Judy Garland (Dorothy Gale): The Wizard of Oz

“Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.”

Bette Davis (Margo Channing): All About Eve

"Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

Renée Zellweger (Dorothy Boyd): Jerry Maguire

"You had me at 'hello.'"

Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara): Gone with the Wind

“As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.”

Vivien Leigh (Blanche DuBois): A Streetcar Named Desire

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

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