Earlier in October, over 9 million people tuned in to watch the eponymous character from Doctor Who make their thirteenth regeneration into a woman. This was a first for the long-running BBC series, with the time-travelling doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. Despite concerns of a massive backlash, the episode was met with rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Over 9 million people tuned in to the first episode – a massive feat considering 6.8 million viewers watched the previous Doctor Peter Capaldi’s series opener. The series’ success disproved that old and stubborn argument that viewers would rather see and not hear female characters. Whittaker hopes the move will inspire many more female doctors to come. “The exciting thing is when there will be 13 of us,” she told This Morning.
Many have noted how important it is for girls to see women achieving success. As tennis legend and founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation Billie Jean King once said, “You have to see it to be it”. In film and television in particular, diversity has become a pressing issue in recent years. Throughout history, men and their stories have dominated our stages and screens, with women largely delegated to the background, playing two-dimensional stereotypes such as the helpless damsel in distress, the sexy femme fatale, or the domestic goddess and mother.
But if you take a good look at the movies and TV shows being made today, it’s clear to see that not a whole lot has changed over time. While we’re starting to see a rise in the number of blockbuster films starring interesting and original female leads, like Lady Bird, The Hate U Give, and Hidden Figures, Hollywood still has a long way to go before it achieves total gender parity.
In fact, a study released this year by the University of Southern California found that female representation in films has hardly changed in over a decade, with females having fewer speaking roles in movies in 2017 than they did in 2007. The figures are even worse for women of colour. What’s more, a 2016 survey on dialogue in film found that in many cases, even if a film had a female lead, such as Frozen or The Hunger Games, male characters were still given more speaking parts.
Although the lack of female representation in films has been justified by largely white and male Hollywood producers who still harbour the belief people don’t want to fork out to see females on their screens, it turns out that this is completely false. According to research by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, in 2015, female-led films generated around 15.8 per cent more revenue than male-led films. In 2016, the figure was smaller, around 7.3 per cent more. But in 2017, female-led films grossed a staggering 38.1 per cent more on average than films with male leads, showing that female-centric films have huge profit potential.
Although production studios are slow on the uptake, it seems as though the general public has more of an appetite for change. A recent study by BBC America and the Women’s Media Center found that kids want more female leads in superhero and sci-fi films, the former a genre obsessed with churning out movies about slightly different variations of white men in colourful spandex suits.
The obvious exception to this rule, of course, is last year’s Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, which dethroned 2002’s Spider Man to become the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time. Australian actress Ruby Rose was recently revealed to be playing Batwoman in a new Warner Bros “crossover” series featuring Green Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl. Rose’s Batwoman, who will be the first gay superhero featured in a television series, was met with responses ranging from ecstatic to downright nasty, with Rose deleting her Twitter account shortly after the announcement.
“If I can be in a place where my image is encouraging people to see different people behind the camera, and my image and the images I make can help open up a certain world view, I think that’s all a part of a larger spirit of change and progress.”
There has also been a recent surge in rebooting famous films with an all-female cast, including 2016’s Ghostbusters: Answer The Call, this year’s Ocean’s Eight, and upcoming release Lord Of The Flies. While this certainly signifies a shift in the way Hollywood producers are considering all-female films as potential blockbusters, others have voiced concern about the lack of original roles being given to women. “In one sense, all this seems like good news – it means there are more women in blockbusters,” writes The Guardian’s Emine Saner. “But you could also take the view that these remakes signify not only a complete lack of creativity but, worse, that studios are using them as somewhere to funnel female talent because they are unwilling to take a risk on original big-budget female-centric films.”
It’s not just female actors who are missing out. Females are vastly underrepresented behind the scenes, too. On the top 100 grossing films of 2017, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women made up only 8 per cent of directors, 10 per cent of writers, 2 per cent of cinematographers, 24 per cent of producers and 14 per cent of editors. Interestingly, the key to increasing gender parity in film and television may be to give women more directing roles. According to one study, putting a female in the director’s or co-director’s chair can have a trickle-down effect, leading to “greater percentages of women working as writers, editors, cinematographers, and composers than films with exclusively male directors.”
Having more women behind the camera not only leads to more women being cast and put on the production team, but also inspires others to do the same. Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American to be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Picture for her work on Selma, agrees. “If I can be in a place where my image is encouraging people to see different people behind the camera,” she said, “And my image and the images I make can help open up a certain world view, I think that’s all a part of a larger spirit of change and progress.”
Main mage credit: Jodie Whittaker / Instagram @benritterphoto
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