When James Cameroon’s ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy awards for The Hurt Locker, the media seemed to go on about it for an unduly long time. It’s as if, a woman winning the Oscars is an astounding event, unheard of, and hence special. She was not only a woman but Cameroon’s ex-wife, at that. It made big news- a situation that calls to mind Hollywood’s intense sexism.
It is extremely unnerving to see the kind of patriarchal mindset that dominates the casting couch when it comes to women. They are almost always gorgeous, fit, sexy and dating or married to someone not nearly as attractive as they are. Men can be all shapes and sizes on film; women must be hot. The casting process which involves the round of auditions, includes in its first step, sending the agents of actors, a “breakdown” or synopsis of the characters they are required to portray. There is a marked difference in the way these breakdowns are written in case of men and women. For female characters, on e often comes across: Smoking hot, beautiful, cool, personable, attractive, fit, stylish, siren, curvaceous, sexy, alluring and flawless . For male ones: filthy rich, confident, wealthy, businessman, authoritative, debonair, corporate giant, brash, corn-fed, pudgy, adorable, serial killer, funny, smart, famous, passionate and handsome. It’s very noticeable how the breakdowns treat women as simply bodies. Adjectives are key to writing a useful breakdown, but the adjectives describing appearance get a lot more play in a female description. A female character is almost always described first by her looks and then by anything else that is important for her personality type, profession, relationship to the male character or role in the plot. A male character often does not even get a description of his looks; the first sentence usually describes his occupation, which is then followed by his key personality traits or his function in the plot.
A few days back, Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday questioned the kind of violence against women that Hollywood endorses and how such misogyny is wrought in our culture. She says- “For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfilment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny)…. Part of what makes cinema so potent is the way even its most outlandish characters and narratives burrow into and fuse with our own stories and identities. When the dominant medium of our age — both as art form and industrial practice — is in the hands of one gender, what may start out as harmless escapist fantasies can, through repetition and amplification, become distortions and dangerous lies.” These are movies about men, where female protagonists are rare. Researchers calculated just how sexist Hollywood still is and the results are depressing: women accounted for only 15 percent of protagonists, 29 percent of major characters and 30 percent of all speaking characters, according to a report titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films for 2013″ from San Diego State University.
Some more shocking statistics from the study:
• Only 13 percent of the top 100 films featured an equal number of major male and female characters
• The majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s, whereas the majority of male characters were in their 30s and 40s
• Male characters were more likely to have work-related goals than personal life-related goals (75/25), but women were split evenly between the two ambitions (48/52)
And even when movies nominally have male and female co-leads, that doesn’t mean women get as much screen time. Cinemetrics data published in the New York Times on Feb. 27 found that men get double the screen time of women overall. A good example is the ensemble cast for American Hustle: “Christian Bale actually has 60 minutes of screen to Amy Adams’s 46 minutes, a significant difference even in an ensemble movie. Among their supporting category counterparts, Bradley Cooper’s 41 screen minutes double Jennifer Lawrence’s 20.”
There are many actresses who have recently been very vocal about sexism in the film industry- At the 2014 SAG Awards, Blanchett asked a red carpet camera operator who was scanning her up and down, “Do you do this to the guys?”
In a January 2014 panel titled “The State Of Female Justice,” Olivia Wilde vowed to do her part to make sure women are represented as more than just sexy sidekicks:
It’s really hard to get stories made that are about women — not just women being obsessed with men or supporting men. And it’s really hard to get men to be a part of films that are about women in a leading role. I’m really interested in how we can adjust that, considering that it’s all just based on demand.
Mindy Kaling in an interview revealed- More than half the questions I am asked are about the politics of the way I look. What it feels like to be not skinny/dark-skinned/a minority/not conventionally pretty/female/etc. It’s not very interesting to me, but I know it’s interesting to people reading an interview. Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. Because as a result the interview of me reads like I’m interested only in talking about my outward appearance and the politics of being a minority and how I fit into Hollywood.”
The situation is disturbing because Hollywood happens to be an international industry. People from around the globe are aware of this industry. If such a widespread platform of popular culture chooses to foster such sexist values, it really is a bleak scenario for women.