Posted by: viviannaatkins | January 17, 2018

Women in the Movie Industry

In the last week of classes, we have taken a look at not only gender norms, but at people who have broken out of them. These gender norms, in particular, reflect how men took the lead with almost every position of power while women were restricted to merely supporting roles. I believe that this reflects well in the movie business.

It is no secret that in history, women were viewed as less competent and more as sexual objects. Growing up, a woman would not be taught individuality or how to suffice on her own. Instead, she would be groomed to be the perfect mother and wife: a person who tends after everything with the main goal of supporting her household. A woman had no power. Not surprisingly, this suppressive culture was displayed in the movie making business at the time. In the beginning, not only were women characters rarely written into the script, often other males played women characters. As women began taking on more and more positions in these movies, their characters were still subjected to the same roles: supporting and sexual. To the men writing the films, that is almost all they were good for.

In the modern world, things have improved greatly for women in film. Not only are women actually written as characters with substance, they are given a better representation.  At the link below, there is an article to cherish the past year of 2017. In this article, they discuss that in each of the year’s top grossing three movies, a woman was the main protagonist. This means that the women were the center of the plot, and none of the women were overly sexualized in the films. This is a remarkable feat considering how women previously were portrayed in movies. Furthermore, women are actually given more leadership roles, and there are more female directors than ever before. These directors are adding a more communal approach to movies and more movies have plots with emotional connections instead of action.

But, is that enough? While women have been given more roles, the Celluloid Ceiling Report states that women retain only 17% of all leadership positions, including directors, producers, and writers. And even though women have helped produce some of the best movies of the year, including a movie that reached the top third grossing movie (Wonder Woman), they are almost never recognized. In fact, at the Golden Globes this year, not a single female was included as even a nominee for best director. This is despite Wonder Woman being regarded as one of the most well done superhero movies of modern day- by a male audience. Furthermore, while women have been granted top protagonists in leading films, the 2017 USC’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative report, highlight that women only attain 28% of all speaking roles in movies. This a problem considering women make up half of the population, and correspondingly, at least half of conversations around the world. These women are a part of an extreme minority in the business world, but people claim how “equal” society is because of a narrowed look at these trailblazers. Yes, these are good milestones to have, but people are over focused on them. They target these accomplishments to try to cover up all the prejudice and inequality that still exists.

Overall, despite advancements in society, women are still not given an equal voice, and if they are, it is often not recognized or ignored. Sure, a woman today is given the freedom to do a lot more than she was able, but there still lacks equality in almost every way. People need to look beyond the incredible headline facts and firsts for women and realize that the odds are still overwhelmingly against them- a lot more is needed to be done.




  1. Almost every time, females begin to make advancements in the field of cinema or television, there is a backlash that is associated with it. When the new Star Wars trilogy announced their lead character would be a female Jedi, named Rey, people began to question the integrity of the film. Wonder Woman was delayed for several years, because the industry declared there was not an audience for a movie revolving a female lead heroine. In the summer, Jodie Whitaker was revealed to play as the Doctor in Dr. Who. Soon after, several flocked to the internet to cast their remarks regarding how a female would never regenerate from a primarily male played doctor. Even with the pop-cultural backlash, these movies and television shows are becoming the top grossing products in their field. In 2017, the top three grossing movies were all centered around strong female leads: Star Wars: Rogue One, Live action Beauty and the Beast, and Wonder Woman. With these numbers, why is there still a backlash?

    The normal today is that men dominate the film industry on camera and behind the scenes. This gives a one-sided perspective in what is produced. As women are integrating themselves more into film, we see a resistance to the change. Even with the resistance, females all around should not be scared of pushing forward into their dreams. Currently, 28% of females have roles in the movie industry, but this should not be seen as a setback. As women continue to advanced into the field, these pop-cultural backlashes will slowly diminish as it becomes more normal for females to take these roles.

  2. This is a very interesting topic because we see women slowly making advances, but also see them stuck in the same problems. On The CW, a network directed toward teenagers, there are two popular superhero shows The Arrow and The Flash. These shows are going on there seventh and fourth seasons, with The Arrow beginning in 2012 and The Flash following as a spin off in 2014. However, only recently did a female superhero show, Supergirl emerge. It started of on CBS but then quickly moved to The CW because of lack of interest among CBS viewers. Unlike the other two superhero shows, many people were commented in the main Supergirls’ (Melissa Benoist) physcial apperence when the show was beginning to advertise. Jeb Bush commesnts on her being “hot” yet does not comment on the actual show or her acting abilities. The crowd in turn laughs at his remark, yet this is not a joke to the women that keep being objectified this way. This shows how women are still being objectified by how they look and not applauded for their work.

    Jeb Bush Comment Video:

  3. I myself have been thinking about women in the film industry, especially after we watched the Shonda Rhimes speech in class. Growing up, female figures in movies were never strong or powerful women. Even princess movies, where female characters were supposedly the focus of the film, often gave men more speaking parts! Think about it – in the Little Mermaid, Ariel spends the majority of the movie without a voice. Sleeping Beauty (to no surprise) spends the majority of the movie asleep.

    Modern princesses have started to portray a strong female character, with Frozen being about the family bonds of two sisters, and Moana focusing on the adventurous passion of a young girl wanting to help her people. Live-action movies, as your statistics show, are not as progressive. Off the top of my head, I can only think of recent movies starring men – The Magnificent Seven, The Greatest Showman, and Jumanji all have female characters, but the main protagonist is a male.

    I recently stumbled across a clip that reminded me of your post. It includes Christina Hendricks, an actress from the TV show Madmen (which, being based in the 50s, is notoriously machismo). The clip takes place in modern times, with the ultimate tagline being about equality for women in the workplace. It’s an entertaining clip that makes a great point – give it a watch if you have a minute!

  4. This is not only reflected in the movie industry, it is seen throughout performing theatre in general. Going back to the classics (ancient Greece and Rome), men would play female characters because the theatre was not fit for women. Although Antigone is a classic tragedy about a female character, it would have been played by a man. One of the most challenging decisions play companies and directors face today is whether to keep a production true to its originality or to make the production more modern. If a company wants to stay true to history, that would include an all-male cast, which would then exclude talented actresses. Overall, historical aspects are important in any part of a production, whether stage or film, and the equal inclusion of both sexes becomes seemingly more difficult by the day.

  5. Recently I have been thinking a lot about strong female roles in movie films upon the recent release of Wonder Woman, Star Wars, and up-coming film Dr. Who (all portray a leading female role). This trend has been occurring for the past several years now, and doesn’t seem to have a plan to stop. I have two feelings about this move on Hollywood’s art; 1) I think it is awesome seeing such acceptance of women leading roles, especially for my little sister; 2) What is going to happen to all the classic leading male roles or series? I think it is really important that Hollywood expands their vision especially since Hollywood has not been the most diverse and accepting crowd. My concern is, are we going to be picking the best actors for the role or are we picking certain demographics to fill in these roles to make ourselves feel good or that we are doing women justice.

  6. I think you are making a very good point. Historically, it was uncommon to find a female with a leading role in movies. Another student made a comment about princess movies. That made me realize that growing up, the only movies I watched with female leads were Disney princess movies because there just were not many other movies back then that had strong female roles. However, all the princess movies revolved around finding their prince charming. This relates back to what you mentioned about how women were groomed to become the perfect wife, which was especially apparent in Mulan. In the song “Honor to Us All” from Mulan, the woman sang “We’ll have you washed and dried. Primped and polished till you glow with pride. Trust me recipe for instant bride. You’ll bring honor to us all”. So the women were expected to look their best in order to catch the eyes of a man and get him to marry her, and in doing so, she is honoring her family. This is upsetting to go back and listen to. In our readings, we have learned about how women and men have different expectations, and that is apparent in these movies. Women’s lives revolve around finding a husband and keeping him happy and making him nice meals, whereas men have the opportunity to work or become a soldier if they want to. Luckily, society has become more progressive, and women are allowed more freedom. However, there are still constraints that are holding women back.

  7. This is quite an interesting topic! I have also noticed that men tend to take leadership roles in the movie industry. Because movies are so popular in the United States, maybe this is where we get our mental models of leaders? I know that the show on Netflix, Mad Men, portrays the business men as the leaders and the woman as the secretaries. The men are rude and demand actions from the women every day. I believe that the movie industry does this to show what life was like in the 1960s. Since then, America has made improvements from the stereotypes, but they are not vanished. Now in the recent decade, women have taken on more prominent roles in movies and television shows. Wonder Woman is an excellent example of this. I find that men often introduce women in ways that belittle her accomplishments. I hope that when women are nominated for best directors in the future, that the men do not make a big deal out of her gender.

  8. This is a very interesting topic! I think that this concept of do we have enough representation of women in leadership could be expanded to more than just the movie industry, but rather all over. I think the movie industry is very important though because people tend to idealize what they want their lives to be like based on fiction films they watch. People watch their favorite romances thinking “wow I want that kind of relationship!” and various other thoughts. I think it is amazing how many women are gaining the opportunity to have strong leadership roles which give so much motivation to all minority groups. I think yes that there is still so much room to grow but just as Shonda Rhimes said, we have made so much progress in such little time. The percentages may seem small but they really are a huge improvement.

    • This is a very interesting point! I wonder how many woman actually desire to be in leadership positions in the movie industry versus in prominent roles. If that number is relatively small it might explain why women’s representation is lower. If more women do desire those positions but aren’t getting them, I wonder how women who are already leaders in the industry are helping their female counterparts fight the norms and achieve higher positions of leadership in the industry.

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