Women in film


Fantastic interview with Geena Davis in the Graun:


She has a very simple solution to the ridiculous disparity in roles for women and men:

“The one area where we could reach parity overnight is on screen, absolutely overnight… My two-pronged solution to the entire problem is just before you cast a film or a TV show, go through the characters and change a bunch of first names to female – hooray! Now you’ve got a gender-balanced cast, you’ve got female characters who are un-stereotyped because they were written actually for a man and then, wherever it says, ‘a crowd gathers’, put ‘which is half female’. And that’ll happen.”

Simple, easy, straightforward… and unlikely to ever happen. :frowning:

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Ooh, that reminds me. This month Sight & Sound are doing women on film.

Sight & Sound’s coverage of women’s cinema, from female-focussed films and movies made by women to reports and comment on the ongoing underrepresentation of women in the film industry at large, including criticism and journalism.



I was listening to an episode of Women at Warp that looked at the JJ Abrams Star Trek films and one thing that they said was how little effort was made to give parity to women in the films in terms of background characters. Geena Davis’s simple solution is unnecessarily complex for this as these characters didn’t have names or even lines but somehow they were still predominently men. Even more egregious, and something I didn’t notice because I know nothing about the military, is that the female costumes had no indication of rank, unlike the male costumes. So all the women were rankless! I think the new film has apparently corrected that but the fact that something like that was able to go through two films is pretty shocking.



I don’t really understand what happened with Star Trek and women characters, given what JJ Abrams just did with Star Wars. It’s like they are made by two different people.

I hadn’t noticed the rank thing, but that sucks so hard. In the end, I didn’t watch the second one, precisely because I’d heard it basically ignored women. Whereas Star Wars, which I was ambivalent about, I went to the cinema to see, and it was awesome.



From what I can gather (primarily from the Women at Warp podcast) Abrams is not a Star Trek fan and essentially used the film as a ‘calling card’ to get him hired for Star Wars. By not being a fan he misunderstood a lot about the Trek ‘universe’ which is much more about science and diplomacy than big battles and explosions (something that Abrams seems to have either not realised or not cared about).

I will admit I thoroughly enjoyed the first film but I have problems with how the women are portrayed (though I do like that Uhura is not only extremely capable but also able to stand up for herself) but the second one, well, I saw it and was pissed off about all the things everyone was pissed off about (I haven’t even seen the Wrath of Khan yet even I recognised the obvious parallels and the ridiculous ‘Khaaaaan’ from Spock was just embarrassing).

So, to respond to your ‘it’s like they’re made by two different people’, I guess they are to some extent. ST was made by someone who saw it as just a job, while SW was made by someone who had dreamt of making it since he was a kid. That they’re the same person is incidental. It is still a bit baffling why the former films seem to see women as purely decorative while the women in the latter are well rounded and interesting people you’d like to get to know better. It might have something to do with the writers. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote the Star Trek films (with Damon Lindelof ‘helping’ with the second one) while Abrams co-wrote Star Wars himself, which may have helped with the characterisations.



That’s really interesting, and also rather sad, Fishnut. It essentially tells us that Abrams only engages with women characters when they’re in a franchise he’s a fan of, and that he can’t be arsed with them otherwise. I mean, maybe it is down to the writers, but surely as director he can say “I don’t like the way these women are portrayed” and get it changed? It boggles my mind.



I was reading about Alan Rickman and saw that he was “voted #19 in Empire Magazine’s Greatest Living Movie Stars over the age of 50” and it got me wondering how many of those ‘stars’ would be female. It seems that the Empire website doesn’t have the article (it’s from 2004), but I find another site which gave the top 30 (I have no idea if that’s the entire list or just the beginning). The women are:
10. Sigourney Weaver
14. Meryl Streep
20. Judi Dench
26. Helen Mirren
29. Lauren Bacall

Now, I’m not disputing the list, though it’s a bit out of date as some of the people listed are now dead (unsurprising for something written 12 years ago) but is there really only 1 good female actor over 50 for every 6 males? Of course not, what it seems to be showing is that there are far more roles for older male actors than there are for female actors. You could argue that a list made now would have more women on it but I’ve looked to see if there’s anything more recent but everything about older female actors focuses on how ‘sexy’ they ‘still’ look. I found this article on men over 50 still conquering Hollywood, but the female equivalent, while titled ‘famous actresses over 50’, actually focused on their looks and I’d argue that the vast majority of the women are far less famous than there male counterparts.

It seems to be a perfect example of ageism and sexism - the men are complemented on their skills (admittedly many of them also look pretty good too, but that is not the main criteria for inclusion) while the women are judged on their looks rather than their talent. It’s infuriating.



gnashes teeth

Hollywood is, of course, renowned for being both ageist and sexist, so that’s not even a little bit surprising. The Geena Davis Institute does some good stuff on women in media: http://seejane.org/

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The Geena Davis Institute keeps coming up in these sorts of discussions and I agree, does good stuff.

I’m off to see The Danish Girl a bit later. I’m really ambivalent about it. But my mum is the one who wants to go and see it which surprised me so if it means helping to get her outside her comfort zone a bit I’ll happily accompany her. I took her to see Grandma the other week which she really enjoyed (I did too - it was really funny and I found myself able to sympathise with all the female characters, plus it felt like they were real people in a way that is rare to see). The thing that disappointed me was that probably >80% of the audience were women. It seemed that because it was about women men just weren’t interested, but women are supposed to be interested in films about men (and are). It’s that whole thing of ‘media about men is media about people, media about women is chick-lit/flick [delete as applicable]’.



I’m back from The Danish Girl. I wasn’t impressed. It looked beautiful and there wasn’t anything that I can point to specifically that makes it bad but it left me cold. I get emotional at everything - even adverts for stupid things like pasta sauces can tug at my heart strings, so god help me when it’s an advert that’s trying to make me emotional (there’s one at the moment for cancer uk where there’s a nurse bathing a toddler, I get ridiculously choked up every time I see it) - but the film didn’t do anything. There were a couple of moments where I thought ‘this is it’ but nah, nothing. It felt like nothing but surface. I never felt we got to understand Lili, she was a character not a real person. Eddie Redmayne was ok but he seemed to be all affectation. There’s a really good story in there somewhere, but the film was not it.



Hah! I cried at Wall Street, that bit where they’re carting young whippersnapper Charlie Sheen off, despite him being the least sympathetic character on the planet…

I’d not heard of The Danish Girl, and will now not bother finding out more.



I’ve been reading some reviews to see what other people thought and there’s been some interesting stuff. One the one hand, there’s the sense that by having this be such a sumptuous costume drama it brings a more mainstream audience to something that would normally be on the fringe and that’s a good thing (the audience I saw it with was definitely an older demographic and while a couple did walk out part way through, the rest of the 2/3 filled auditorium stayed til the end). Having a straight guy playing the lead is another reason it was able to become a mainstream film.

However, the direction and script made no effort to explore the mental consequences of being trans, and focused very much on the clothes, make-up and mannerisms. While this could have been done in a way that showed just how much of gender is artifice, it ended up portraying Lili as a transvestite more than transgender, which ultimately does a disservice to real trans people and doesn’t help them get the wider understanding that a film like this could provide. So there’s a lot of ambivalence to the film. These are a couple of really good dissections of the film.

I’m glad I’ve seen it, I just wish it had been better so that my post-viewing conversation with mum had been able to be about transgender issues rather than how the film failed to show really anything about the reality of being trans.



Did you see the Boy Meets Girl, the BBC sitcom about a transgender woman falling in love with a much younger man? http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b069hzxw That was really lovely, even with the slight “transgender 101” feel that the dialogue sometimes had.



No I didn’t but I will definitely try and check it out (it looks like it’s not on iPlayer at the moment but I’m sure it’ll be lurking somewhere on the interwebs).



Force Awakens Spoilers!!!

Whilst we’re talking about women in film, some Force Awakens links:

On the accusation that Rey is a Mary Sue

This is actually relevant to the whole role models discussion, specifically that men have so many more to choose from than women, that women’s role models/characters take on an unbearable weight:

One of the reasons girls and women write a lot of this type of fanfiction is because these fantasies are not well-served by mainstream media in the same way male wish-fulfillment fantasies are. If we’re looking for straight-up romance, then there’s a lot to choose from. But as soon as we start looking for hero narratives that star a female character, the well dries up pretty quickly.

There are plenty of wish-fulfillment stories out there for men, our culture is awash with them. We find them on television, in movies, in video games, and in books. Boys and men who come from an ordinary life, are swept up in adventure, are bestowed with superpowers, extreme abilities, or suddenly important talents, become the driving force of the story, take on the mantel of hero, and ultimately win the day. Often they get the girl. Sometimes multiple girls. Many of them aren’t particularly well-written, but sometimes quality isn’t the point. Their purpose is not to inspire as great literature, but to respond to a particular set of common desires and fantasies.

Great article on why Finn is so cool:

Couldn’t agree more. Read this after I read the comments on this article, to which it is a great antidote:

I can’t believe that people are finding a way to see TFA as racist. You have this amazing character, who’s co-lead to another amazing character, and people think it’s racist?

I think there might be a couple of things going on with that: firstly, a fundamental sexism in that interpretation of Finn and Rey’s relationship. For some people, if Finn isn’t the hero because a woman is, then he’s being disrespected. And worse, because Finn’s a sensitive chap, who kicks arse and yet still gets his arse handed to him, and because Rey doesn’t need him to rescue her, apparently Finn’s a racist character (the unspoken reason is “because he’s weak”). Thus people see him relegated to ‘comedic sidekick’, a role that black men have fulfilled frequently over the years and which is thus stereotypical, but which is definitely not Finn.

The other issue is that, again, there’s too much weight on one character. Finn cannot be all things to all black men (and women). For those who see him as this fascinatingly nuanced character, he’s a fabulous representation of the vast capabilities of black men. But for those who see him as a weak, effeminate character, he’s an insult. But in order to see him as weak you have to buy in to both hypermasculinity and misogyny because it means that a woman must be saved by a man, rather than saving her own arse, and the man must be the hero of the piece instead of a woman.


Lady Science

Awesome piece on why Rey is absent from the Force Awakens toys, and the impact that it may well have on toy makers:


In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.

The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”



More on #WheresRey

And then this gem:

Previously set to bow May 26, 2017, Star Wars: Episode VIII will now open December 15, 2017. The studio also announced today that principal photography will begin next month.

Disney did not reveal exactly why they’re moving the opening date, but it could come down to one (or both) of these reasons: 1) Following the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ December 2015 box office, Disney has decided they want to use the holiday slot for Star Wars for the rest of eternity, or 2) Disney, Lucasfilm, and director Rian Johnson need more time to get the film just right.

On point #2, The Hollywood Reporter’s Borys Kit tweeted that recent rumors of rewrites — which are said to be underway to add more of Rey, Poe, and Finn to the story — are correct

Seriously, how could they not realise that Rey, Poe and Finn were their core characters, not Kylo fucking emo Ren? I’m just gobsmacked that they would consider, after writing The Force Awakens, that the next movie wouldn’t be about Rey, Finn and Poe’s journeys? It’s just… bonkers.



I saw something (it might even be in one of the links you’ve provided) that says they produced a load of Kylo Ren merch that hasn’t sold because everyone wants Finn and Rey stuff. I too, am gobsmacked that they thought that he was the character that would be the stand-out given the film but, thinking about it, it isn’t necessarily that surprising. First, he’s the ‘big bad’ (even though he’s pretty pathetic as big bads go). Second, the prequals were all based on the rise of the ultimate Big Bad and while they were critically panned, they made a lot of money so why not try and repeat that success? Third given the fact that - SPOILER !!! - Ren is the son of Han and Leia, it makes sense that they’d think that the audience would be interested in him. He’s the kid of two iconic characters, why wouldn’t we be interested? (maybe because he was the absolute dullest of the main characters).

As to the problem of Finn and Rey trying to be ‘all things to all people’, it really is a problem that comes from not having sufficient women or minorities in films. I linked to a couple of articles relating to this problem but I’ll highlight them again. There’s Alicia Vikander noting that she “made five films in a row before I had a scene with another woman” while Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno explained that after winning her Oscar she ended up turning down a lot of roles because they were all type-casting her simply on the basis of her race, a problem she had had before she won but wasn’t in a position to turn down, a problem that Gina Rodriguez also faced.

“Before West Side Story I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles: the Conchitas and Lolitas in Westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else. After West Side Story, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of gang stories.”

Two generations later, Rodriguez has faced similar struggles in her career. “I found it limiting to see women of my skin color only playing very specific roles as though Latino stories are different,” she said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last year. “I felt very limited by the opportunities I had in Hollywood to play the maid, the pregnant teen, the drug addict.”

If we keep type-casting people based on their race or sex then it makes sense that as soon as there’s a character who breaks this mould there’ll be a lot of interest and excitement, but also a lot of concern that they’re not as perfect as they could be. I agree that to complain about Finn being weak or effeminate is ridiculous and says much more about the complainer than it does about the character, but it is frustrating when films try to create non-standard characters and fail. I think that’s why I found ‘The Danish Girl’ so frustrating - it could have been excellent and instead it felt so tone-deaf to the real issues that it disappointed those who are interested in/affected by the issues and failed to educate those who don’t know anything about the issues, so no-one won (other than the actors who were praised for tackling ‘difficult’ subjects by the sort of people who would probably jeer at real trans people).



A few stories that I’ve collected in recent months on women in film:

Mark Kermode discusses recent reports that find a shockingly low proportion of women involved in film production.

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis: Hollywood hasn’t had an epiphany since Thelma & Louise
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis discuss the progress (or lack of) that has been made since Thelma & Louise. What I find most interesting is the different views they have, Davis being much more optimistic than Sarandon.

Famke Janssen Makes an Interesting Point About Older Female Characters in the X-Men Franchise
The new X-Men film carries on the tradition of the last in having the ‘young’ and ‘old’ casts together in the same film. However, not all of the ‘old’ cast have been brought back and there is a noticeable sex bias in that it seems (from what I’ve heard, at least) that it’s just the ‘old’ men who get to reprise their roles. Famke Janssen says this is sexism, pure and simple.

When Hollywood Featured Spankings of Adult Women
Women being ‘spanked’ was once a common thing in film!

Jane Got a Gun is not a feminist western – unless by ‘feminist’ you mean ‘contains a woman’
“Jane Got a Gun” was sold as a feminist western but it turned out to be very disappointing. The author reviews the film and uses it as a starting point to discuss what we actually mean by a “feminist” film. More interesting than your usual film review.

Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age
Probably the largest analysis of film scripts, examining the proportion of words spoken by men and women. What most struck me was the breakdown by age. Women of every demographic speak less than men but women get the most lines when they’re in their 20s and and fall off precipitously after that. For men, it’s the complete opposite - their lines increase with age, only falling off after 65 (and then still getting more than women of the same age).



I missed a couple:

The Headless Women of Hollywood
A great tumblr documenting all the posters where women feature purely as bodies rather than people.

Jodie Foster Is Sick of Male Film Makers Constantly Using Rape as Character Motivation
Jodie Foster calls out the laziness of male writers who can think of no other motivation for women than rape.

Hollywood Movies Still Stereotype LGBT Characters, Depict ‘Gay Panic’ Scenes
Not women specifically, but it links with the previous story in that it highlights the laziness of writers who fall back on stereotypes for cheap laughs or plots rather than come up with anything original.