Females in the Film World

This Christmas you’ll probably take some time to enjoy a movie with your family. When you do, you might like to think about how girls or women are portrayed in the film. How many female characters are there in the whole ocean in Finding Nemo? The answer is one – It’s Dory and she is not exactly an intellectual role model. How many in the first Toy Story movie? Bo Peep is the only female toy character. When we talk about conditioning and unconscious bias affecting our culture, the under-representation and misrepresentation of females in the media is a crucial factor.

Actress Geena Davis played the first female president in Commander-in-Chief, a baseball player in A League of their Own and the famous Thelma in Thelma & Louise but as a media consumer she realised that there was something wrong with the way that women were being portrayed. In 2004, Davis launched the largest research project ever done on G-rated movies and children’s television to analyse how women and girls are being portrayed. The results showed that there is only one female character to every three male characters, one to five in large group scenes and female characters tend to be portrayed as over sexualised with a narrow scope of character traits. “If we have such devaluing and disempowering images from the first media that children consume, it sets the table and enculturates another generation of children into seeing women and children of a lesser status than boys and men”, Davis said. Geena has now established the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to lobby and work with the Writers Guild and entertainment content creators such as Pixar to create more female characters with more realistic characteristics.

In terms of women working in the film industry, an important aspect of this problem, the Celluloid Ceiling 2009 Report shows that women accounted for 7% of directors in the top 250 grossing films in 2009. Overall the percentage of women working in all roles in the film industry is in decline. In Academy Award history, four female filmmakers have been nominated for best director (Lina Wertmuller – 1977, Jane Campion – 1994, Sofia Coppola – 2004 and Kathryn Bigelow – 2010) but only Kathryn has won. Ironically Kathryn has forged her career through a series of films notable for their overt masculinity – Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker and The Hurt Locker.

We spoke recently with local film maker, Genevieve Clay, who won the 2009 Movie Extra Tropfest Film Festival with her short film, Be My Brother. Many of the issues we discussed have parallels for women in the business world. Genevieve talked of a lack of female role models to help guide her in her career and the difficulties for women of trying to balance family life with the pressures of the film industry. Genevieve now works with her company Bus Stop Films to create inclusion within the film industry. Bus Stop Films is seeking funding to provide accredited ongoing film making workshops and create industry standard short films and work opportunities. You can donate online at her website or consider a company sponsorship of her important work.