Old Boys Club: Hollywood Keeps Women in Background

Females land leading roles in only a fraction of films

A new study finds that, despite Hollywood's reputation for promoting a socially progressive worldview, when it comes to gender equality, its hiring practices are stuck in the past. A new study released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University shows that women comprised only a third of all speaking roles in the top 100 grossing films last year, and starred in only 15% of them.

The Center's executive director, Martha M. Lauzen, says that those numbers are largely unchanged from the first study she conducted in 2002, hovering around 25% to 28%, and reveal a widespread hypocrisy at work in Hollywood:

“We think of Hollywood as a very progressive place and a bastion of liberal thought,” she said. “But when you look at the numbers and the representation of women onscreen, that’s absolutely not the case. The film industry does not like change.”

The study's author says that the lack of access for women is spread evenly across racial lines, a trend that has been in place for the past decade, with African-American, Latina, and Asian actresses accounting for 14%, 5%, and 2% of all femail characters, respectively, figures that have remained consistent since 2002.

Ms. Lauzen attributed the lack of growth in the number of leading female characters to the relative paucity of women in key roles behind the scenes: since 1998, she has found that women have consistently accounted for roughly 17 percent of writers, directors and producers.

An analysis of the box office receipts of the top films found that, despite being outnumbered by nearly two to one, films that featured at least two women, and included a scene where the women spoke with one another about something other than a man, took in more money at the box office by a significant margin. But while the box office takes for films with females may have increased, the number of jobs for women in an allegedly progressive industry aren't seeing similar growth.