2017 brought us a butt-kicking female superhero, a second round of the girl-powered Star Wars franchise, and a live action Disney fairytale. One might think that would be enough in terms of advancing gender equality — but when you look at the big picture, it definitely isn't.
According to a recent study that reviewed nearly a decade of trends, sexism in Hollywood is still alive and well. Even if women are cast, the likelihood that they'll actually be allowed to have any speaking lines is pretty slim. The odds are even worse for women of color, who are still more or less invisible in the film industry.
According to researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), women are still less likely than men to have speaking roles in films. Assessing the 100 top-grossing U.S. films, USC found some staggering gaps in opportunity. Of the 900 films that they looked at, just 12% of the movies had casts with balanced genders. So for every female cast, 2.3 males were cast as well.
But even if casts are "balanced," there's still no guarantee that female actors will have any lines. Just 31.4% of roles were attributed to female speaking characters in 2016, according to the study. Over the past nine years, percentages of speaking females have fluctuated between 28.4 to 32.8%, with no trend of improvement whatsoever.
Additionally, just 34 of 2016's top-grossing 100 films showcased a female lead or co-lead. This "34" benchmark appears to be a bit of a curse, as there were also only 34 female directors of the 900 total films — which averages out at less than four percent of all directors. So, in case you're wondering: No, one all-female screening of Wonder Woman does not make up for this systematic exclusion; Encouraging female directors and supporting female-led projects is a vital first step.
The study also found there's an urgent need for racial diversity in Hollywood. "What our data shows most powerfully this year over any other year," said Stacy L. Smith, USC professor and the study's lead author, "is the real epidemic of intersectional invisibility in film. If you cross gender with race and ethnicity, you see that the bottom really drops out for females of color on screen." Even in 2017, 47 films of the 100 films cast no black females, 66 had no Asian females, and 72 had no Hispanic females.
Studies like these help to disprove the uninformed perception that opportunities for women, especially women of color, are steadily improving; Actively supporting projects that give women a voice and consciously working toward true equality — and not invisibility — is on all of us: directors, filmmakers, and moviegoers alike.