Female Film Roles Still Secondary, According to New Study

Women have only 32 percent of speaking parts in films.

April 22, 2011, 6:27 PM

April 22, 2011 — -- After decades of gender equality efforts in many parts of American life, an analysis of the 100 top-grossing movies of 2008 found that men still have an advantage over women in film: Only 32.8 percent of the speaking parts were given to women.

The study looked beyond just on-camera roles, also finding that only 8 percent of directors, 13.6 percent of writers and 19.1 percent of producers were female.

"Most male writers, directors or producers will write story lines, create story lines that feature more male characters," said Stacy Smith, who co-led the study by researchers at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, along with Marc Choueiti.

Not only that, but 13-to-20-year-old girls continue to be "hypersexualized in film," according to the study. A substantially higher percentage of young women are shown wearing revealing attire then are men.

In fact, 39.8 percent of females wore revealing attire in movies, compared to 6.7 percent of males. And females are shown partially naked 30.1 percent of the time, compared to 10.3 percent for males.

One big name behind the camera is Kathryn Bigelow, who won a Best Picture Oscar for "The Hurt Locker," which she directed.

"I think, finally, it's about the ideas and it's about the passion," she said. "And that's what ... certainly drives me personally.

"If I can be a role model and give some young, female filmmaker [the idea] that the impossible is possible," she said, "and that if you're tenacious enough and maybe [have] a few moments of good luck, you can go to Jordan and shoot in the punishing heat of the summer."

Even with trailblazers like Bigelow, things are slow to equalize. For every woman that directed, wrote or produced a movie, there were nearly five men.

However, when one or more female screenwriters are involved in penning a script, the percentage of female characters jumps by 14.3 percent.

Things slowly are starting to change. In 2008, three of the biggest-grossing movies were geared towards girls -- "Twilight," "Mama Mia!" and "Sex and the City."

"The industry sees there's a market and that people are going to see films like 'Twilight,' 'Mama Mia!,' 'The Proposal,' 'The Blind Side,'" Smith said. "These types of movies are making money."

The hope is that if more films geared toward women turn a profit, more of them will be produced, which would change the currently stark outcomes of studies like this one.

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