Women in Entertainment & Media: Representation on Screen

Last week we looked at the pay gap that exists in Hollywood and how, with the billions of dollars invested in the industry, women are still being underpaid. Not only are women in the industry getting underpaid compared to their male counterparts, some women are completely missing out on opportunities to get paid. Why? Because there is an evident under-representation of women on our screens.

When it comes to gender portrayal on screen, it’s really a no-brainer. The percentage of males and females in the world is in equilibrium, yet an off-balanced gender representation is being displayed on our screens. If each move or television series is displaying a world, it should reflect the even split. The Centre for Women in Television and Film compile research articles based on the top 100 grossing films each year that provide knowledge and feelings of despair simultaneously. The outlook? Not good.

The title of their 2016 article ‘Leading roles for women in Hollywood reach an all-time high…which is still pathetically low’ is enough to get the gist of it. The “all-time high” they refer to is that 29% of the most successful films of last year had a female protagonist. 54% had male protagonists, leaving 17% featuring ensemble casts. You could argue the 17% as also including females, however whether an ensemble refers to a male/female duo or a group of six containing only one female is ambiguous. Sadly not that shocking, the percentage of lone male protagonists is almost double that of females, selling the idea that males are far more apt at being “heroes”.  This is an increase when compared to the appalling figures of 2014 as communicated by the Centre in ‘It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World’, whereby 75% of of protagonists were males, 13% were female-male ensembles and a measly 12% were females.

The 2014 report also revealed that females accounted for only 30% of speaking roles; no need to point out to women that our voice isn’t consistently heard.

Interestingly, ethnic diversity seems to be declining. Where before in 2002 -2013 it was more progressive than it is currently and closer to the American cultural mix, representation of black women in films has dropped three percentage points from 2013 and four percentage points from 2002, to 11% in 2014. Why is this declining as the years go on in a society that supposedly works towards equal opportunity and eradicating racial discrimination?

When women are given the opportunity to be portrayed on screen, how are we actually represented? The New York Film Academy put together some data following the release of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ to take a look at females in film, based on the top 500 films from 2007-2012. Statistics surrounding the sexualisation of women on our screens include:

  • 28.8%of women wore sexually revealing clothes, as opposed to 7% of males
  • 26.2% of female actors got partially naked, as opposed to 9.4% of men
  • The percentage of teenage females depicting some nudity increased by 32.5% from 2007 to 2013

The 2014 study conducted by the Centre for Women in Television and Film found that female characters remain consistently younger than their male counterparts. The majority of female characters are in their 20’s or 30’s, as opposed to the majority of male characters being in their 30’s or 40’s. The percentage of male characters in their 50’s is double that of females, at 18% and 9% respectively.

We should be concerned with what these statistics are teaching audiences about the role of women in society. It’s displaying the “regular, every-day” woman to be white, attractive and between 20 and 40 and painting the role of women to be that of which pleases a male. We are not seeing realism on our screens, rather the polished fulfilment of society’s aesthetic standards, and missing relatedness to the everyday existence and the beauty of diversity.



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