Award season is well underway this winter; the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards have come and gone. The eagerly anticipated list of Oscar nominations has been released. There are some incredibly interesting and well-done films on the list of nominations for these award shows. Some explore important topics and others purely entertain. However, few of these films fulfill a simple and basic requirement: passing the Bechdel Test. This test, named after American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, is a simple and easy tool that many use to determine if a movie has gender bias. In order for a movie or television show to pass this test, it must have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. While this is an incredibly low standard for a movie to uphold, many movies that appear on award show nomination lists this year fail to pass.
Of the nine films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, five failed this painfully easy test. The two additional films that were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Picture also failed. These problems are indicative of a larger-scale problem in the movie industry. Of the 50 top-grossing films of 2013, 21 failed the Bechdel test. Though the movies that passed the test typically made more money than those that didn’t pass, the number of movies in 2013 that marginalized women closely resembles patterns seen in years past. Why this misogyny in the movie industry exists is difficult to say.
Perhaps this issue is the result of a lack of female representation in the movie industry. The percentage of females working behind the scenes is staggeringly low and probably contributes to the lack of female representation on screen. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has found that of the 1,565 content creators, only 7 percent of directors, 13 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers are females. This means that the ratio of males to females working behind the camera is 4.8:1. No wonder males outnumber females so heavily on the big screen. It’s even less surprising then, that women are so inclined to only discuss men during movies. It’s hardly shocking that this male-dominated field can scarcely imagine women having any other topic of conversation.
Though there are many more statistics and observations to support the fact that the movie industry both underrepresents and misrepresents females, one might ask why this is so important. Yes, it’s obviously a problem, but why should we care so much about this shallow and superficial industry? Well, first of all, it is indicative of much larger issues in the United States — the underrepresentation of women in many fields of work, the glass ceiling and the wage gap. Secondly, the movie industry influences people on a huge scale and can without a doubt affect the way we think from a very young age.
Imagine the effect that this gender imbalance and male focus can have on us. Growing up watching movies that lack multi-dimensional female characters is incredibly problematic and no doubt sets us up for failure to overcome other issues facing women. It’s undeniable that media portrayal affects the way both males and females think and act. This is especially true when most of the women with speaking roles are sexualized or simplified to a stereotype. Although there has been some progress when it comes to strong, complex female characters in the industry, there is still a long way to go as far as females in front of and behind the camera; this award season has been a glaring example of this.
Marykate Winn is an LSA freshman.
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