Both on screen and behind the scenes, the representation of women in Hollywood films doesn’t seem to be getting much better. According to Mic, sexism in Hollywood is ongoing and particularly felt by older women. A new study has found the following: ‘of the top 100 grossing films of 2016, just 34 had women in leading roles. Women over the age of 45 constituted just eight of those 34 films. In comparison, 29 leading roles in 2016 were played by men over 45.’
These eight women include big names such as Ellen DeGeneres, Taraji P. Henson and Meryl Streep, who was quoted saying the following on this issue in 2015:
‘When I was 40, I was offered three witch [roles]… I was not offered any female adventurers or love interests or heroes or demons.’
According to Mic, Professor Erin Hill has explored the issue of diversity of films and explains that ‘the absence of older women in Hollywood is due in part to the way women’s characters tend to be written. In many cases, she said, women in films exist solely as companions to men.’ As most leading female characters are written for the male gaze, ageism and sexism are continuous problems in the industry.
Executive director of New York Women in Film and Television, Terry Lawler, explained to Mic that this is largely because of a lack of women behind the scenes: according to the report, only five of 2016’s top 100 films were directed by women. As Terry points out: ‘The people on screen and behind the scenes should reflect the population… There should be women, there should be people of colour, there should be older people, people with all kinds of different disabilities, and it should reflect life. And it doesn’t come close.’ If there were more women making films, they’d be more likely to cast women not only as companions or accessories, and casting older women would thus come naturally.
While this doesn’t come as too big a surprise, it is still disturbing that an industry as influential and powerful as Hollywood can populate our screens with narratives that are fundamentally sexist and ageist. Sigh.