In August 2015, the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative published a report that highlighted how Hollywood is still ostracising a vast number of people when it comes to their representation in films that make it to the big screen. The report calculated the percentages of featured genders and races throughout the top 100 movies in 2014 and concluded that only 28% of the speaking and named characters were women and a staggering 73.1% were white and only 19 were lesbian, gay or bisexual — (none were transgender).
"By examining the trends over time," said USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Professor Stacy Smith about the report, "it is clear that no progress has been made either on screen or behind the camera when it comes to representing reality. This report reflects a dismal record of diversity for not just one group, but for females, people of colour and the LGBT community."
While I am personally desperate to see all different types of people represented on cinema screens rather than the norm that we have become so accustomed to, I'm going to focus on the male/female ratio when it comes to major Hollywood films here, simply because there just isn't enough page-space to talk about it all in one go.
Despite all the people wanting change within the industry, it seems as if a lot of people out there are happy for it to continue the way it is and I've seen this expressed most passionately recently in the run-up to the release of Paul Feig's all-female Ghostbusters reboot next year.
There has been no teaser trailer, no actual footage revealed regarding the film yet and absolutely no one has seen it as it's only just started filming, but with a just a few on-set images to go on, people in their droves have flocked to social media to voice their negativity (and most shocking arguing the need) surrounding the upcoming project. One Twitter user wrote upon the news of the reboot: "I'm ok with reversing course and doing female Ghostbusters, but why do you need all four of them to be women?" While another voiced a similar self-juxtaposing opinion saying: "Why are they remaking Ghostbusters with 4 women? I'm all for equal rights but come on!"
Others were a little more scathing, suggesting that it was not only "lazy Hollywood filmmaking" but that "only soccer moms and feminist bimbos will watch that trash." Another said: "Well my day just got ruined... #Ghostbusters. All female cast burns me out. A gender mixed team with a female lead wouldn't bug me but this?"
Talking about the backlash he has received because of the upcoming reimagining, Feig admitted that he thought the public would be "cooler than that". He told RadioTimes.com: "The misogynistic ones that were starting to come in were the ones that were the most upsetting. There are so many funny women that aren't getting a chance to showcase who come become big stars. The more big female stars we have to balance out how many big male stars we have – it'll just create an equality that then we don't have to think about it anymore." He went on to explain that his objectives with his movies was not to "put one gender over another gender" but rather to level out the playing field.
I have been a fan of Feig since he created Freaks And Geeks back in 1999 but it was Bridesmaids (2011) that really demonstrated to me that he meant business when it came to directing, and albeit intentionally or not, ignoring the boundaries of Hollywood traditions when it came to women's roles. I had never seen such a funny female ensemble movie before that and not only did I enjoy it thoroughly for entertainment alone but I loved that it was challenging the norm and going right up against similar comedies such as Dodgeball, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Hangover and others.
He then made Spy which cemented my love of his work and when Ghostbusters was announced with four hilarious women at the forefront, I couldn't have been happier. This was a film I couldn't wait for. But as you can see, not everyone felt the same way as me.
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, that A-List actresses such as Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Angelina Jolie were beginning to show Hollywood what leading ladies really had to offer, as they starred in films such as Erin Brockovich, The Hours and Girl, Interrupted but there's no denying that Sigourney Weaver began the slowly emerging rebellion in 1979 when she was cast in a man's role in sci-fi horror Alien. But in a decade where we seem to be inundated with male-heavy superhero movies, it seems now more than ever that we have regressed so far back that it's almost as if there never were women leading compelling, hard-hitting dramas or successful badass action movies. Check Columbia or Everly, and that's a fair example of the female-lead actions we're offered these days.
It's not just within the movies that females aren't predominant in superhero movies either, it's a tradition that transcends into the promotion of a particular picture too. Look at Avengers: Age Of Ultron for example. The film received huge critical backlash for its treatment of female characters Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), particularly when it came to the lack of their merchandise around the time of the film's release. Toys were scarce for Black Widow, a character that has been a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2010, while toys surrounding Olsen's character were completely non-existent, despite her having more of a role in Age Of Ultron than Thor or Captain America.
On top of all that, just recently, the official artwork for the home entertainment releases of the movie were revealed – neither of which feature any female characters on the cover. Considering Black Widow and Scarlet Witch had a lot more presence and storyline in AOU compared to Cap and Thor, it just seems baffling that the designers failed to represent this in the HE artwork. It has to be mentioned that on the ordinary Blu-Ray, she does appear but is that enough? I don't think so.
Aside from that, of all of the main Avengers, Black Widow is the only one yet to have a solo movie. Time will only tell as to whether Marvel will finally get the guts to do something that the majority of the public really want and if it happens, we can only hope that it shows everyone that a comic-book movie can be held solely by a woman because quite frankly, why they hell couldn't they?
Behind the camera
Female direction is even rarer than women in lead roles and that's something that gets discussed much less frequently than the latter. Kathryn Bigelow, who has helmed titles such as Point Break and Zero Dark Thirty made history in 2010 after becoming the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for her direction of the war drama The Hurt Locker. The first ever?! Just five years ago. Before that, there have only ever been three female directors nominated for said award and considering the ceremony started in 1929, just let that sink in for a second.
Back in 2009, New York Times' Michael Cieply wrote: "Box-office revenue has been growing, and theater attendance has held steady for years in the face of extreme competition from other media. Revenue from DVD sales has been drifting, but there is no evidence that Hollywood has lost its grip on the audience. Uniformity would seem to shut out potential viewers and revenue. But there is really no way to be sure whether sales would go up or down if the studio directing pool were more diverse.
Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein said: "That sentence reeks of discrimination. Same s**t was said before women got the right to vote. Same s**t was said before African-Americans got the right to vote. Same s**t was said before we had a women Supreme Court justice. Same s**t was said before we got an African-American president."
A statement to which Cieply replied: "In one respect, homogeneity among its film directors might actually help Hollywood in a business sense. Studio films, year in and year out, continue to pull in crowds worldwide at least in part because they look, sound and feel like what has gone before."
Television and the music industry are completely different ball games
Television doesn't seem to be playing within the same constraints of a male-dominated, all-white Hollywood anymore either, which might be part of the reason why TV is the most popular it has ever been. Netflix in particular is becoming an outlet that is actively trying to defy the traditions set out by the movie industry, showcasing original series such as Grace And Frankie, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Orange Is The New Black. All of which focus heavily on female characters.
The music industry also seems to be a whole different ball game when it comes to women triumphing and banding together to create something. So much so that the notion of them doing it doesn't even really get talked about when it's being done. Taylor Swift's latest video is an example of this.
Bad Blood not only starred Swift as a superhero-like assassin herself but the clip also featured the likes of Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Jessica Alba and Cindy Crawford too. It was an impressive cast list to say the least and fans were excited about seeing it. Even critics were intrigued. Of course, there were Swift haters that alternatively weren't so bothered but one thing's for certain, hardly anyone voiced that they were confused or started complaining (or rejoicing for that matter) about the fact that the video was completely female-centric. It just fit with the story, and that was that. Case closed.
So, what can be done?
Ultimately, the film-makers that are keen to sidestep the trend just need to keep going for it. Take a risk, ignore the backlash and pursue what THEY and those creating the film with them want to produce rather than what necessarily will make them the big bucks. Of course, I understand that a Hollywood blockbuster does need to get funding and make money in order to be made in the first place, but I believe that if you're using talented individuals, there will be always be an audience that appreciates it and makes it seen.
But as the backlash surrounding the Ghostbusters reboot demonstrates, it's not just the people who make the films that need convincing, it's a lot of the public too. Why is it that so many women are happy with seeing only a handful of women when it comes to different types on screen? It's an attitude that needs to change, but I fear they are ones that will have to be actively proven wrong before they start to waver.
Humans are creatures of habit and like it or not, most of the time, we only really come round to something when we are proved how good it is beforehand. That, or it is done so often around us that it just becomes background noise and no one even needs to discuss it. This is what needs to happen with lead women in movies! It's basically a waiting game... film-makers just need to take the plunge.
Over the past few years, headway does seem to be being made in terms of female-orientated comedies. Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect and Trainwreck are all titles that are paving a new kind of female role seen on-screen but it seems that studioheads are much more willing to take a risk on comedy and what I would really like to see in the next five, or even realistically 10 years is an action movie that shatters the stereotype in a similar way.
We still want the Iron Man movies and the Mission Impossible instalments being made, we'd miss them if they weren't there too. We just want something a little different as well and film-makers and studios need to release that it is something that needs to happen, never mind should. Art shouldn't always be about following what's gone before it but daring to do something different. The world is progressing outside of Hollywood so why shouldn't it move along with it rather than pandering to a dated tradition?