ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

It's no secret that Hollywood has a pervasive gender problem. You don't need to do a major investigation into the industry to notice the almost total lack of female directors at the Oscars every year. Or the overabundance of women being sexualized onscreen. Or any number of disparities industry professionals, who happen not be men, face everyday.

When Patricia Arquette accepted her Academy Award with a speech about wage equality for women, she received a rousing ovation from the one and only Meryl Streep.

But as Meryl has taught us time and time again, the different treatment afforded to women in film goes way, way beyond their level of pay. It extends to respect, representation, and all-around access to the same benefits men are accustomed to.

A new study from the USC Annenberg School took on this inequality and examined portrayals of gender in 700 popular films from 2007 to 2014. Their findings are illuminating, and they cast a cold, hard light on a major problem in Hollywood. Here's some of the data that proves the movie business has some explaining to do (as represented through the best Meryl Streep reactions).

How many women get to speak on film?

Less than a third!

Only 30.2% of the 30,835 speaking characters evaluated were female across the 700 top-grossing films from 2007-2014.

Do movies reflect the fact that women are half the United States population?

Not even close.

Only 11% of 700 films had gender-balanced casts or featured girls/women in roughly half (45-54.9%) of the speaking roles.

Have we seen more female leads over time?

Don't be silly!

A total of 21 of the 100 top films of 2014 featured a female lead or roughly equal co lead. This is similar to the percentage in 2007 (20%), but a 7% decrease from the 2013 sample (28%).

Is Hollywood at least getting better about portraying women at different stages of their lives?

If you guessed "a resounding no," you're exactly right! That old saying about women over 40 in Hollywood is depressingly true.

In 2014, no female actors over 45 years of age performed a lead or co-lead role.

Do women at least get better treatment in animated films?

Sadly, not even the infinite possibilities of animation can get enough women front and center.

Less than a quarter of all speaking characters were female in the top animated films of 2014, which is a 7.4% decrease from 2010 but no change from 2007.

What about sexualization? Are women at least getting treated as more than objects of desire?

Not even Magic Mike can save this one.

In 2014, females of all ages were more likely than males to be shown in sexy attire (27.9% of females vs. 8% of males), with some nudity (26.4% of females vs. 9.1% of males) and referenced as physically attractive (12.6% of females vs. 3.1% of males).

Okay, but are younger girls at least avoiding this rampant sexualization?


Shockingly, it's just as common for teenage girls (even those who are underage) to be depicted as objects of desire. Out of all the findings in the study, this one makes me cringe the most.

Examining patterns of sexualization by age in 2014 revealed that female teens (13‐20 year olds) were just as likely to be sexualized as young adult females (21‐39 year olds). Middle‐aged females (40‐64 year olds) were less likely than these two groups to be sexualized.

Do women fare better behind the camera?

Far from it!

Across the 100 top films of 2014, only 15.8% of content creators working as directors, writers, and producers were women. Women only accounted for 1.9% of directors, 11.2% of writers, and 18.9% of producers.

At this point, I'd understand if you felt like throwing your hands up and turning your back on the problem. It just seems so insurmountable, how can it be fixed?

But drawing more attention to the fact that women have major blocks in their career is an important step toward progress. As Meryl has pointed out in promotion of her upcoming film Suffragette, until these numbers are half and half (you know, like a reflection of society), there is work to be done.

We need the door to be opened in our industry. In the director’s branch of the academy, there is something wrong that there are so few women. In the directors guild, there is something profoundly wrong. It’s not like the film schools aren’t graduating thousands of young women. They’re going to festivals, they’re winning prizes, their films are seen and they disappear. So then do our stories. My story is disappearing, and I can’t allow it, on behalf of my daughters and also my son.

So, let's recognize these numbers and not ignore this problem. It's time for more women—and more kinds of women—to have their voices heard, their stories told, and their lives respected. We all want to be more like Meryl Streep, and this is the perfect place to start.

(Source: USC Annenberg)


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