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Women Watch More Films Than Men: How statistics and film reality don’t add up.

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion

Before you get concerned that this is going to be a rant that alienates you, think for a moment about this: the whole film industry works on creating a product for a target market. Over half that target market is female. Over half. So if you’re not making films with women in mind, you’re making a very expensive mistake. Now, read on.

The Motion Picture Association of America have released statistics that show that women watch more films than men. We make up 51% of the population, and 52% of movie goers, and this statistic has not changed much in years. (http://www.mpaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/MPAA-Theatrical-Market-Statistics-2013_032514-v2.pdf) To think of this from a business perspective, superhero movies are huge at the moment (there are over 20 slated in the next fews years), and the statistics show that male superheros attracted male viewers, and female ones attracted female viewers. Since there are more female viewers going to watch films, movies like the Hunger Games trilogy are a more sound investment, both for the investor and even the crew, as a film that does so well looks good on your CV, no? So where does this idea that women are not interested in films come from? Perhaps it’s because in our cultural consciousness, we don’t see women as really being present, after all, on screen we only make up 17% of the general population viewed and only 15% of films star woman in a main role.

Rather than go into listing statistics, I’ve attached below the The New York Film Academy’s infographic, which has been doing the rounds on the internet. (http://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/gender-inequality-in-film/) I like it because it’s a way more interesting way to look at some really disturbing statistics. (I’m a visual person, numbers bore me a little) So, scroll down to the bottom to see those. But before you do, some interesting responses to these facts about the film industry and how you can use these to make your film more marketable to that 52% (and to be honest, make a better film)

First, the Bedchel Test ( http://bechdeltest.com/). This one is fun and has created a bit of heated debate around the internet in the last few months, as forward-thinking Sweden has taken it on as a rating measure of the films that are screening. Originating in a comic strip by Alison Bedchel in the mid 80’s, films that want to pass must meet three criteria: It has to have at least two named female characters (1) who talk to each other (2) about something besides a man (3). It’s quite a fun game to play, to think of which films past his test, and which don’t, and you’ll find that it’s not really a test of feminism, but how well your female characters are created, so it’s a handy tool for writers and directors. An example that amuses me: The Lord Of the Rings Trilogy doesn’t pass. To counteract this gender bias, in the Hobbit films, they have introduced an invented, rather generic female love interest character, Tauriel, but this doesn’t help it pass the Bedchel test, because it doesn’t pass the last two criteria.

Perhaps better than this is Geena Davis’s Two Easy Steps for writing screenplay: 1) Just change half the characters names to women’s names. 2) When writing a crowd scene, write “a crowd gathers which is half female”. It makes me laugh, because it is so simple, and yet, you might just be changing the world, or at least, the way we see it. As Geena says, “we are in effect enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as not taking up half the space”. She goes on to say, “Couldn’t it be that the percentage of women in leadership positions in many areas of society — Congress, law partners, Fortune 500 board members, military officers, tenured professors and many more — stall out at around 17 percent because that’s the ratio we’ve come to see as the norm?” I think she’s right, and if you’d like to read more about what she has to say, here’s the full article: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/geena-davis-two-easy-steps-664573.  Or take a look at the Institute for Gender in Media, and the ways in which she is encouraging greater equality between the sexes in the film industry. http://www.seejane.org/index.php

A last thing that strikes me about these statistics, having a strong academic knowledge of film history is how much we are going backwards. Women worked as equals in films on all levels from the beginning, how did that change? Where did roles in cast and crew become so gendered? Half of the films written in 1920 were penned by women. From 1912 to 1920, female stars controlled about 20 film companies. Female filmmakers like Lois Weber, (one of the top salaried film makers in Hollywood at the time, the prolific Frances Marion (who spearheaded a union movement that resulted in the Screenwriters Guild) and Mary Pickford (who owned her own production company and was involved in founding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) have all been swept under the rug when it comes to film history. Knowing this, it’s amazing to think that Kathryn Bigelow was the first female director to win an Oscar for The Hurt Locker in 2010. (If you’re curious about this early history of women in cinema, this website has a lot of good information: http://www.greencine.com/static/primers/womeninfilm.jsp)

 womenInFilm-light-revised

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