Sexism in the Film Industry: Exploring the Ongoing Issue

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Gender inequality in the film industry has always been a problem. Here we will reveal the topic of sexism in the film industry and  through the essay we will also analyse some studies of Hollywood films and how they portray women. The first studies on the role of women in film, from a gender-perspective were made in the seventies and they come together with the first feminist film festivals, this were made to promote and celebrate female filmmakers and actresses hoping to encourage others to get involved in filmmaking and proving that women could perform complex characters. These first studies analyzed Hollywood films, and revealed that women were profusely valued in film based on their role as a mother, lover, or wife. “Women are portrayed as dependent on other characters, over-emotional, and confined to low-status jobs when compared to enterprising and ambitious male characters”.

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Examples of Sexism in Movies

As an example of this we can analyze the movie “When Harry met Sally” which is based on the question of whether men and women can be friends, to which Harry debates that “men and women can´t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way”. Sally disagrees, but later on they end up together proving Harry´s point, and showing us the men´s opposition to look past sex, regardless of the women’s feelings. We can also find some movies in which the woman can be “bought” directly, as in the movie Pretty Woman, the protagonist is a rich businessman that rents the services of a prostitute, and takes her to meetings, dinners, practically he treats her as his girlfriend. This can lead us to objectification, which is the sexualization of women and their body. A study made by the authors Smith, Choueiti, and Piper about the objectification between races based on women on tight or revealing clothing, or exposed skin in films, resulted that Hispanic females were most likely to wear sexual clothing and to portray nudity, followed by Caucasian women. As I am an Hispanic girl I can perceive the racial stereotypes my fellow Spaniards suffer, beginning with domestic workers, since 1980’s Latinas replaced blacks as Hollywood´s domestics. In fact even megastars such as Jennifer Lopez played a role as a housekeeper in a 2002 movie. Another actress called Lupe Ontiveros calculated she had played the role of a maid 150 times on screen. “I long to play a judge, a lesbian woman, a councilman, someone with some chutzpah” said the actress at an interview in 2009.

Another challenge they have to face is that they are commonly typecast as sex symbols, many women argue that this fuels the stereotype about Hispanic women being sexy. “The problem here is that this idea of the curvy, sexy, and sultry Latina denies many Latinas their cultural identification based on their physical appearances and sexual attractiveness alone, in essence this sort of thinking traps our culture in our bodies, ignoring the values, ethics, and traditions that contribute to our sense of culture and community”. At the same time this can cause sexual harassment. A survey made in 2018 found that 94% of women employed in the film industry have experienced sexual harassment or assault. The survey was made to 850 people from different branches of the film industry, including directors, actresses and editors, and the majority agreed on suffering some kind of assault. This accusations went from “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures” (87%), “being touched in a sexual way” (69%) and “being shown sexual pictures without consent” (39%). In addition, 21% said they were “forced to do a sexual act” and 10% that they had been “ordered unexpectedly to appear naked for auditions”. However, only one fourth of them made a complaint, and of them only 28% said their situation changed for good after that. In spite of this situation some actresses have being speeking up about not feeling secure or represented in this industry, telling the stories of how they have been treated with hope that this will force to cause some change. A vivid example of this is the recognized actress Jennifer Lawrance which faced harrasment when she was starting in the business. “When I was much younger and starting out, I was told by producers of a film to lose 15 pounds in two weeks,” Lawrence said. They told her that the last actress had been fired for the role beacuse she didn’t loose the weight. Lawrence also told another story were a producer forced her to do a nude line-up with other actresses who were thinner that her so she would feel bad. “We all stood side-by-side with only tape on covering our privates,” she said. “After that degrading and humiliating line-up, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet.” Jennifer decided to report the situation as inappropriate, and the response she got shocked her even more: “He said he didn’t know why everyone thought I was so fat, he thought I was ‘perfectly filmable’

The problem here is that the lack of women in leadership roles affects or allows situations like the one we mentioned previously to happen. As stated by San Diego's State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, ladies made up just 7% of directors on the best 250 movies of 2016, which was really a 2% decrease from 2015. The same report found that while ladies made up higher rates of different fields in the business such as 24% of producers, or 17% of editors, for instance they represented 17% of the workforce of the considerable number of occupations reviewed. What's more interesting is that female filmmakers graduate from film school at the same rate that men do, 50%. As soon as they get to micro budget films they only direct 18%. Similarly the 1-5 million dollar range movies which are only been directed 12% by women, and by the time they get to the studio system the porcentage reduces to 5%. Yo might wonder why this is happening, and it is because the absence of women making important decisions, such as hiring or producing prompts a less assorted workforce. Proof states that women with important positions tend to employ other women. On movies that were directed by a female, women made up 52% of writers, 26% of cinematographers and 35% of editors. Meanwhile when men were the directors, the amount of female writers reduced to 8%, cinematographers shrank to 5%, and editors tumbled to 15%. The same happens with directing opportunities. Females composed 20% of directors in films were women made up al least 33% of the producers were women, but just 7% of directors when the portrayal of female makers fell beneath that rate.

The theme of sexism in film industry is now receiving greater media attention, but the society have yet to move. “We are getting a lot of public dialogue about the issue as actors like Patricia Arquette and Meryl Streep speak up, but we haven't seen that groundswell result in higher numbers” said Dr. Martha Lauren who has been examining the representation of women in front and behind the camera. The issue of discrimination has additionally concerned the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and they have been setting up meetings with industry figures to attempt to discover why females producers and directors are not given the same opportunities in business as men.   

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