The Numbers On Women In Movies Are Worse Than You Think

Photo courtesy Lionsgate
Every time we hear of someone dismissing feminism as a label or wondering aloud if the fight for equality is mostly over already, we want to scream and stomp and throw things and ... then pull out all the numbers. Because, pulling out the numbers would be a good start. This latest analysis of movies that pass the Bechdel test, for instance, is such a mic drop. According to data site Silk the number of movies that pass the famous test — there are two named female characters in the film who have a conversation with each other that's not just about men — is dropping significantly. It went from 67.5 percent in 2013 to 55.4 percent in 2014.

That's just one of the many disturbing but fascinating ways they parsed out the data from 1,500 movies released since 2010 (the numbers are so much more depressing for animated films, for instance), and Parker Molloy at Upworthy decided to bring the whole thing to our collective attention. Why is this happening? It's not because movies that give equal or more attention to women than men don't make big bucks. As Molloy points out, FiveThirtyEight proved that Bechdel-passing movies perform just as well as the failures. Hello, Hunger Games, anyone?

"I wish I knew," Molloy said, when we reached out to her about the story. "Maybe it's a focus on foreign markets (which typically reward action/superhero films, which have always been historically male-driven). Maybe it's a focus on remakes and sequels to existing male-driven projects. Maybe it's that in a time where the film industry remains particularly cautious and unwilling to take risks, there's an unconscious reliance on formulaic romantic comedies, action films, and other formats less likely to pass the test."I think there are a lot of women in the film and TV industries doing great things, pushing for change, for improvement," she added.
No one is saying the Bechdel test is a perfect measure of an equal treatment of women in a movie (there are some surprising films that pass), but it is a pretty good indicator of a larger trend. In 2011, only 4.1 percent of theatrical films were directed by women, and 14.1 were written by women. Then again, just look at one of the most prominent female directors of last year, Angelina Jolie — there are possibly three sentences spoken by a woman in Unbroken. This also reminds us of the debate going on in the YA community of late, about certain male authors shying away from writing female characters.

Parker mentions how even the Harry Potter series doesn't pass the Bechdel test. "Just think of how much greater these awesome female characters could have been had they been given the same number of conversation topics and opportunities to talk with each other about things other than members of the opposite sex as their male counterparts were." 

Maybe, just maybe, enough creative minds and the folks holding the purse strings in Hollywood will take a look at numbers like this and stretch themselves a bit. No one will regret it.       

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