Will Hollywood Ever Embrace Feminism?

Joy Molan looks at the ugly issue of inequality in the world’s most glamorous industry

According to the Guardian’s Hadley Freeman, the 2015 Golden Globes was ‘the first feminist film awards ceremony’. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler lampooned Bill Cosby and mocked the likes of George Clooney with great style and ease, whilst Maggie Gyllenhaal used her acceptance speech to praise  the wealth of ‘actual women’ in television today.

Unfortunately, despite the positive steps towards gender equality at this year’s award ceremonies, the claim that Hollywood has finally embraced feminism is a gross simplification and misinterpretation of the truth.

Hollywood is a strange bubble of the western world where it remains acceptable to take intelligent, creative and successful women and reduce them to pageant contestants, judging the quality of their manicures over the achievements of their careers.

Despite the #AskHerMore twitter campaign and the on-going MissRepresentation project, the red carpet continues to function as a stage for the praising or shaming of Hollywood’s most talented women based purely on their appearances.

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What did change this season was the surprising new trend of celebrities calling out and criticising the press on the red carpet. At the 2014 SAG Awards, Cate Blanchett responded to E!’s ‘mani cam’ request with: “Do you do that to the guys?” and Lena Dunham suggested asking actresses about the causes they support rather than their supporting underwear.

Buzzfeed also highlighted the absurdity of red carpet rituals by asking Kevin Spacey the same banal questions often posed to actresses, resulting in him ending the interview saying “Buzzfeed is so fucked up”.

‘surely in the 21st century kids should be seeing boys and girls share the sandbox equally?’

Reese Witherspoon tried to avoid the repetitive “who are you wearing?” by posting an Instagram picture of her outfit before this year’s Oscars with the caption ‘Show time! #Oscars (dress @Tom_Ford; jewels @TiffanyAndCo; styling @LeslieFremar; hair @hairbyadir; glow @mrsbymrs)’. Reese, like many actresses, was contractually obligated to mention all of the above.

Some may argue that the red carpet is, should be and always will be a bastion of Hollywood glamour and an important opportunity for designers, stylists and makeup artists to show off their work. However, the red carpet has now become symptomatic of a darker and more troubling issue surrounding gender equality in Hollywood.

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Many of this year’s headlines focused on the Oscars’ blatant disregard for black and minority actors in the film industry and the awards ceremony was criticised for having the whitest nominations since 1998. In contrast, less noise was made about how poorly women fared this award season, or in Hollywood more generally.

Not one film nominated for ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars had a female protagonist. This is perhaps an unfair criticism when you look closer at which films were shortlisted. The films nominated included The Imitation GameSelma, and The Theory of Everything, all historically based films set during periods in which women didn’t tend to be the ones making the headlines.

For every one female-speaking role in a family rated film of 2014, there were roughly three male characters.

But it is impossible to explain away a clear gender disparity with regards to the rest of 2014’s movie releases. According to a study conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, women made up only 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 grossing films of 2014, four percentage points lower than 2002, which is a pathetic and thoroughly depressing statistic. Non-white actresses fared even worse, as the study points out that viewers were more likely to see an extra terrestrial female on their movie screens than an Asian or Latin American woman.

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One of the many issues presented by the under-representation of women in film, is its effect on the gender values of young generations. For every one female-speaking role in a family rated film of 2014, there were roughly three male characters. This statistic, when combined with the hyper-sexualisation of female characters even in family films and their lack of aspirations or occupations, starts to make for a very worrying situation. As Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise) puts it, ‘surely in the 21st century kids should be seeing boys and girls share the sandbox equally?’

Perhaps the root of the problem can be traced back to the groups of decision makers behind the curtain. Oscar nominees and winners are chosen by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which, as the L.A. Times reported in 2012, is 94 percent white. The fact that only four percent of AMPAS members are African American or Latin American has come under fierce scrutiny following the repeated under-representation of minorities in Hollywood. Also, in 2012, 77 percent of AMPAS members were male and their average age was 62. Little has changed since the L.A. Times’ report.

The women being honoured at this year’s award ceremonies are the highest achievers in their field of work and I believe that focusing on the successes of these women would make for a much more interesting discussion than deciding who had the best ‘glow’. But it doesn’t look like it’ll be happening anytime soon. It’s going to take more than Fey’s and Poehler’s cutting wit to tackle the ugly issue of inequality in the world’s most glamorous industry.

Images: Red Carpet Report on Mingle Media TV, Alan Light and Razlan

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