Our most recent assessment in English was the presentation of an argument. The task was to write a speech about an issue that had been in the media last year, and you had to persuade your audience to agree with you. I immediately thought of the environment and climate change (you can read more about it here), but I knew that it was an issue a lot of people know about, and I wanted to push myself to do something more obscure.
The topic I ended up choosing was the representation of women in film. Of course, it’s a very predictable topic for me to choose, as I am a woman in film, however it’s something I’m passionate about, and something I wanted to research in more depth. So I began to do exactly that.
I looked at the Geena Davis Institute, I looked at people who had analysed data independently, and I looked at a report that studied the connection between gender equality and violence against women. The data I found was shocking. I knew the situation was bad, but I didn’t fully recognise the inequality until I looked at the statistics myself. I found that the challenge for me wasn’t doing the research, no, the challenge for me was cutting my speech down to under six minutes. I discovered I had so much to say about the topic, so many facts and arguments to include. But, I managed to whittle it all down to just under six minutes and ten cue cards.
To ensure it was all fair, my English teacher decided to pull names out of a hat to determine the order of people to present. I was chosen fourth. I was incredibly nervous. Everyone said ‘oh, but you’re in your element here, you’re an actor, don’t you do interviews and press conferences?’ Well, yes, but a room full of adult strangers is a lot less intimidating than a room full of your teenage peers. Trust me.
So, I did my speech. I didn’t drop my cue cards, I didn’t make any mistakes, and I was very happy with my presentation. It was a massive weight off my shoulders. While I was packing up, a boy in my class came up to me. He told me he really liked my speech. He told me I presented well and he thinks the issue is important.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear this, especially from a teenage boy. I was very worried about delivering my speech the guys in my class. I was so incredibly overjoyed to hear that he liked it. I don’t think he knows how happy I was. So, if you’re reading, teenage boy who will remain unnamed for the sake of his privacy, I’m very happy.
Now, without further ado, here is my speech in written form:
Hi, my name’s Angourie.
Today I’m going to talk about the representation of women in film, and why women should be cast in larger, more important speaking roles.
Essentially, I’m advocating for something fictional. But films are more significant than you might think. They are a fundamental part of our culture and education. Films inspire, inform and educate us from such a young age. This art form does not represent women equally to men. It regularly shows them as wives, girlfriends or insignificant characters with not much to say. What is this teaching young children?
Amber Thomas is a scientist and statistician who analysed female characters and dialogue distribution in the top ten worldwide highest grossing films of 2016.
|The Jungle Book||90%||10%||Batman Vs Superman||77%||23%|
|Captain America: Civil War||84%||16%||Suicide Squad||68%||32%|
|Rogue One||83%||17%||Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them||68%||32%|
|The Secret Life of Pets||81%||19%||Finding Dory||47%||53%|
The percentages in blue show the amount of dialogue spoken by male characters in that film. The percentages in green show the amount of dialogue spoken by female characters. Zootopia and Finding Dory are the only two films that reach some kind of equality. They both have a female protagonist.
It’s not hard to see that the dialogue distribution between genders is highly unbalanced. Adults, and young adults like yourselves are intelligent and aware enough to recognise this inequality, and to understand what it means. But young children might not understand this. When I was younger, I didn’t understand this. And I, like many young girls, grew up to believe that maybe no one wants to hear what I have to say.
It’s even more shocking when it comes to powerful characters portrayed by women. A study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media analysed the most popular films across eleven countries, and it explicitly highlighted the inequality of female characters in comparison to male. Across all characters who were politicians, only ten percent were women. Of all lawyers and judges, only seven percent. And an abysmal four percent of sports figures were female.
-click to enlarge the images-
Geena Davis is an actress who founded the Institute on Gender in Media. Their slogan is ‘if she can see it, she can be it.’ When I saw Grease, I thought I should change myself to get boys to like me. I saw old Disney princess films and I wanted to be saved by a handsome Prince and then marry him. I never felt inspired to be a politician, or a doctor, or an athlete, or even a hero. Because I never saw women in those roles.
I recognise my privilege. I’m a white young person. I am a lot more likely to see myself represented in films. This issue is much bigger for older women, for women of colour, for Asian women, for women who are part of the LGBTQ community and for women who have a disability. These women are not represented. Films create a world in which they are invisible. Everyone, including you, should feel they are accepted in society, whether that be in a film or in real life. Half the population isn’t.
But then again, it’s just entertainment. It’s not real life. Geena Davis said; ‘In the time it takes to make a movie, we can change what the future looks like.’
So how do we create a world in which women are valued and treated with respect? How do we create a world in which girls believe their opinions and stories are important? How do we ensure that this minority stops being a minority and starts being equal? By showing girls all over the world examples. By casting women in lead roles and giving them more dialogue and a central story. By casting women in professions like STEM, politics, medicine and more.
And how can you help? It’s simple. Talk, suggest, demand.
As Emma Hall writes in her play, We May Have to Choose; ‘Whether it is gained from book, a teacher, or a film, education is power. Power is unequal. Action is everything.’
 Gender Bias Without Borders: An Investigation of Female Characters in Popular Films Across 11 Countries by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, & Dr. Katherine Pieper at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (Link to Study)
Feature image by Martine Ehrhart