In an ideal world, there would be no Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.No Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress either. In this hypothetical Hollywood, recognition is bestowed for the most masterful performance of the year—gender regardless.
But as Pacific Standards reports today, “Obviously, we don’t live in that world. Despite all the Jennifer
Lawrences and Melissa McCarthys, Hollywood is still dominated by a conspicuous gender bias. Swedish cinemas made news in November after several adopted the Bechdel test to identify gender bias in the material of various films—going so far as to exclude failing films from cinema lineups. It’s certainly a problem worth addressing, but perhaps the gravest examples of Hollywood gender bias lie behind the scenes.
“The New York Film Academy compiled this helpful infographic to illustrate some of the more shocking statistics. Among them:
- In the top 500 films produced from 2007 to 2012, only 30.8 percent of speaking roles are filled by women.
- Only 10.7 percent of those films featured a gender-balanced cast (half of the characters being female).
- There are 2.25 working actors for every working actress in Hollywood today.
- Ninety-one percent of working directors are male.
- Eighty-five percent of working screenwriters are male.
- Eighty-three percent of executive producers are male.
- Ninety-eight percent of cinematographers are male.
- Only 35 women were nominated for Academy Awards in 2013, as opposed to 140 men. There were no women nominated for directing, cinematography, film editing, original screenplays, or original scores.
- Seventy-seven percent of voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are male. (Seventy-seven percent!)
Clearly, gender-based award categories are essential to maintaining even a tenuous presence for talented women in Hollywood. The award for Best Actress in a Leading Role forces that 77 percent of the Academy to recognize the wealth of female excellence in acting—the Meryl Streeps, the Annette Benings, the Viola Davises. It forces the overwhelmingly male Hollywood establishment to budge up and make room for equally talented women.
And yet, 28 percent of female Oscar nominees in 2013 were actresses. Only seven percent of male nominees were actors. It appears the best vehicle for female success in Hollywood is through acting. So while those awards shows are highly effective in elevating dramatic talent in a gender-egalitarian fashion, they do very little to improve the position of women behind the scenes. (Which is the only category outside of acting in which women dominate? You guessed it: costume design.)