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Oh Hollywood

Lead Actresses Get Less Screen Time Than Lead Actors, Because Hollywood Is a Sexist Sh*thole


This Sunday is the 86th annual Oscars, a magical night where the Hollywood elite get together to celebrate themselves and be excruciatingly boring for three-plus hours. There’s one thing*, though, that Hollywood might not want to pat itself on the back for too much: This year’s lead actor nominees got, on average, 150% of the screentime of their female counterparts. Lead actresses: Getting screwed over for screentime in their own dang films.

*Plus many, many others.

The stats come courtesy of The New York TimesKevin B. Lee, who used the Cinemetrics website—a database of movie statistics–to determine that this year’s best actress nominees averaged 57 minutes on-screen in their films, compared to the best actors’ 85 minutes. All actors, lead and supporting, averaged 59 minutes, while the ladies got 42. Last year the average for actresses was up to 49 minutes… and the dudes got 100. And this year’s average would have been even lower for women if not for curvebreaker Sandra Bullock, who was on-screen for 87% of Gravity.

Geena Davis calls it “amazing and shocking,” which is something, because Geena Davis knows from the state of women in Hollywood, OK? And she’s shocked.

I’d be interested to see whether this holds true for other year’s Oscar nominated films, and just films in general. Something’s telling me it does. But why the gap? Yes, “institutional sexism,” but let’s get more specific. Lee offers the explanation given to him by film critic and scholar David Bordwell:

Male stars are typically the protagonists in action or goal-oriented narratives that require the viewer to follow the story through the lead’s experiences. Female stars are more typically cast in melodramas that require the lead to serve as a hub connecting different characters and subplots.

So, to use an example, Chiwetel Ejiofor is very much the center of his own story in 12 Years a Slave, but American Hustle isn’t specifically about Amy Adams. Even in Philomena, for which Judi Dench got her nom, the plight of the titular character is what sets the story going, but it’s Steve Coogan‘s character performing the bulk of the action. We see Philomena through his eyes, and her character development is pushed along by his decision to look for her long-lost son. Looked at this way, Gravity‘s Ryan Stone fills a role traditionally reserved for a male character. The story is hers, and only hers. We’re not asked to look at it through the eyes of a man.

This is a good time to remind you that people tried to convince director Alfonso Cuarón to make Gravity with a male lead. Also, may I point you to a video on Olivia Wilde discussing this very issue.

(Incidentally, after you take into account the 15% she gets of Warner Bros.’ profits for the film, Sandy B is getting at least $70 million from Gravity. If announced before, that would’ve given the annual list of highest-paid movie stars its second woman).

For the kicker, here’s Lee on Jay Cassidy, one of the editors of American Hustle:

Mr. Cassidy wagered that there wasn’t much of a gap in the screen time between the two nominated leads of his film. But Christian Bale actually has 60 minutes of screen to Amy Adams’s 46 minutes, a significant difference even in an ensemble movie. Among their supporting category counterparts, Bradley Cooper’s 41 screen minutes double Jennifer Lawrence’s 20.

That’s how insidious this is: I’d never really thought about female leads getting less screentime than male leads in their own films. Geena Davis didn’t. I’m guessing you didn’t. It didn’t occur to Mr. Cassidy in the case of American Hustle, and, as one of the editors, he knows the film pretty freaking well.

Another instance of sexism being hardwired into Hollywood. Must be a day that ends in y.

(via: Women and Hollywood)

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  • Anonymous

    All actors, lead and supporting, averaged 59 minutes, while the ladies got 42. Last year the average for actresses was up to 49 minutes… and the dudes got 100.

    So last year’s Oscar-nominated movies were…a lot longer? At any rate, that’s a pretty significant improvement, although two years aren’t enough to construct a trend.

  • Anonymous

    Men don’t want to (and more importantly, won’t) watch films with women as lead actors. That’s not Hollywood’s fault; they are simply providing to the public what the public wants.

  • Ben English

    Says who? The public certainly hasn’t shied away from Hunger Games, and Gravity wasn’t a flop. Hollywood says this is the case, but they’re also repeatedly proven wrong. It’s just a justification for their own paranoia.

  • Ben English

    Doesn’t necessarily mean the movies were longer, just that this year there was significantly more time in which male and female leads were on screen at the same time and significantly less were the men were up there alone.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Citation needed.

  • Ashe

    And the public = men?

    Time to play Wack-An-Apologist. Where’s my styrofoam hammer?

  • Anonymous

    Do you have an actual study with hard numbers to back that up or are you just parroting the excuse that gets passed around in order to validate shunning women in lead roles?

  • John H

    1. Men != “the public”
    2. Market ideology isn’t the same thing as morality.
    3. Go away.

  • locuas

    Which is why Gravity, with a female lead with 87% of screentime, made a ton of money. I am glad to see that you have evidence to back that statement and you are not talking out of your ass.

  • Lup Lun

    Mmm… I’m sorry, but I look at this and all I see is empty statistics. To the best of my knowledge, actors don’t get paid by the hour, nor by how much of their footage winds up on screen. In terms of artistic quality of the film and benefit to their careers, too, how much time they get is far less important than what they do with it; Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 3, for example, had much less time than Robert Downey Jr., but the first thing anyone remembers when the film is brought up is Pepper Potts being badass. Hell, one could just as easily look at these numbers and determine that Jennifer Lawrence needed half the time of Bradly Cooper to make a comparable impression.

  • Lup Lun

    Fuck that, take my 30-pound sledge.

  • Anonymous

    Given that two of the three highest-grossing films of 2013 had female leads (Catching Fire and Frozen), the claim that female leads are unprofitable is empirically incorrect.

    Early statistics indicated that a little over 40% of the viewers for both films were male: http://news.moviefone.ca/2013/12/09/box-office-frozen-catching-fire-women/

  • http://www.according2robyn.blogspot.com/ According2Robyn

    No, no, no. You see, evo psyche tells us that women evolved to have less screen time in movies than men, for reasons I’ll get back to you on.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    But it’s not the filmmaker saying “Jennifer Lawrence is going to be so dang awesome, she only needs half of Bradley Cooper’s screen time.” It’s the writer writing a story where the female characters aren’t as important to the narrative, aren’t as much of a focus, as the men.

    And sure, oftentimes those movies still do have amazing female characters. Sometimes they don’t. That’s irrelevant to the wider issue that Hollywood movies screw over female characters.

  • http://www.according2robyn.blogspot.com/ According2Robyn

    No, you see, women want whatever their boyfriends tell them to want. That’s been proven by hundreds and hundreds of science.

  • Lup Lun

    No, on second thought, he’s not worth the time. Don’t feed the trolls, people. Especially the obvious trolls.

  • Anonymous

    This year’s lead actor nominees got, on average, 150% of the screentime of their female counterparts.

    So what you’re saying is that the men have to do 50% more work for their paychecks? ;)

  • Anonymous

    The reason is right there in the OP:

    Male stars are typically the protagonists in action or goal-oriented narratives that require the viewer to follow the story through the lead’s experiences. Female stars are more typically cast in melodramas that require the lead to serve as a hub connecting different characters and subplots.

    Women are naturally more social and cooperative than men, so movies naturally reflect that reality with more ensemble-oriented roles for female characters. They’re just being true to life!
    (Yes, that’s satire.)

  • Charlie

    Nice work if you can get it!

  • Fabian Öhlin

    This is what I’ve been saying. Also, this is why women shouldn’t have the vote, it’s just double votes for guys in relationships.

  • Fabian Öhlin

    Not to mention men with single daughters. Why, a man with patience could breed votes.

  • Keilin

    Well said! LEE & LOW BOOKS also has a fantastic infographic on the diversity gap in the Academy Awards, which shows the lack of gender equality in award-winning directors.

    http://blog.leeandlow.com/2014/02/20/wheres-the-diversity-hollywood-85-years-of-the-academy-awards/

    Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to have ever won Best Director, despite the fact that there are several directors who are women making excellent films. In an interview with the NY Times, “Boys Don’t Cry” director, Kimberly Peirce, mentions the intense double standards that female directors face: “If female directors are driven and single-minded and want to protect their actors as Kim does, they’re problematic. If it’s a man, he’s passionate.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/magazine/carrie-is-back-so-is-kimberly-peirce.html?_r=2&amp&

  • Lup Lun

    I’m not disputing that Hollywood is sexist, what I’m saying is that quoting statistics of this kind does not support the conclusion. If the problem is the importance of characters, than the problem is the importance of characters, the size of the role is not necessarily related.

  • Charlie

    Surely the numbers would be more random if it purely depended on the type of film or role. The fact that it’s decided by gender seems to suggest a pattern.

    It’s like the difference between someone not getting a job because they are unskilled versus because of their skin colour. When the statistics show that a company is hiring 90% white folk then you start to think maybe something is iffy. The overall pattern here suggests it’s related to sexism.

    The majority of the cinema going audience is women, especially in the UK where only 35% of men go to the cinema. 91% of the best selling movies last year featured male protagonists. So if women only like melodramas…who the hell is watching the action movies. Male ghosts?

    I think it relates to a much more insidious problem, one that is seen in another article here about Disney’s Star Wars Rebels. The companies making these shows and movies think men shouldn’t care about women while women are happily watching movies and playing video games with male leads. It echoes how we are taught about history at school.

    In our world and our media men are portrayed as heroes while women’s actions are unimportant and frivolous. It’s false, disturbing and damaging.

  • Lup Lun

    But the pattern doesn’t mean anything. By your logic, the pornography industry is more feminist than Hollywood, since women are on-screen far more than their male counterparts, who often aren’t shown at all above the waist. The absurdity of the idea should be obvious. The is increasingly looking like a case of damned lies and statistics.

  • Charlie

    Only my logic doesn’t state that at all because I backed up my reasoning outside of the statistics.
    We know the pornography industry isn’t feminist for obvious reasons and we know that women enjoy more than melodramas, as I said. So why aren’t women given as much screen time as men in movies, when even economically it seems stupid.
    It’s clearly gender based.

  • Lup Lun

    I backed up my reasoning outside the statistics, too, and you proceeded to ignore that completely. Why should I give you the courtesy of respecting your ideas when you clearly do not respect mine?

  • Lup Lun

    I backed up my reasoning outside the statistics, too, and you proceeded to ignore that completely. Why should I give you the courtesy of respecting your ideas when you clearly do not respect mine?

  • Charlie

    I’m not sure where I showed ‘disrespect’ I was merely debating the point. If I understood correctly your point was that I was merely looking at the base statistics and deriving an assumption directly from them. I explained why that wasn’t true.

  • Travis

    Why are you sorry for pointing out that meaningless statistics are meaningless?

  • Raerae

    Yeah, and they get paid more too, to the point that the highest paid actress barely makes the same wage as the 8th highest paid actor(and that’s just the big leagues).

  • Lup Lun

    No, my point was that the statistics are invalid for the purposes of this argument as they do not address the problem under discussion, that being the quality of roles for actresses and characters for viewers and actresses both.

  • Anonymous

    Nah, it works out since women are paid less for their work than men. :P

  • Charlie

    I see what you are saying but I don’t consider these statistics to be irrelevant. Remember Gravity is even throwing off the curve. The fact that they are so prevalent and obvious is very interesting combined with points such as those made by actress Olivia Wilde earlier this month. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uN5jvf5C6ws There is clearly a problem with the way women are presented in the media. This is just another piece of evidence to show that even the lead roles women do have are still second to men.

  • EleniRPG

    How many lead actor winners and nominees could you say, “Well, he wasn’t the main character, the lead was really [a woman]“? The only one I could think of is maybe Silence of the Lambs. I think there are far more lead actress nominees who aren’t actually the main characters of their stories. It’s more than stated above, that women are part of ensemble casts. No, some lead actresses are just supporting characters with more screen time and development than the other women in the movie. Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook fits that, I think. Bradley Cooper’s character was clearly the main character. I think it’s not that surprising, really, because we know there are fewer movies with female main characters. The numbers are pretty striking though.

  • Anonymous

    “That’s been proven by hundreds and hundreds of science.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as when I read that sentence. XD

  • Lup Lun

    You just ignored my point for the SECOND time. The SIZE of the role is not important, the SIGNIFICANCE is. Quantity != Quality.

  • Lup Lun

    Which is exactly what I’m saying. Amount of screen time doesn’t matter unless the role is of good quality. If a female role has plenty of screentime, but the character is a sexist construction, than her presence helps nobody. Therefore using screentime as a yardstick to judge sexism in Hollywood is unsound reasoning.

  • Faradn

    The idea that screen time isn’t correlated with the importance of a role is absurd. Of course it’s not a perfect correlation, but numbers that skewed aren’t meaningless.

  • Charlie

    But using it as a yardstick while considering other factors is fine as I said earlier….

  • Lup Lun

    Or you could just toss it out, use said other factors as your argument instead, and get to the same conclusion with less cruft.

  • Charlie

    Why when it’s even more evidence towards the fact that hollywood is sexist. I don’t know why you are so invested in defending them.

  • http://www.according2robyn.blogspot.com/ According2Robyn

    :-D

  • frodobatmanvader

    Reason #3 made me laugh out loud. I got your back, yo.

  • http://melancholywise.tumblr.com/ Sophie

    “By your logic, the pornography industry is more feminist than Hollywood” That is false equivalence. You know exactly why the porn industry represents women more. Women lacking screen time in mainstream cinema, cannot be compared to women’s overuse as sex objects in porn. We could however talk about the fact that, when women are well represented in a mainstream film, they are often also sexualised for the male gaze (Sucka Punch would be a good example of this). You have yet to give me any good reason why statistics on women’s overall representation in films are not useful.