Raising Up Women’s Voices on Screen

By portraying women more accurately and telling more stories from their perspective, movies and TV shows can elevate the way women are viewed by audiences and, consequently, how they are treated in society.

By Leah Enelow

36174821325_1825994bd9_b.jpg

Thank you, Wonder Woman. You showed us that a film with a female star and a female director could be among the top grossing movies of 2017, earning a total of $819 million worldwide. You were a bright spot in a year when women were, unsurprisingly, disappointingly scarce on the silver screen, both in front of and behind the camera.

According to a study issued by the Center for Women in Film at San Diego State University, in 2017, females comprised only 24% of protagonists in top grossing films and 37% of major characters.  And the figures were even more dismal behind the camera. In 2017, women comprised just 18% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films. This was only a 1% percent increase from 2016—and on par with the number in 1998.

One of many reasons that these numbers are so disheartening is because movies and TV shows affect our attitudes. It’s no secret that TV and movies help shape how we think about men and women. As Julia T. Wood wrote in her study, Gendered Media: The Influence of Media on Views of Gender, “All forms of media communicate images of the sexes, many of which perpetuate unrealistic, stereotypical, and limiting perceptions.”  And when women are underrepresented in the media, she notes, that “falsely implies that men are the cultural standard and women are unimportant or invisible.”

By portraying women more accurately and telling more stories from their perspective, movies and TV shows can elevate the way women are viewed by audiences and, consequently, how they are treated in society.

Fortunately, it seems that change is afoot. Wonder Woman wasn’t an aberration. The lens is beginning to focus on women more often and more accurately. Though we have a long way to go, there are signs that the number of women is increasing in TV and movies, and that their roles are changing. An increase in roles for women does no good if they are only playing the wives, girlfriends or love interests of a male protagonist. But the number of movies with female protagonists is trending upward and the increase in popular TV shows told from the perspective of women is as plain as day.

MV5BMTg0NDYwMjQyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODk0NjExMjI@._CR184,16,1671,1252_UX614_UY460._SY230_SX307_AL_.jpg

Many of the most popular and critically acclaimed new shows of the most recent TV seasons have featured female protagonists, with women in the most indispensable roles. From Black Mirror starring a woman in every episode of its 2017 season, to The Handmaid’s Tale to Insecure, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Crown, She’s Gotta Have It, or Big Little Lies—the list of female-driven TV shows goes on and on.

Female-driven content is also getting more attention and praise, being paid homage by the most prestigious awards for TV and movies. At the Academy Awards in March, four of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture had female protagonists (The Shape of Water, The Post, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), a number far above average. Similarly, at last year’s Emmy Awards, four of the seven shows nominated for Outstanding Drama Series were female-driven (Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, and Stranger Things) an even more staggering upswing when compared to previous years.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The bar has been set embarrassingly low. A female director is still an anomaly, and any TV show or movie you watch is far more likely to tell a story from a man’s perspective than a woman’s. But progress is progress. And even if it’s in baby steps, who’s to say the industry isn’t finally moving forward

leah-1.png

Leah Enelow lives in Chevy Chase, MD and is studying Web Development.