Top Dollar

This week’s film was Beasts of the Southern Wild. An amazing film and it features the youngest ever Academy Award for Best Actress Nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis.

I’ve been thinking about the value of male actors & female actors and how the movie industry values them.

Right at the top with the highest paid actors, there is a huge discrepancy between what male actors and female actors earn. The pay gap is astonishingly big. I don’t have exact and precise data, but working off data collected by Richard Ash, and presented on his site in graphs, you can clearly see the pay chasm from 2011/2012.

The average earnings for the top ten men was $36.15m and the average for the top ten women was $19.75.

The data is from Forbes so we can’t be sure of its accuracy, but even with a big margin of error, the gap is enormous. Here are the numbers from the previous year, also according to data from Forbes and presented on Love Graphs’ site.

Average earnings for top ten males: $37.5m. Average earnings for top ten females: $21.8m.  Both genders earned more that year but the gap remains around the same.

I was also quite surprised that Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock earned more in 2011/12 than ANY female actor. I guess what this shows is what Hollywood values. It values blockbuster action franchises over (arguably) original, quality film making. And it certainly values men over women.

Another thing I noted was that of the top ten men in 2011/12 – none of them had ever won an Oscar, but the top ten women had 7 Oscars between them (though Meryl Streep claims 3 of those). From the previous year’s list, the men had 2, both from Tom Hanks and the women again had 7.

What this shows is that to earn the top dollars, female actors need to be considered the very best in their field. They have to have been given the highest accolades within their profession in order to command the highest pay. And even when they are Oscar-winning, their pay still isn’t as high as the top paid men. So, The Rock, a wrestler by trade and training, whose highest acting accolade was a nomination for 2008’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award for favorite movie actor, can command considerably higher pay (over three times as much!) than 3 times Oscar-winning Meryl Streep.

What would be really interesting would be to see how the gender pay gap works on a much lower level, those who are not at the top. Do men and women actors get paid the same in small indie films? Does the pattern continue right down to TV movies? Or, maybe, the lower the overall budget of a movie the more equal the earnings? Someone probably has data on this. I don’t. I’m just a woman watching movies with chicks in.

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Quartet & Age

This week I saw Quartet. This is definitely not a film I would’ve paid to see at the cinema if I wasn’t doing this experiment. This was the 1st week of the year where I felt really restricted  in my film choices. The options were Quartet or Les Miserables. To be honest, I thought I might not make it to the cinema at all this week. Both those films I wouldn’t mind seeing but am not particularly drawn to. Additionally, I didn’t think I could convince my boyfriend to come see either of those films and split my Wednesday 2for1 deal with me. As it turned out, I had some miserable news and I think he felt sorry for me so agreed to come. Possibly also because we watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on TV last week and quite enjoyed it.

What Quartet (and TBEMH) made me think about was the representation of older women in movies. We know Hollywood loves young women, preferably with their kit off, but I wonder how the breakdown of women in film would be when looking at age. I’m inclined to think that most lead female roles would favour women within a 20-40 age range. That’s a total guess. I would also guess that male leads would be dominated by that age group but I can immediately think of many lead male roles for older men and not as many for older women.  We know women make up only around a third of all speaking parts so there are fewer roles overall, but I wonder if the ratio of younger women to older women is more pronounced than younger to older men.

If that is the case, it’s an unhappy one for women as we see that, as under represented as we are in films already, we get less representation as we get older. I wonder if there is data on this somewhere.

I might be totally wrong about this.

As an aside, Pauline Collins is really brilliant in Quartet and the film is an extremely strong passer of the Bechdel test.

Any Club That Would Have Me As A Member

In an average year I pay to go to the cinema 20-30 times. If I manage to go every week as I plan to with this experiment, I’ll be going twice as much as I normally would. In order to afford this I’ve been looking at cheap cinema options.

I’m a member of my local cinema which is a Picturehouse. If I go on a Wednesday before 5.30pm, I can get 2for1 tickets with an Orange voucher. This means £2.75 a ticket. The difficulty is finding someone to go with me. It also means if I’m busy on a Wednesday then I miss that. I also found out that my Picturehouse membership gives me 90 days free use of Mubi. It’s puts up a new film every day that remains available to stream for a month. It’s like having a personal indie cinema curated by a cool film buff.

I also discovered that joining the Prince Charles Cinema is only £10/year and can get you £4 weekday tickets. They show a lot of films on late release which is why it’s so much cheaper than many other cinemas. This works out well for me as I can catch films I might’ve missed. It’s also convenient as it’s right in the centre of town (just off Leicester Square).

Today I went there and I saw Safety Not Guaranteed at 4pm. It was screened downstairs in what is a huge, beautiful, old music hall style cinema. I think there were fewer than 10 people in. I felt like a millionaire. I went and bought a drink & a snack from a Chinese supermarket in nearby Chinatown. I took myself on a great date.

As for the film, it just about passes the test. I was quite surprised that it only passes on one short exchange considering the lead role in this film is a woman.

I feel now I’ve started this experiment demanding more women in my movies, that a film that only just passes isn’t good enough. I want films with 50% women! Or half of the films I see to have 100% women!

I know that’s a bit silly, but I definitely do feel that my awareness of the absence of women in many films does distract me from enjoying it. Before I started this experiment I would go to every film I saw and consciously note if and when it passed the test. For example, Dredd passes within the first few minutes & I felt myself celebrate internally, then relax and enjoy it – if you’ve not seen it, I recommend doing so. It was one of my favourite films of 2012.

It’s very hard to un-notice the lack of women once you’ve become aware of it. So, sorry if I’ve done that for any of you following this blog, I guess. You can join me, though. Especially on Wednesdays afternoons when I need a 2for1 partner.

 

 

Some History of Bechdel, A Graph & Things

Here is a blog that outlines the background of the Bechdel test pretty neatly and has some really good points.

A key thing to note is that the test is no marker of quality or of feminist intention. There are probably loads of porn films where two women called Starr and Tiny-Surgically-Augmented-Flaps ask each other questions like ‘how does that feel?’ and wondering aloud if the other woman might be a ‘dirty bitch’* Let’s not forget the intrinsically terrible Sex & The City films pass the test, so we know it’s certainly no marker for quality.

The test simply asks if the film has women in it to the extent that nearly every other film ever has men in it. I’m trying to compile a list of films that fail the reverse Bechdel (2 men, speak to each other, about something other than a woman). So far that list is:

Bridesmaids

And that’s it. I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of. Let me know in the comments if you can come up with one.

Richard Ash made this graph using data from Bechdeltest.com. It’s not definitive because the data is created by users who add films and decide if they pass the test or not and quite a few are disputed. Also, the results would be skewed by the choice of what films are added to the site and by whom, as not all films are listed. GraphStill, it’s nice to have a graph, isn’t it. What you can see from it is that around 50% of the films on bechdeltest.com in the last 50 years fail the test. Hey, 50% doesn’t seem bad, does it? But it is, my friends. Take the reverse Bechdel test as a control. If 50% of films failed the reverse Bechdel then 50% passing the Bechdel would work out even. I don’t have data on how many films fail the reverse Bechdel  but from the list above I would guess it’s less than 5%, probably less than 1%.

I’m not mathsy, but I’d say that men are represented in films approximately a fuckton more than women. Hopefully, the graph will start creeping up as women work towards social equality across the world. More women in notable positions means more women making big decisions (like whether to produce certain films). Hopefully, more women directors and writers. More women in prominent historically interesting situations for film makers to make films about and so on.

I say “and so on” like it’s just altering how much cereal you put in your bowl compared to milk. These are all slow-moving processes that take time and women of exceptional ability to change. Take for example women writers. From what I’ve seen, even women writers write more parts for men because that is what gets produced. You can’t just change the entire industry by changing the gender of one key position. If women writers wrote loads of stuff with women in, it most likely wouldn’t get made because that would be too different to the status quo and what is commercially successful.

Demanding that my cinema films pass the test is my small act to encourage change. I will only give money to those films that pass. It’s a consumer action that will have zero immediate effect on the film industry, but possibly if more people made that demand (despite the risk of ‘missing out‘) then the production companies would take notice. The movie industry would stop making films that failed the test if no one paid to watch films without women in them.

*I don’t theoretically have a problem with porn. I don’t think it has to objectify women, there could be great porn which doesn’t. Unfortunately, I think the industry has generally created an horrific role for women to play and it’s rare to see the opposite. I’d be well into it otherwise.

Week One Films

On Monday I saw my 1st cinema film of the year.

It was Sightseers. It passes the test in the first few minutes and passes on many occasions after. I don’t want this blog to be reviews of films so I won’t write the whole thing up except to say I thought it was funny and I enjoyed it. The script was written by Alice Lowe, who is also the star of the film. It’s a great performance from her (and Steve Oram who is the other writer/star).

I know it’s obvious, but if you have a female protagonist, a film is almost certain to pass the test. I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of films with women protagonists this year. This excites me. When I saw Brave last year, I connected with it so much, despite it being an animated film about a Scottish royal family± from the middle ages. Aspects of my own personality and experiences were echoed by the women in the film. Similarly, when I watch Borgen (my favourite TV show) I get a real thrill from seeing complex female characters from a variety of perspectives, and it’s certainly not at the cost of male characters who are equally complex and engaging. It’s a brilliant show.

I saw Sightseers at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Today I saw Silver Linings Playbook. I struggled to get my boyfriend to come as he was very put off by the title which he thinks is one of the worst in history. But I managed to convince him which was just as well as I was going with an Orange 241 offer and nothing is sadder than a 241 voucher and no one to share it with.

The film only just passes – there’s a scene where two sisters briefly talk to each other about each other. I really liked this movie. It’s very moving and surprisingly funny. The lead actors are terrific. Jennifer Lawrence has impressed me in every movie I’ve seen her in.

This leads me to thinking about the roles women have in films. In this movie only Lawrence’s female character feels fleshed out and real. Her sister and the mum come across as fairly two-dimensional. The male characters are plentiful and more rounded.

There are so many talented female actors and far fewer female roles. In my experience, I’d estimate there are around 8 women actors for every 1 male actor. It could be much higher, it’s definitely not much less. In terms of parts available, the reverse ratio is probably the case. Again, I don’t have exact stats, I’m just estimating based on my own experience of studying drama for 18 years and being a professional actor. And of these parts available for women, they are often stereotypical and two-dimensional, particularly in TV and film. I could write in great detail about this and I might later but I just wanted to touch on it in relationship to this experiment. I would anticipate that films that pass the Bechdel test would feature at least one interesting, developed female role and that films that strongly pass the test would feature at least two.

Of the films I saw this week, that is certainly the case. Sightseers passed strongly and had two weird, interesting, unpredictable women in it. Silver Linings Playbook, which passed just about, had one. Two examples are not enough to base a thesis on but it’s something to look out for. I’d definitely love to see more complex female characters in film, not least because that means more possibility for me to play more parts, but also because in real life no women are stereotypical and two-dimensional and our art should reflect that the way it does with men.

 

Films seen at the cinema so far in 2013:

Sightseers

Silver Linings Playbook

± I am a staunch republican

“Missing Out”

When I declared my intention to only pay to see Bechdel-passing films in 2013 on Twitter, I got an interesting response. Quite a few people retweeted my original tweet and the tweet with a link to this blog had a bunch of retweets and favourites which either shows that some people are interested in this, or that lots of people are indiscriminate retweeters and favouriters with no idea what they are doing. I will choose to assume that some people are interested in this experiment of mine.

I also had a bevy of men (only men) saying things like “you’ll be missing out on so many great films!” with a tone wrapped up in heated concern, as if I’d decided to give up eating for a year rather than choosing not to pay to see films without women in them. One said to me, “it’s not always possible to have two women in a film”. Seriously, pal? But it’s always possible to have two men in a film, isn’t it? What a ludicrous argument that shows how skewed the representation of women in film is!

OH GOD! I WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE JACK REACHER OR THE HOBBIT IN THE CINEMA! REACH FOR THE BLEACH! LIFE ISN’T WORTH IT!

I will address those who are so concerned about me “missing out” on all these great films with a few points.

1. I’m not ‘missing’ anything. I’m not paying money to see any new film that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test in 2013. If it’s the movie of the century, I’ll see it next year when it comes out on DVD. Calm yourself down. Get some perspective, dude.

2. Why is there the assumption that all the best films will definitely fail the test? What does that say about the movie industry? Films that are about or feature women don’t make good movies? I definitely don’t think that’s true. What that says is that the film industry’s default setting is to tell male stories using men. You know what? I’ve seen a lot of male stories told by men. Yes, some of them are excellent, but I don’t need anymore right now. I want one year when the movies I pay for tell other stories that feature women, because my life features a hell of a lot more women than are seen on screen.

3. Somebody suggested that I do the “really unexpected” thing and only watch films that fail the test. I pointed out how that is essentially what everyone does anyway, so is not only “expected” but the basic norm.

4. Why this panicked rush to ‘save’ me from ‘missing’ all this ‘great art’? I don’t know exactly, but I can guess that because my choice is a rejection of the status quo and an implicit demand for change, that unnerves people. Change is difficult and scary. People love movies. If there are more women in movies it might RUIN MOVIES FOREVER, is the thought that tickles the subconscious of the unthinking misogynist (or the conscious mind of the upfront misogynist). Another is: WHAT IS WRONG WITH MEN IN MOVIES, IT’S THE BEST & THAT’S WHY IT’S LIKE IT IS. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with movies about & featuring men, I just want more that feature women. My life isn’t mostly about men and their stories and I no longer want my art to be.

I don’t think my choices or this experiment will change anything except my own experience. However, I am really looking forward to a year of seeing more women on screen and I’m excited about how that might make me feel, or might change my own perspective. I don’t think it will be super easy to find a Bechdel-passing film each week, but as tasks go, it’s hardly diamond mining.

A Year of Bechdel

The Bechdel Test is a very simple test designed by Alison Bechdel to gauge representation of women in film. 

Image

The rules again, if you didn’t get it from the comic, or just enjoy seeing things expressed in pictures and words and then in words alone:

1. there must be at least two (named) women

2. they must speak to each other

3. about something other than a man

Sounds simple, eh? Except loads of films don’t pass it. Bloody loads. 

I’m bored of watching films that don’t feature women. So, this year I am going to try to only pay to watch films that pass the Bechdel test, and I’m going to try to see one new film a week. I’ll check if a film passes it by checking here or asking people on Twitter who have seen it. I’ll probably be going mostly on Wednesdays (with my Orange Wednesdays 241 – let me know if you want to be my cinema buddy) and I’ll update this blog with how it goes. 

I love movies. I LOVE them. I can watch three in a row without getting bored but I really wish they better represented women and I hope this experiment sheds some light on the representation of women in cinema.