Where Are the Women? project finds movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as those that don’t

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Shailene Woodley appears in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." Lionsgate photo

Shailene Woodley appears in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.” Lionsgate photo

It costs Hollywood nothing to make movies that treat women well, and in fact, those films are less risky business.

That’s one of the many interesting conclusions Alliance of Women Film Journalists member MaryAnn Johanson of FlickFilosopher.com came to after spending 16 months crunching the numbers for her Where Are the Women? project.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, she examined 295 current-release films — including every U.S. wide release of 2015 — for their representation of women, using criteria I designed to go way the Bechdel Test.

You can take a look at the overview here, but here are some of the highlights (and some of them, not surprisingly, are actually lowlights):

- Despite the excuses we often hear, it costs nothing for Hollywood to not only make movies about women but to also make films that present them as real, well-rounded people. According to Johanson’s analysis, movies with female protagonists and movies that represent women well are no more and no less profitable than movies with male protagonists and movies that don’t represent women well.

Statistically, she found there’s no significant difference between how much it costs to produce a film that represents women well and how much it costs to produce one that doesn’t. Still, the median budget of movies that represent women well ($24 million) is 20 percent less than the median budget of movies that do not represent women well ($30 million).

There’s also no significant difference between how much it costs to produce a film with a female protagonist and how much it costs to produce one with a male protagonist. The median budget of movies with female protagonists ($23 million) is almost 24 percent less than the median budget of movies with male protagonists ($30 million).

When it comes to profitability, her examination revealed that, statistically speaking, movies that represent women well are just as likely to turn a profit as movies that don’t represent women well, and movies with female protagonists are just as likely to make a profit as movies with male protagonists.

Plus, since movies that represent women cost 20 to 24 percent less to produce and are just as likely to be profitable, movies about women are actually less risky, as business propositions, than movies about men.

- In comparing audiences’ opening-weekend Cinemascores and the gender of movies’ protagonists, Johanson found virtually no statistical difference, nor did she find more than a slight difference when looking at a film’s global box-office take and the gender of its protagonist. Essentially, she found audiences don’t care much one way or the other if a movie is about a man or a woman.

Audiences clearly are not turned off by women’s stories, despite the arguments we sometimes hear from Hollywood when it comes to maintaining the status quo.

- About that status quo, Johanson’s analysis uncovered more depressing statistics about the number of movies with female protagonists. Of the 153 wide releases in the U.S. in 2015, she found only 34 had female protagonists or an ensemble that was primarily female. That just more than 22 percent, despite the fact that women account for 51 percent of the population.

Another 15 percent had women protagonists sharing the spotlight with male coprotagonists, while almost 63 percent feature male protagonists or ensembles that were primarily male.

Furthermore, only 31 percent of 2015’s films represented women well, by which she means “women are depicted as fully human, embodying the same kinds of flaws and struggling with the same sorts of problems as men onscreen have to deal with.”

- Johanson’s analysis also found that the majority of films did not depict women as people in their own right, with stories of their own to be told, but that horror action-comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse ranked the worst of the 2015 when it came to her Where Are the Women scores. The sci-fi action sequel The Divergent Series: Insurgent earned the best Where Are the Women score.

Again, check out more of Johanson’s Where Are the Women? findings and learn how you can support the project here.

Geena Davis. Photo provided

Geena Davis. Photo provided

Quick hitters:

- Geena Davis champions women at Bentonville Film Festival. Founded by Geena Davis, the Bentonville Film Festival is set for Tuesday through Sunday in Arkansas, and its mission is again to champion women and diversity in media.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Davis spoke about the pervasive damage caused by unconscious bias not just in Hollywood but throughout society.

The described “this innate sense in Hollywood, that women will watch men but men won’t watch women, is true, no matter what evidence you give them. Just in my gut, I think, even without maybe realizing it, Hollywood has this feeling that that’s true. That’s why I think we see so many examples that are wildly successful starring a woman or about women, or whatever, it doesn’t matter how many Bridesmaids and Hunger Games and all that that we have, that we don’t seem to get any momentum going. And I think it’s because it’s ‘Yeah, well, but, what if it’s true and that was a one-off?’ We haven’t been able to build on those successes.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about it. Look at Disney: They roll out movie after movie with a female star, more movies starring a female than not. They’re not kind of successful. They’re blockbusters. They’re gigantic hits. And people don’t say, ‘Wow, that’s somebody proving it over and over again.’ There’s such ingrained mistrust for whatever reason.”

- Elisabeth Moss to star in The Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu has given a straight-to-series order for drama The Handmaid’s Tale from MGM Television based on Margaret Atwood’s bestselling novel, with Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) attached to star, according to Deadline.com.

Ilene Chaiken wrote the original script that was bought by Hulu, but she is now showrunner on Fox’s Empire. The 100‘s Bruce Miller is listed by Hulu as creator, writer and executive producer.

Moss will play Offred, a Handmaid trying to survive in the male-dominated totalitarian regime of Gilead. Enslaved by a society that values only her fertility, Offred must find a way to survive in a world of oppression and swift, cruel punishments.

- Suzy Amis Cameron wins Heroine Journey’s Award. As I reported on my BAM’s Blog, activist, retired actress and Oklahoma City native Suzy Amis Cameron received last week the first Heroine’s Journey Award from the Coalition for Engaged Education at the organization’s Poetic Justice event.

A mother of five, she is the founder of MUSE School, a private day school in Calabasas, Calif., that offers individualized, passion-based learning and sustainability programs. A former model, her acting credits include “The Usual Suspects,” “Blown Away” and “Titanic.”

-BAM

 

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