The good news and bad news of the latest statistics on women speaking characters in movies

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Daisy Ridley stars as Rey in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Lucasfilm photo

Daisy Ridley stars as Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Lucasfilm photo

After Hollywood’s sexism was continually in the news of 2015, the number of women speaking characters in the movies increased, although they continue to lag, according to a new study.

Women accounted for just one third of all speaking characters in films in 2015, a 3 percent increase from the previous year, reports The Wrap.com, citing this year’s “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World”

The study examined 2,500 female characters in the top 100 domestic grossing films, and the study revealed only 34 percent of major characters were female, representing a modest increase from 2014.

As paltry as they sound, however, those numbers also represent recent historical highs, according to TheWrap.com.

The study revealed that females comprised just 22 percent of protagonists in all of the films considered, which actually represents a 10 percent increase compared 2014, an awful year for women in film, which undoubtedly helped highlight Hollywood’s ongoing gender issues.

The number of female protagonist also is six percent higher than it was in 2002, according to the researchers.

“We saw marked increase in the percentage of female protagonists last year,” Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University said. “We will need to see a couple more years of data before we’ll know whether this is the beginning of an upward trend or if 2015 was an unusually good but aberrant year for female characters.”

As previously reported, 2015 marked the third year in a row that the top-grossing movie of the year has featured a female main character: Centered on the inspirational new character Rey (Daisy Ridley), record-smasher Star Wars: The Force Awakens not only topped the box office in 2015, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, it also took in this weekend with an estimated $6.1 million, bringing its domestic cumulative haul  to $914.8 million and its worldwide returns to more than $2.026 billion.

According to Deadline.com, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay –  Part 1 topped Guardians of the Galaxy to become the biggest moneymaker of 2014, while The Hunger Games: Catching Fire overpowered Iron 3 to become the top-grossing film of 2013. (Mockingjay – Part 2 was the seventh highest-grossing movie of 2015, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.)

The relative dearth of female protagonists doesn’t represent the box-office success of women-led films, which offers hope that the numbers boost represents an actual change for the better.

Still, “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” found that the figures representing female characters of color have not changed much, although there was a slight increase in black female characters since last year. There was no change in the percentage of Latina characters, and there were fewer Asian actresses in movies in 2015.

According to TheWrap.com, the study also found that women of color were less likely to be major characters in films than white women. Thirty-eight percent of films cast females as major characters, whereas 27 percent of black, Latina and Asian women were major characters in 2015 films. As previously noted, these numbers seem to confirm that Hollywood’s diversity issues go deeper than the #OscarsSoWhite campaign; there is a shortage of opportunities for actors and actresses of color, shrinking the odds of them receiving Academy Award attention.

Samantha Bee stars in her satirical late-night show "Full Frontal" on TBS. TBS photo

Samantha Bee stars in her satirical late-night show “Full Frontal” on TBS. TBS photo

Samantha Bee suggests something so crazy it just might work

While promoting her new satirical late-night show Full Frontal on TBS, former The Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee offered a so-simple-it-just-might-work solution to Hollywood’s lack of diversity: Hire women and people of color.

“You have to break down the system. It takes a lot of work, so I see why it doesn’t get done. You have to reach through people’s comfort levels. You have to reach out to people who wouldn’t naturally think that they could do it, or they didn’t really come from that background,” Bee said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“There’s a lot of conversations about the Oscars, and studios have a lot of sitdowns with think tanks, and they consider how they’re going to get people of color into things and what they’re going to do. Sometimes you just have to go, ‘You’re hired.’ How about if you hire someone?  How about if you just, say, greenlight something? You can do that too. You have the power to do that. Just hire somebody. Just start there and just hire people. You don’t always have to go the same places to find your interns, OK?”

In the predominantly white and male world of late-night TV, Bee’s show is an anomaly. Full Frontal has not only a female host but also a writing staff evenly divided between men and women, 25 percent of whom are people of color, according to the LA Times. Bee said working in such a diverse environment feels normal.

“It doesn’t feel different to me at all. It feels natural. It feels normal. It’s not like we walk into a room and high five each other every minute,” she said.

But such hiring practices can make a big difference, according to a new study.

The study “Hollywood’s Gender Divide and Its Effects on Films,” suggests that if the studios want to improve the representation of minorities and women on screen, they should tackle who is hired behind the camera. When men are hired, not surprisingly, they usually make movies about men, reports Fortune.com.

In the study, television writer Lyle Friedman, data journalist Ilia Blinderman, and Matt Daniels, who co-founded visual pop culture storytelling site Polygraph, put 4,000 films from 1995 through 2015 through the “Bechdel Test.” Named for graphic novelist Alison Bechdel (who credits her friend Liz Wallace for the idea), the test asks whether a fictional work has two female characters in a scene who talk to each other about something other than a man.

By taking films already ranked on the Bechdel Test Movie List website and matching them to data on IMDB.com, the three authors looked to see how many films in the 20 years could pass the test, according to Fortune.com. Then they matched films to writers, producers, and directors and determined their gender.

The analysis found that having even one woman on the writing staff improved the odds of passing the Bechdel test. When the writing team was all-female, all the movies passed. Of the 200 highest-grossing films of that period, only 47 percent with an all-male writing team passed. When there was at least one woman on the writing team, 62 percent passed, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Friedman suggested that our old enemy unconscious bias could be the culprit that accounts for many of Hollywood’s issues.

“That could simply be a comfort level thing,” Friedman told Fortune.com. “I, as a female writer, am not as comfortable writing conversations between men. Men are going to make movies about what they know.”

Since the most powerful producers, writers and directors are men, it shouldn’t be a shocker that most of Hollywood’s films focus on men. Of all the movies that fail the Bechdel test, 46 percent have an all-male writing team, while 43 percent had male producers and 41 percent had male directors. Only 6 percent had all-female writers, while 29 percent had female producers.

Men outnumbered women five to one overall as producers, writers, and directors, according to the study.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson appears at the Korean premiere of "Kung Fu Panda 3." Photo provided

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson appears at the Korean premiere of “Kung Fu Panda 3.” Photo provided

Jennifer Yuh Nelson encourages women with animated dreams

Jennifer Yuh Nelson has another hit on her hands with Kung Fu Panda 3. After topping the box office for the two previous weekends, it took a record-breaking opening weekend from Marvel’s Deadpool to finally knock the third installment of DreamWorks’ fist-flying animated franchise out of the top spot this weekend, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

This weekend, Kung Fu Panda 3 delivered with a stellar 7.5 percent drop, coming in second with an estimated $19.6 million. With President’s Day getting many children out of school Monday, Fox is expecting a $26 million four-day total as the film’s domestic cumulative is now up to $93.9 million. The film has made another $162.2 outside North America, for a worldwide total so far of about $256.1 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

Yuh Nelson became the first woman to singlehandedly direct an animated feature with the hit franchise’s previous installment, 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2, which was nominated for an Academy Award. She co-directed the third installment with Alessandro Carloni. Yuh Nelson told CinemaSiren.com that she invited Carloni to come on as her co-director because he’s been a part of all three movies and they have different strengths but work together well. As I noted in my review, under their direction, Kung Fu Panda 3 again expands the series’ mythology, taking the characters and especially the animation to interesting new places while also bringing them full circle.

Yuh Nelson praised DreamWorks as a great place for women to work. Along with Yuh Nelson, CinemaSiren.com notes that two other women have been instrumental in shaping the successful Kung Fu Panda franchise:  Melissa Cobb, who has produced every film in Kung Fu Panda film and was just announced as the new president of Oriental DreamWorks, and Clare Knight, who edited the films.

“Never once in my 18 years here has anyone said “you can do this because you’re a woman” or “you can’t do this because you are a woman.” It’s never even come up,” Yuh Nelson told Cinemasiren.com.

“In the environment I work in people forget that i’m a woman, which is wonderful. It just shows what a wonderful environment I work in, no one treats me differently. They don’t think that because I’m a woman I’ll make decisions differently.”

Yuh Nelson is part of a very short list of women directors who have helmed animated feature films for the major studios, along with Oscar winners Jennifer Lee, who co-directed Frozen, and Brenda Chapman, who co-directed Disney/Pixar’s Brave. But Yuh Nelson said she is encouraged that more women and girls seem to be choosing to go into animation.

“Just the other week an 8 (year-old) girl came up to me when I went to speak at an elementary school and she gave me a drawing and it was great and she said ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up and direct movies.’ And that just made me choke up. It was so cute and the reason why she’s looking at me is I look like her. It’s easier to visualize herself in the job,” she said. “That sort of thing encourages me. I’ve been really fortunate. Lots of people support me and I forget. But sometimes things like that happen and I remember, and they say I encourage them, it makes me feel very happy.”

goldie hawn in the banger sisters

Quick hitters

– Goldie Hawn to play Amy Schumer’s mom. Oscar winner Goldie Hawn is in talks to play Amy Schumer‘s mother in an upcoming comedy from director Jonathan Levine (50/50), according to TheWrap.com. The project would mark Hawn’s return to the big screen after more than a decade, her last feature role having been in the 2002 comedy The Banger Sisters.

Paul Feig is producing under his Feigco banner along with Chernin Entertainment. Katie Dippold wrote the script and will serve as an executive producer. The film is inspired by Dippold’s relationship with her mother and follows a family vacation gone wrong, according to TheWrap.com.

Consortium fund supports black filmmakers. The National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), based in Harlem, New York, wants to help bring black filmmakers’ projects to fruition with its second annual 360 Incubator and Fund, according to AWFJ.org.

Designed to harvest and pipeline nonfiction, multipart programs for broadcast, as well as web series and interactive/transmedia, helmed by black filmmakers, the NBPC’s 360 Incubator and Fund is one of the few initiatives that not only supports black filmmakers’ projects but also mentors on how to present and market to a mass audience.
As many as 10 projects will be selected to be NBPC Fellows through an application process and each filmmaker will be invited to attend a six-week program that will help them fine tune their project concept. The month-and-a-half program will culminate with a presentation at the Pitch Black Forum in October 2016, in front of a panel of industry executives and an audience of public media, cable, commercial and VOD professionals in New York City. From there, the panel will select three or four projects to move on to the pilot stage of production.

Those selected will receive $50,000 to $150,000 in development funds for their pilots. The call for submissions ends on March 28, 2016 at 11:59 pm PST. Applications and more information on the 360 guidelines are available here. 

-BAM

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