Staggering Statistics: Why Representation Matters
by Mandi Harrison
I loved the X-Men comics and the cartoon based off the comics when I was in high school. I was so excited for the first movie that I arrived at the theater two hours early to stand in line, only to discover I could see an earlier show... because there was no line. Whatever. I was still excited. After I came down from the movie and sugar high, I had a question: why were the women playing second fiddle to the men? I love Wolverine, but Rogue wasn't quite the Rogue I loved. And Jean Grey was more center of a triangle than bad ass chick. And poor Storm....
I continued to ask that question in super hero movies until Black Widow in The Avengers, where Natasha was a valued, relied-upon member of the team. It was refreshing to see a female superhero that kicked butt, helped with the planning and didn't need a man to complete her. And in 2016, the world was introduced to Gal Gadot as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. In my opinion, she was the best thing (actually the ONLY good thing) about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She was a leader. She kicked butt, and she was a lady. I was cautiously optimistic abut her solo movie, and I was NOT proven wrong. Watching Diana run across the screen, leading an army of men through battle was breathtaking. I cried. In fact, I cried three times during the movie. I felt empowered and recognized. Wonder Woman was everything I dreamed a super hero could be. And I'm not the only one; women of all ages feel a connection to Diana. She belongs to us all.
Earlier this year, there were two other movies that broke the status quo: Black Panther and Love, Simon. Black Panther gave the world not only a black super hero, but a whole new world: Wakanda, run by strong, smart women. Simply put, Black Panther, T'Challa, is elfin' cool. He's smart and bold and just. Adults and kids alike flocked to the theater, for the chance to see a movie that was in the works for over twenty years. On the other hand, Love, Simon is a normal teenage story: nothing out of the ordinary- the lead character just happens to be gay. That its treated so normally is what makes it so extraordinary.
The fact that is 2018 and these types of movies are still considered specialty films AND groundbreaking is astounding. These movies made money AND had great reviews. Black Panther had a total Box Office of 1.32 Billion. Wonder Woman's was $821.3 million and 65.7 million for Love, Simon on a 17 million dollar budget is AMAZING. People wanted these movies and went to see them, so that must mean more will get made. Yes and no. Unfortunately , like I said before, even though these movies were made, it must be a fluke that that they were successful. A few more movies like these will be greenlit, but all it takes is for one movie to flop and the studio heads will shake their heads and shelve the other projects, saying they knew it was a fluke. And movies with directors that are women or people of color have even more pressure riding on them.
Earlier this week, a study was released by the Annenberg Foundation, through the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It's called Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT & Disability form 2007 to 2017. I squealed like it was Christmas when I saw it: statistics and charts, yes please! If you have some time, I highly recommend reading it. It's super fascinating and very eye-opening; the numbers don't lie. The link is right here.
Here are a few of the highlights:
*The first graph is the percentage of speaking roles that were women in movies. That's not just referring to main characters; thats also including any female character that speaks even one line.
* Only 33 movies out of 100 in 2017 featured a female lead character. And only 4 of those characters were from underrepresented groups.
* In 10 years, only 143 movies out of 1,100 had a balanced cast. 5% of those are Fast & Furious movies. Just a fun fact I figured out.
These pretty much speak for themselves. The numbers don't lie. They are disgusting and infuriating, but it's the truth.
* The first set of statistics needs to change. That's the only thing to be said.
* The second set is infuriating. Almost rage-enducing. 43 female directors hired out of 1,100 movie. 10.1% of those films had female writers, which realistically the majority of were co-writer credits. 21.7% of producers in that time span were women. Look at the list of the directors. These are incredible, talented, "respected" women. There should be more on that list. They should have been able to create more.
This last chart is simple: ADD MORE CHARACTERS. Don't have the default be white if the story doesn't call for it. It's really that simple. Hire the best people for the job. Give women and people that are under-represented a chance. All anyone is asking for is a chance to work, to prove themselves. To not have to fight for the opportunity. There are people in show business that give those chances: people like JJ Abrams, Ryan Murphy, Shondra Rimes and Donna Langley work towards equality in film and television daily. Ryan Murphy has started a program for female directors; he said it is his responsibility as a white man to open doors for those who can't. It's hard to get experience without having experience, as anyone who has looked for a job can tell you and just having one credit under your belt can give you the push you need.
What can be done on the outside? Simple. Money is the universal language of Hollywood. Show up at the theater- watch the movies with diverse roles. Watch the tv shows. If the ratings and box office gross grow at a consistent level, more projects will be made. No one's story is more important than another's, but that is not the narrative that has been played out in the past. It needs to change now. Pop culture is important; it's a reflection of who we are as a society and a way to preserve our history. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented on screen.
Here are a couple movies that are currently out or about to be released that should be watched:
*Sorry to Bother You (in theaters now)
* Blindspotting (In theaters now- WATCH THIS!)
* Eighth Grade (In theaters now)
* The Spy Who Dumped Me (out the 3rd; I just love Kate McKinnon)
*Crazy Rich Asians (out August 15th)
* The Hate U Give (October)