By Erika Kellerman
It’s 2016: the film industry finally has more than zero female fronted movies—“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Sisters,” “Beyond the Lights,” the rebooted “Ghostbusters,” “The 5th Wave,” “Bridesmaids,” and “Room,” just to name a few. Unfortunately, women are still outnumbered by white males in lead roles. Variety reported that since 2014, only 12% of films have had female protagonists. Of course, it’s been 2 years since that report, yet not much has changed.
According to the movieinsider.com wesbite, out of all the movies released in 2016 (January), 39 of the 53 protagonists are male, not including 4 documentaries. Most female protagonists, including secondary characters, will have something traumatic happen to them. This highlights how prominent misogyny is in the film industry. Also, female characters will typically have stereotypical jobs that lack diversity. Maureen Dowd includes insight from a number of women in the industry in her New York Times article, “The Women of Hollywood.” “Lena Dunham laments that, instead of creating space for women to tell stories they are naturally good at telling, the studios just keep trying to wedge them into narrowed, cliched concepts.” This is partially due to “The Glass Ceiling.”
What is “The Glass Ceiling?” For starters, it’s a metaphor for keeping women and minorities from advancing in their respective career fields. It is no secret that directors and screenwriters don’t direct or write well-developed female leads. Women are lucky if they are written in at all, and actresses are even luckier if screenwriters write in minority women. It doesn’t come as a surprise that only 12% of protagonists are female . Women are stereotyped, and the archetypal female roles are recycled over and over and over again—“Joy,” “The Silver Linings Playbook,” etc. It’s even harder for a woman to find a role that doesn’t involve her being victimized or villainized. When women are hired, there’s a large chance that their pay won’t match nearly as much as their male counterparts, even if they end up having a larger part. According to Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Marketing Expert, women earn 78 cents to every male dollar, and the reality is that’s only white women. Fortunately, on one fateful day in December of 2015, a very large part of the glass ceiling in the film industry was shattered.
Imagine a young girl goes to the movie theater with her family. She is sucked into seeing a movie where a man discovers his father is the darkest villain in all of the universe. The girl leaves the movie wanting to be this boy, imagining herself saving the galaxy and having to decide her destiny. She swings her imaginary lightsaber, but her brothers say, “You can’t play with us.” When she asks why, they reply, “You can’t be Luke Skywalker, you’re a girl!” Imagine that same girl, grown up and with children of her own. This same series from her childhood is continued, but this time around a girl is the lead. In parallel, the mother takes her children to the movies. Her daughter goes home and dives head first into the world of Star Wars. She beats up her family members with her lightsaber because, “Rey has one!”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has spawned a whole new generation of Jedis and Siths. Boys, girls, and nonbinary people alike are enjoying the series together without leaving out anyone. This is the power of representation. When a gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc. is well represented in the media, children and adults alike are given opportunities to see themselves like never before. It gives children the chance to see themselves as powerful leaders or villains. They won’t have to imagine, “what if” they were black, or white, or male or female.
A lot still needs to change when it comes to properly representing women and minorities in the media, but “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a very good start.
Erika Kellerman is a staff writer, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org