What Country's Film Industry Has the Best Gender Equity?

a still from blue is the warmest color shows two girls smiling

French film "Blue is the Warmest Color" centered on compelling female stories—but behind the camera, men outnumber women in the French industry nine to one. Film still from Sundance

We know that women woefully make up only 30 percent of speaking roles in American films. But a new study looks at how women fare in cinema internationally.

The study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and a group of partner organizations analyzed 120 films from the 10 countries with the most profitable film industries in the world. On average, women don’t fare much better in films internationally than they do in the United States: only 30 percent of characters with speaking parts or names are women. However, the cinematic gender balance varies greatly between countries. In Korea, for example, 50 percent of leading parts went to women while women played only 10 percent of leading roles in Russian films.

a chart breaks down gender representation in film by country

One thing that’s frustrating about this disparity is not just that women aren’t reflected in our media but that films featuring women in speaking roles are often better movies. When a film has few women in speaking roles, that’s usually a red flag to me that it’s a poorly written film. That was backed up by American box office revenues last year: major films that passed the Bechdel test made far more money, overall, than films that failed to have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.  I’d be excited about a plan for American theaters to follow the example of a few theaters in Sweden that post whether a film passes the Bechdel test—then I’d be able to know which films to skip.

When thinking about gender representation in media, it’s essential to look at who is making our media. Female directors are more likely to work on projects with more women on screen. There’s no country that has gender balance behind the scenes in the film industry, but some do better than others. At the bottom of the pile is France, where male directors, writers, and producers outnumber women nine to one. Brazil is the most equitable overall, but the UK gets the special distinction of being the only film market where women make up a majority of film writers.

gender prevalence behind the camera by country

The study also looked at how women are portrayed on screen, including what jobs they hold. Discussions of how women are portrayed in film are endless, but I think the most interesting part of this analysis is its number-crunching on the actual jobs women hold in films. The researchers looked at the number of characters who hold jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and other male-dominated careers. The results are telling. In the United States for example, women hold 24 percent of jobs in STEM fields. But onscreen, only 12.5 percent of characters with jobs in STEM fields are women. Women are also absent onscreen from high-level political positions: only 9.5 percent of high-ranking politicians in films internationally are women. These onscreen representations are important because they offer role models for the viewer—not always good role models, of course, but even if women are playing nefarious scientists or politicians plotting global domination, people sitting in the audience understand that women are a vital presence in the laboratories and capitol buildings of the world. As the study notes, “Filmmakers make more than just movies, they make choices. Those choices could be for balance, for less sexualization, and for more powerful female roles. The choice could be for gender equality.” 

Related Reading: Sweden is Now Rating Films for Gender Bias. 

Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media's online editor. Right now, she's really into watching Elisabeth Moss in "Top of the Lake." 

by Sarah Mirk
View profile »

Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media's online editor. She's interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

9 Comments Have Been Posted

Really nice

Nice study, nevertheless women actresses are more famous than men, I mean.

Huh? Since when are actresses

Huh? Since when are actresses more famous than men?

The Reality

You might say oh well women aren't given equal opportunity to reach the top position of things such as writer, director, producer. However as a current film student I can tell you that there is about 3 women for every 10ish men in our classes. So maybe just less women want to be in the film industry. Has anyone ever though about that? Now on actors, Writers like to write characters they can relate to, so men often write male main characters because they know exactly what a male would do in every event, however they know far less about women other than the stereotypes. The opposite is also true, females write female main characters with stereotypical males (ie Frozen). It takes a VERY talented writer to make a balanced cast that works.

No. No-one has ever thought

No. No-one has ever thought about it in the history of the world; you are the first, congratulations on being exceptional enough to think of something that has not been written about extensively and that cannot be found via a simple Google search.

Good on you.

There are actually plenty of

There are actually plenty of writers who are able to write very convincing, non-stereotypical roles for the opposite sex. Also, by saying that men would know exactly what a male would do in every event, surely that' would also be perpetuating a stereotype? There is no standard way for a man or a woman to behave. People are individuals and characters are more interesting when they have that individuality and don't just do what people would traditionally expect of them based on their gender, so there's no reason a male writer shouldn't be able to convincingly write a female character and vice versa.

Who cares about the ratios

Who cares about the ratios should they be picked on what directors think are the best? Imagine a world where it was 50:50 and some actors are only picked because of their gender.

You wouldn't be the first

You wouldn't be the first with this unoriginal thought, ignoring the affirmatie action that has maintained white men above their means for centuries. "Who is best" is not objective.

here here!

here here!

Why are there separate Oscars for Best Actor & Best Actress?

Why are there separate Oscars for Best Actor & Best Actress?
Are those 2 very different skills?

Do we need to separate out we need Best Directress from Best Director?

Add new comment