Minority representation in film increasing, but not fast enough

Minority representation in film increasing, but not fast enough

Photo Credits: ARIANA GREEN / AGGIE

Equality making some strides on screen

Historically, the film industry has failed to cast many women of color in its films as well as women in the film industry as scriptwriters, directors and composers — roles that have, by default, been filled by white men. There is a lack of strong female leads and the process of including not just women, but women of color, has developed too slowly. 

Films including a cast of women of color have immense potential. “Crazy Rich Asians,” directed by Jon M. Chu, broke many records in its opening week and went on to become the highest-grossing romantic-comedy in a decade and the first major motion picture to feature an Asian-majority cast since “Joy Luck Club” in 1993. 

The film brought attention to the untapped potential of a film starring women of color. 

Slowly, the film industry has acknowledged its institutionalized sexism and is making strides to be more inclusive. The Marvel movie franchise included a powerful scene in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” featuring all of the franchise’s women standing together, ready to save the world. 

Throughout film production history, women have not received equal representation behind and on screen. The powerhouse comedian, actress and screenwriter Tina Fey drew attention to the absence of female writers on “Saturday Night Live” in an interview with David Letterman on the Netflix series “My Guest Needs No Introduction.” When Letterman asked her about the cause of the issue, she replied that she had no real answer. Fey says that because of the lack of women in the rooms, some jokes went over the heads of male writers. If women are not included in the writing, it becomes harder for women to identify with the comedy sketches.

Thankfully, there are strong women already in the industry who are striving to make a real difference by bringing women of color into the industry. Eva Longoria is one such woman who has made it her personal goal to make sure there is equal representation, according to an article in Refinery29. In her new ABC show “Grand Hotel” — an adaption of the Netflix Spanish drama “El Gran Hotel” — Longoria prioritizes equality and diversity. She reverses stereotypical gender roles through small details, which, in turn, create big impacts for equality and accurate minority representation. For example, in the show’s promotions, Longoria had men fill the role of stereotypical eye-candy rather than women. It might be a subtle change, but it’s a step in the right direction.

There’s not only a lack of strong female leads and women working behind the scenes, but also a large absence of women of color. 

A 2017 study conducted by the University of Southern California analyzes the inequality women of color face in the film industry and charted the inclusion of women of color spanning from 2007 to 2017, yet its findings are still applicable in 2019. The study highlights how few women are in each film genre to show how they fall victim to being typecast in stereotypical roles rather than fulfilling, meaningful lead roles. The percentage of women of color has not changed since 2007 and most movies feature a predominantly white cast. The underrepresentation of different ethnicities leads to the incorrect portrayal of minorities. 

The lack of women in the film industry also discourages other women who want to enter it. In the study, a side-by-side comparison of how many women have been directors and composers in films from the years 2007 to 2017 shows that, in both occupations, there is a significant imbalance of women compared to men. Women make up only 4.3% of the directors and 1.3% of composers.

With recognizable composers such as Danny Elfman and John Williams taking the lead on large franchise films, there is less opportunity for women composers. Even though there aren’t as many women composers in film history, there are several who are changing that statistic. Pinar Toprak, who wrote with Danny Elfman for last year’s “Justice League,” is now making history as the first woman to score a Marvel film with “Captain Marvel.” When the New York Times interviewed Toprak about her thoughts on the inequality women face in the film industry, she said, “music, and art in general, it’s genderless because emotions are genderless.” The industry has institutionalized gender inequality by not providing women with the same job opportunities as men. 

 The majority of films on the big screen fail to pass the Bechdel test — a test created by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel which requires there be at least two women in a scene who talk to each other about something besides a man. In addition, if films aim to include at least five more female characters, they might be able to achieve gender equality over time, according to the study done by USC. 

While some recently-released films fit the standards set forth by the Bechdel test, including “Ocean’s 8” and the “The Favourite,” there is still a lot of room for progress. Both of these films have an amazing and diverse cast of women and did well in awards season, proving that representation can yield success.

Written By: Gabriela Hernandez — arts@theaggie.org