Friday, June 16, 2006
Recently I posted some of the findings by the See Jane organization, which was founded by Geena Davis. Their recent report, "Where the Girls Aren't," highlighted the dramatic discrepancy between male and female characters in G-rated films. It generated a lot of interesting comments, and Ms. Davis herself just posted a lengthy, thoughtful comment. Since I suspect a lot of readers don't regularly go back and check the comments of older posts, I'm reprinting it as a new post, since I think this subject deserves more discussion . . . I was told to check out the TAG blog, and I'm very glad I did. You all have very keen observations, and raised questions we are looking to answer as well. Allow me to jump into the discussion... The aspect of our research that most interests me is the quantity of female characters. Several of you -- Klahd, RedDiabla and anonymous, discussed the difficulties in getting a film made with a female main character; with rare exceptions (Mulan, Pocahontas, etc.) that has been true. And we sometimes see films where the female and male stars are more or less equal co-leads (Beauty and the Beast, Lilo and Stitch, etc...). What concerns me about the majority of animated films is that in the "world" of the film -- the fantasy environment that's been created, whether it's toys or animals or whatever -- is usually a world with very few females in roles of ALL sizes. Women and girls, as we know, take up roughly half the space in the real world (a tiny bit more than 50%, but who wants to quibble?); they also share the theater seats equally for animated films. Yet female secondary and tertiary characters are actually more scarce than female leads! If you think about some of the most popular G-rated films, you'll realize there are few, if any, female characters in group or crowd scenes. (The study, as Kevin noted, found only 17%.) My theory -- and it's only a theory -- is that "girls will watch stories about boys but boys won't watch stories about girls" is not a product of our genetic makeup, so much as the cultural message kids are getting. From the very beginning, from their very first G-rated films and pre-school TV shows, with rare exceptions kids are seeing worlds where the male characters make up most of the population; where female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there. Wouldn't our youngest boys and girls get a message from a steady diet of that? And mightn't they grow up into adult women who will watch stories about men, and men who won't watch stories about women? There will always be and should always be films that are aimed at and appeal more to one gender than the other. But the majority of animated films are seen by girls and boys equally; our hope at See Jane is that someday a studio's output of G-rated films will, when averaged, resemble gender parity; that a child's video library would generally reflect gender equity. As for Kevin's question about economics, our study can't answer that, specifically -- it wasn't designed for assessing the profit/percentage-of-female characters ratio. But it is a fact that a number of animated movies with female leads are in the top-twenty box office ranking for the last 15 years. I agree with you: I'm not convinced that pouring more female characters into the stories we tell will dent the B.O. Ken Roskos mentioned Hayao Miazaki as someone who has had success with female characters. What strikes me most about his films is not that he often has a female lead, but that the films as a whole are richly populated with female characters of every stripe. My guess is that his viewers don't really notice that: just as most parents here don't notice a lack of female characters, I suspect that having female characters share the space in his films doesn't stand out to his audience. Japan, if I may be forgiven for generalizing, is know for remaining a fairly sexist society, yet Princess Mononoke became the No.1 movie OF ALL TIME in Japan, beating the record held by "E.T." for 15 years (the record has since been broken by "Titanic"). It was also the all-time best selling video in Japan, selling more than 4 million copies, until the record was broken, again, by "Titanic." (The previous video sales record was held by "Aladdin", which sold about 2.2 million copies in Japan.) If a movie with "Princess," of all things, in the title can be a runaway hit in Japan, perhaps we should feel emboldened to push the boundaries here. The final point I want to respond to is Klahd's suggestion that I "make some financially successful films with strong female roles and hope that the pencil pushers take notice." I wish that worked. I have -- and they didn't. I shot Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own back-to-back, and the press predicted in both cases the start of a wave of female buddy and sports movies. Neither movie provoked the decision-makers to try to repeat their success; in fact, I believe the next female-oriented sports movie to come out was Bend in Like Beckam... about 10 years later. Thank you all for your time, and especially thank you for your serious and thoughtful discussion of our study results. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.
Posted by Kevin Koch at 11:27 AM