Feminism in Hollywood: Why Women Often Aren’t Cast as Lead Roles

Originally posted onto Newsaratti.com 2/7/16


Women in film are a tricky area for studios and filmmakers. It’s a rough situation because in the films, women rarely are the main heroes of the story. It is rare to find the destruction of the evil villains plans be from the work of a woman, even more rare is if she does so all by herself without the help of an A-list celebrity male co-star. Films such as the Hunger Games franchise and even the most recent Star Wars installment prominently feature powerful and dominating female leads, but why is it that when we try to think of other powerful women in films and television, we hit a wall?

Watch any big budget action movie trailer. 99% of them will feature a man doing something extremely manly and awesome like beating up 3 dozen bad guys with his bare hands, flying around in an iron suit that also fires rockets and lasers, or driving a beautiful, exotic, and ultra-rare sports car out of an exploding building and driving off into the night. The only time you will see women in these action packed trailers that feature men being men (fighting, solving problems, getting “the job” done), is most likely in one of the many quick cuts that flash onto the screen of her undressing, acting sexy, or really just doing anything to steam up the trailer a little. The women in trailers (and in the final films) aren’t doing much else other than providing sex appeal. After that quick flash of exposed lady on screen, its back to the explosions and teasing of story that explains why all the explosions are happening in the first place.

There was a test that was created by a cartoonist back in ’85 called the “Bechdell Test” (Or “Bechdell-Wallace Test” if you want to properly cite it). This test is run by film critic groups to see whether or not the film supports and/or displays feminist values. The test has three factors: 1.) the movie has to have at least two women in it. 2.) These two women talk to one another, and 3.) These two women talk to each other about something other than a man.

Not a difficult list to understand, with only three factors to pass the test, it seems pretty simple and doable to pass twice. Chances are, however, that all of your favorite movies didn’t pass this simple test. All of our most beloved movies fail this test for the same reason that studios have for not caring if they pass or not: they think that viewers would rather watch men than women be successful. Whether or not this is true word for word, it’s certainly what we are used to. It has gotten to the point that one doesn’t even think twice about it when sitting in a theater anymore that there aren’t any women speaking throughout the entirety of movies that aren’t Romantic-Comedies. Think of this test next time you watch any movie. You’ll be surprised how rare it is that a movie will pass.

Hopefully the surprise of having a woman take center stage will subside in time and will be a natural occurrence that no one looks twice at, but in the meantime thanks to the new Star Wars installment and The Hunger Games franchise, a small victory is at hand for pushing women in film forward in a genre that doesn’t exclusively include long and quirky dialogues over coffee with girlfriends about boyfriend troubles. Yes, a victory indeed.


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