Women in the Media: Hollywood

In our previous article on women in the media in Hollywood, we dived deeper into the film industry to analyse how female characters are represented and how this shaped our society. Although the number of female protagonists is becoming higher, it’s still surprisingly low, with only 29% of protagonists being female in 2016’s top 100 Hollywood films. But, who is behind these films – is it men or women?

Behind the scenes

Every year, on average, more than 600 films are produced in the world’s leading industry. However, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, in 2014, 85% of films had no female directors, 80% had no female writers, 33% had no female producers, 78% had no female editors and 92% had no female cinematographers.

The study, authored by Dr Martha Lauzen, analysed the 250 top grossing films and discovered that women comprise only 7% of directors, 11% of writers, 23% of producers and 5% of cinematographers. More recently, in an analysis of 2016's top 100 Hollywood films, female directors (including co-directors) were behind only five out of 120 films.

Why are the numbers so low? One reason is bias at work. According to Lauzen, ‘on independently produced films there is the perception of there being lower risk. I think there is a notion that women are not being hired as directors on big films because they are somehow riskier hires. The problem is that’s not how Hollywood works. There’s a growing list of male directors who are relative newbies and are placed at the helm of $100 million-plus films with little feature experience.’

This leads to a lack of women making hiring decisions, which consecutively leads to a less diverse workforce, as women in positions of power are more likely to employ other women. On films with female directors, women comprised 52% of writers, 35% of editors and 26% of cinematographers. On the other hand, when men directed a film, the number of female writers fell to 8%, editors to 15% and cinematographers to 5%.

There is a notion that women are not being hired as directors on big films because they are somehow riskier hires.

Women showcasing women

According to studies conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, movies with female directors, producers and screenwriters are more likely to showcase female characters in greater numbers and in ways that don't objectify them.

In the 2014 report ‘It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World’ by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, findings showed the following:

women in hollywood table.jpg

When women are not objectified but have leading roles in films, it is probably because there is another woman behind the scenes. Let's look at some of the recent Hollywood films that had female protagonists and/or strong female characters, and see who was behind the scenes.

ABC Television [Public domain]

ABC Television [Public domain]


A film based on the the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement who started to fight for equality – their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. It narrates the fight for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom.

Protagonists: female

Director: Sarah Gavron (female)

Writer: Abi Morgan (female)


Battle Of The Sexes

Sports film based on the fight of female tennis players for equal prize pay. The film narrates the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs disputed to prove that women were as good as men in the playing field.

Protagonist: female

Co-director: Valerie Faris (female)


The Hunger Games

Trilogy of films based on the Hunger Games: a televised competition in which two teenagers from each of the 12 Districts of Panem are chosen at random to fight to the death. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister's place in the games.

Protagonists: female

Writer: Suzanne Collins (female)


Atomic Blonde

A film based on an undercover MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of an agent. She is also entrusted with the task of recovering a missing list of double agents.

Protagonists: female

Co-producers: Kelly McCormick, Beth Kono and Charlize Theron (female)


Wonder Woman

A film based on an Amazonian-warrior-in-training who leaves her home to fight a war and discovers her full powers. Although she is the hero of the story, there is a very heavy male role, who seems to be using the protagonist as a means to achieve his final goal.

Protagonists: female

Director: Patty Jenkins (female)

Executive producer: Rebecca Steel Roven (female)

Producer: Deborah Snyder (female)


In order to have more gender balance in films, there should be an equal number of male and female film-makers. A higher number of female directors, producers, etc, in Hollywood would make women's roles in films less superficial and objectified, and start to reflect the reality of half of the population.

Laura Terruso, screenwriter, director and producer, said in a recent article, ‘I think it’s important we keep reminding ourselves we're 50% of the population and our audience is out there. People want to see these films and need to see these films, so what we're doing is important. As for Hollywood… I dunno. I think that the change will come – it's inevitable, it's just a matter of time. It might not happen until I'm 90 and saying, “Back in my day…” It's going to take a long time because it's not just inequality in film, it's all industries – but film is particularly gross.’