In the last month there have been several examples of a frustrating lack of inclusion and diverse representation in theatre–whether that be playwrights or performers (I’m looking at you The Summit, The Lantern Theater, and The Wooster Group). But then on Monday, March 10th The Guardian published a story that made me hopeful for the a more inclusive theatre world moving forward.
It turns out that for the Olivier awards nominations this year female directors out number male directors for the First Time Ever! The nominees are Lindsey Turner for Chimerica, Maria Friedman for Merrily We Roll Along, Susan Stroman for The Scottsboro Boys and Richard Eyre for Ghosts. This year’s nominations are truly history making. In the Olivier’s 38 year history the award for Best Director has only been won by a women 3 times. Deborah Warner won the award twice, in 1988 for Titus Andronicus and in 1992 for Hedda Gabler. In 2013 Marianne Elliott won the award for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. So only two women have won this award for a grand total of times. And the Olivier’s history is even more damning than that. According to the Guardian, “For the first 15 years of the Olivier theatre awards, between 1976 and 1991, only two women were ever nominated in the best director category.” So this is something of a watershed moment in theatre. You can bet I will be following the outcome of the award ceremony closely on April 13th. You can find the whole list of nominees here and here.
So I was feeling pretty good on Monday, but the world decided it better remind me the actual percentages for representation of women–this time in film. The world did not wait long to bring me down. On Tuesday I saw this article on the AV Club, and this article on Think Progress. The AV Club notes:
[T]hat only 15 percent of film protagonists—and only 30 percent of speaking roles, period—are female characters. Statistics for nonwhite women are even more dismal: Researcher Martha Lazusen reports that film audiences in 2013 were just as likely to see an “otherworldly” female character as to see an Asian female character.
This was a very depressing, but unsurprising, discovery and I was disappointed in the lack of progress made in Hollywood. But then I read the piece on the Think Progress website, and it drove home just how poor Hollywood is at inclusion and representation.
Women of color fared just as badly as women overall in the Center For The Study of Women In Television And Film report. Of all female characters in those 100 movies, African American women made up just 14 percent, while Latinas held just 5 percent of roles and Asian actresses held 2 percent.
Fortunately, the Think Progress article had a sliver of hope, a small (or possibly big) silver lining. Think Progress noted that films with women at the center make money.
[I]t’s fact that movies with more believable female characters bring in more at the box office. Vocativ’s Versha Sharma and Hanna Sender tested this out recently by looking at the top 50 movies considered for the Oscars this year. They broke down which passed the Bechdel test (that means that they had more than one female character, the two women talked to each other, and they talked about something other than a man), and then they examined how much those movies made. It turned out, that though fewer than half of the movies passed the Bechdel test, those films grossed significantly more than the ones that failed.
There is a good graphical representation of the Bechdel test/ US Box Office Gross break down in the Think Progress article, and on the Vocativ’s website.
I hope the power of box office receipts has the ability to overcome the lack of inclusion and representation film and theatre currently perpetuate.