Behind Barbie

Yes, there was last year barbie and its resounding global success: some 1.4 billion US dollars in revenue. Yes, there will be on Sunday, for the first time in 96 Oscar ceremonies, three works directed by women in the running for the Oscar for best film: barbie by Greta Gerwig, Anatomy of a fall by Justine Triet and Past Lives by Celine Song.

But behind these historic successes, all is not rosy. There have been recent advances for women in film, but they have often been a “two steps forward, one step back” approach.

Since 2019, the percentage of women in leading roles in Hollywood cinema has continued to decline. This proportion was only 32% in 2023 compared to 44% in 2019 according to a study by the Hollywood Diversity Report, made public Thursday. “Women have lost ground in terms of representation, whether for lead roles, screenwriters or all actors,” note experts from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) who have been publishing for 12 years this annual report.


Celine Song, director of the film Past Lives

This new study joins others that have made similar findings in recent weeks. Among the 100 most popular films at the box office in 2023, only 30 featured women or girls in leading roles, the lowest percentage since 2010, according to a study by the University of Southern California (USC) published on last month.

Among these 100 films, only three featured a lead actress aged 45 or older, while 32% were headlined by a man in this same age category. “This is a catastrophic setback for women and girls,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Stacy L. Smith, in a press release, who notes a “clear correlation between who is behind the camera and who is behind it.” we see on the screen.”

View a summary of the study

Directors are more likely to feature men in leading roles, just as female directors are more inclined, to a lesser extent, to give leading roles to actresses.

However, according to another study, this one from San Diego State University, only 16% of the 250 most popular films of 2023 were directed by women

Half of the actors who are members of the Oscar Academy are actresses, but you wouldn’t guess it even by scrutinizing most Hollywood films.

In fact, to understand it, we must go back to the source of the problem. That of female representation in the American film industry. The Academy of Oscars, whose members are admitted by invitation only, is now made up of 34% women. In 2016, when the Academy promised to double the number of its female voters, they only accounted for 24% of its members.


Justine Triet, director of the film Anatomy of a fall

Even today, women represent only a third of the Academy’s producers and executives, as well as a quarter of the filmmakers who choose the finalists in the Oscar category for best director. This year there is only one candidate (Justine Triet). In the entire history of the Oscars, only eight women have been nominated in this category and three have won the prestigious statuette (Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow and Chloé Zhao).

The problem of underrepresentation of female directors is not only due to their number. They are also less likely to be allocated large budgets.

Greta Gerwig is one of only three women who have directed a film in 2023 with a budget of more than 100 million US dollars, compared to 25 directors who were entitled to this privilege.

In Quebec, women also have more difficulty than men in accessing the largest budgets, notes the organization Cadeaux Equitables, which has been compiling and analyzing statistics on our cinema since 2007. In 1995, according to its data, the share of the budget allocated to female directors was only 8%. Ten years later, it had only increased by 13%.

The commitment of Equitable Directors as well as the measures put in place by granting organizations to achieve parity have recently borne fruit. In 2020-2021, the fiscal year for which this objective was set, projects directed by women received 56% of the budgets granted by Telefilm Canada and 50% of those awarded by SODEC. Funding for projects by female directors has since remained “in an equal zone”, according to Telefilm Canada.


Monia Chokri won the César for best foreign film for Simple like Sylvain.

This is of course felt on the screens, where female directors have triumphed in the last year, both at the box office – The time of a summer by Louise Archambault has accumulated more than $2 million in revenue and My mother’s men by Anik Jean, almost 2 million – but also at festivals and award ceremonies. Simple like Sylvain by Monia Chokri (more than 1 million receipts in Quebec) won the César for best foreign film after its presentation at the Cannes Film Festival. Humanist vampire seeking consenting suicide by Ariane Louis-Seize, winner of the Venice Film Festival, is nominated 12 times for the next Canadian Screen Awards.

If the most recent data is encouraging, the achievements remain fragile, reminds Realizers Equitables. “At the rate things are going, parity, that is to say the moment when women will hold 50% of key roles (in the cinema industry), will not be reached until 2215 in Canada,” according to an interdisciplinary study carried out between 2005 and 2020, the results of which were revealed two weeks ago at the Berlin Film Festival.

In 191 years. When we say that there is still a way to go…


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