LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women are cast in less than a third of roles in British films, often in nameless parts like prostitute, housekeeper and nurse, data showed on Wednesday, with no gains in more than a century.
A peep behind the camera explains why: only one in ten writers and directors are female, the British Film Institute (BFI) said as it released an archive of more than 10,000 British films dating back to 1911.
“The most popular word in British film titles has been ‘man’ in the last 106 years,” BFI’s creative director Heather Stewart told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“We are fed up with that - we’d quite like to have other words on the go.”
More than 220 films have man in the title, three times more than those using the word woman, BFI said, highlighting examples like “The Invisible Woman” and “A Woman of No Importance”.
Women also tend to have shorter careers and make fewer films than male actors, data showed.
“These shocking figures show that women are largely absent behind the camera and absurdly stereotyped on screen,” said Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights.
“This is supposed to be a creative industry yet it seems to be spectacularly lacking in imagination,” she said, adding the figures helped explain the gender pay gap in the film industry.
The 10 highest-paid leading men in Hollywood earned nearly three times more than the top 10 scoring women in 2017, according to Forbes magazine.
Judi Dench is Britain’s most prolific working actress, appearing in 41 titles, including her latest film “Victoria and Abdul”. The top man, Michael Caine, has made 70 movies.
On-screen fiction often doesn’t reflect real life.
Hardly any unnamed female doctors or police officers in films are female, the data shows, whereas most general practitioners in Britain are women, as well as the current London Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
This sends the wrong message to young women, the BFI’s Stewart said.
“How can you imagine you can do anything else if you have just seen you can be a nurse but not a doctor?” she asked, calling for more women in decision-making roles to change the narrative.
One area of progress is in film crews, which are 34 percent female, up from 3 percent in 1913, she said, adding BFI is investing to boost diversity in the movie industry.
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org