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Female actors strive for gender equality

By Mia Rupani, Point Park News Service:

When Faith Dickinson was living in Los Angeles and working as an actress, she said she experienced sexism in Hollywood firsthand.

Dickinson struggled to lose weight in an effort to land jobs and to secure an agent. She said that she wasn’t alone in her efforts and noticed that many of her fellow female actors were doing the same.

“It was almost as if it was a crime to be anything above a size four,” Dickinson said. “It was unbelievable.”

Faith Dickinson moved back to Pittsburgh to. Photo by Jordan Greene.
Faith Dickinson moved back to Pittsburgh to create the Pittsburgh chapter of Women in Film and Television International. Photo by Jordan Greene, Point Park News Service.

Inspired to make a change in the industry, Dickinson moved to Pittsburgh and created the Pittsburgh chapter of Women in Film and Television International, a nonprofit organization geared toward ending gender bias in Hollywood.

The issue of sexism in Hollywood runs much deeper than just monitoring the weight of female actors, experts said.

Recent studies show that gender bias in the entertainment industry is huge. Forbes found that in 2013, the men on their list of top-paid actors made two-and-a-half times as much money as their female counterparts. To help put this in perspective, that means Hollywood’s best-paid female actors make 40 cents for every dollar that the best-paid male actors make.

Having worked both as an actress and eventually behind the camera, Dickinson found that not much changed in how Hollywood views women.

“You might be a great director, but you won’t be recognized for it like a man is,” she said. “That whole mindset of ‘Well, you’re a woman, how can you be a director?’ still exists.”

According to the annual Celluloid Ceiling report conducted by San Diego State University, women comprised 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films in 2014.

Likewise, the Directors Guild of America released statistics showing that women comprised 17 percent of all directors in television in 2014.

Melissa Houghton, executive director of the organization Women in Film and Video in Washington D.C., stressed that age discrimination is also a huge problem in the entertainment industry, and that older women are denied jobs on both sides of the camera.

“Women are simply being hired in disproportionate numbers,” Houghton said. “There really seems to be a disconnect with who is being hired for the job.”

Houghton believes that the issue of gender bias in Hollywood is ingrained in our society, rather than a conscious decision of not hiring someone simply because of their gender.

“While I’d love to just say this is all sexism and misogyny, I think it’s deeper than that,” she said. “I think there is an unrecognized bias. It is disturbing, but even as women are proving what they can do, their budgets keep getting smaller as they move up. They [women] are rarely able to jump into working on large budget films.”

Today, people are beginning to turn to the Bechdel test as in indicator for the active presence of women in film and other works of fiction.

Developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, the Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two female characters who talk to each other about something besides a man.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II,” “Avatar,” the original Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are just a few of the films that fail the Bechdel test.

Dickinson is trying working towards equality for women in film. Through the Women in Film and Television International organization, she hopes to improve women's status in television and film. Photo by Jordan Greene.
Through the Women in Film and Television International organization, Dickinson said she hopes to improve women’s status in television and film. Photo by Jordan Greene, Point Park News Service.

“The Bechdel test is really interesting. I think you need to sit back and think about what the focus of the discussion in a movie really is,” Houghton said. “Are the characters, regardless of gender, being empowered as fully realized human beings? When you look at things through the Bechdel lens, you start noticing these problems.”

Houghton and Dickinson emphasized that both women and men are starting to fight back against gender bias in the entertainment industry. Actors such as Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Meryl Streep are becoming vocal about the deep-seated issues of sexism in Hollywood.

“The Women in Film and Television International board of directors has an international short film showcase every year. Currently, we are pushing local women to submit their films to this festival,” Dickinson said.

“Every year at least one film from each chapter of the organization is screened. You have an opportunity as a filmmaker to have your film screened internationally, and this year there is no fee to submit your film.”

The organization Women in Film and Video in Washington D.C. has similar goals and is dedicated to advancing the career development for women working in all areas of screen-based media through promoting equal opportunities and acting as educators for the public about women’s creative achievements .

“I believe there are a lot of stories that are not being told because the right people aren’t being hired to tell these stories,” Houghton said.

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