Guest Post: Gender and Hollywood Scriptwriting – “Houston, we have a problem”

Happy Thursday everyone! Today we’ve got a special guest post from Yorkshire. Izzy is writing about a topic that’s dear to my heart and an important discussion point.

So without further ado, let’s dive into Izzy’s post…

GenderAndHollywoodScriptwriting

How many times in a day do you quote the lines of a TV program or movie? Personally I wouldn’t be able to count the number as my days are littered with “Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13, 1995) and “I’ll be back.”  (The Terminator, 1984) sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it and I bet you’re the same!

So, when this quiz landed in my inbox:  I thought nothing of it other than ‘I love quotes! I’ll be good at this!’ (As it turns out I didn’t score as well as I’d hoped but that’s irrelevant for now.)

It wasn’t until I was thinking about the quiz a few hours later that I put my literature degree head on (I only recently graduated) and began to analyse the quiz how I had been taught by lecturers, in a way that delves deeper than face-value.

What did I discover?

Well, after some further Googling I compiled this:

MovieMemorableLines

The most obvious revelation is that male characters are written more memorable lines.

My second discovery was that a high proportion (but by no means all) of the famous lines spoken by male characters are fueled with aggression, whereas five out of the seven most memorable female lines are projected through love of either a man or family life. 

The questions is, ‘Why?’

In 2014 only 15% of Hollywood film script writers were female (with numbers fluctuating around that figure, if not lower, for decades). Again in 2014, females made up only ‘12% of protagonists featured in the top 100 grossing films.’ Again, this percentage seems to have always been the norm.

Those stats can help to explain my findings.

• If 80-90% of Hollywood film script writers are male then it is understandable that they will write male-centric stories with male protagonists.

• If 80-90% of protagonists are male then they are likely to have the most lines in a movie, therefore increasing their chances of having a memorable one.

• We can also assume that 80-90% of characters in Hollywood have had their lines written by a man. This may explain why famous female lines are written with the intention of underlining their affectionate personality- because women are stereotypically affectionate and as a male writer it is easier to write stereotypes than it is to dedicate time to researching the female psyche.

My last thought is a little more obscure and far more open to debate.

HeresJohnnyJack Nicholson came up with ‘Here’s Johnny’ (The Shining) on the spot, as did Robert De Niro with his famous line “You talkin’ to me?” (Taxi Driver). This opens the debate of if male actors embody their characters with more vigour and intensity than their female counterparts. Do they ‘feel’ their characters on a more personal level? Do they have a closer relationships with the people they are playing? Or, as only 2 out of the 18 male lines equals to 11% and 11% of the 7 female lines is 0.77, maybe an incredible, unscripted female line is yet to come…..

This article by Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Labrecque [in regards to Maggie Gyllenhaal being deemed too old to play the love-interest of a 55-year-old man – ed] highlights that male ‘tastes,’ i.e. a preference to date significantly younger women, is embodied across the cinematic world in terms of casting. It can then only be assumed that male scriptwriters also write female character’s lines in relation to their ‘taste’, as well as based on assumptions as mentioned earlier.

NannyMcPhee

I have great respect for the likes of Emma Thompson who write screenplays such as Nanny McPhee presumably so that she has the opportunity to play a leading Hollywood role regardless of her age, and most definitely without a male screenwriter’s sexual agenda. I cannot wait to see more of the same and experience Hollywood productions written by women for female actors of ‘a certain age’ or otherwise. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, writers of Saving Mr Banks, wrote their P.L. Travers beautifully- highlighting their female characters’ insecurities as well as defiance, likeability as well as unpleasantness. It is safe to say that they wrote a well-rounded and very human character, and the sooner this sort of female characterisation becomes the Hollywood norm the better.

Sources:

 


IzzyS


Izzy S. is a drama graduate with an interest
in literature and screenwriting

Check out Izzy’s blog
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