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Hollywood's Golden Age was rife with gender inequity: Study

Entertainment Culture

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

The Golden Age of Hollywood, known for its glitz, glamour, and classic movies, was an industry rife with severe gender inequity, according to a study which assessed a century of data on the representation of women across various roles in film projects.

According to the researchers, including those from the Northwestern University in the US, women participation dropped across job roles in film from 1920 to 1950.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, assessed 26,000 movies from 1910 to 2010 based on data in the American Film Institute Archive and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

It found that female representation in the film industry hit an all-time low during the so-called Golden Age as women representation in the industry still is struggling to recover today.

"A lot of people view this era through rose-coloured glasses because Hollywood was producing so many great movies," said study co-author Luis Amaral from Northwestern University.

"They argue that types of movies being made -- such as Westerns, action and crime -- caused the decrease in female representation. But we found the decrease occurred across all genres, including musicals, comedy, fantasy and romance," Amaral said.

The researchers looked across all genres including action, adventure, biography, comedy, and crime to measure how many women worked as actors, screenwriters, directors and producers.

They said the roles for women increased from 1910 to 1920, and then sharply dropped, steadily increasing again around 1950 until 2010.

Across all genres and all four job types, the study noted that the resulting graphs form the exact same "U-shape" pattern.

"In general, we found that the percentage of women compared to men in any role was consistently below 50 per cent for all years from 1912 until now," said study co-author Murielle Dunand, a former intern in Amaral's laboratory and current student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Before Hollywood's Golden Age, the study noted that the industry was fuelled by independent filmmakers, with women participation steadily increasing.

From 1910 to 1920, according to the data, women actors comprised roughly 40 per cent of casts.

During this period, the researchers said, women wrote 20 per cent of movies, produced 12 per cent and directed 5 per cent.

However, they said, acting roles for women were cut in half by 1930 with producing and directing roles dipping close to zero.

Based on the data, Amaral and Dunand suggested that the studio system, which emerged between 1915 and 1920, is most likely responsible for this shift.

They said the industry condensed from a somewhat diverse collection of independent filmmakers scattered across the country to just five studios -- Warner Bros., Paramount, MGM, Fox and RKO Pictures -- which controlled everything.

"As the studio system falls under the control of a small group of men, women are receiving fewer and fewer jobs," Amaral said.

"It looks like male producers hire male directors and male writers. This is association, not causation, but the data is very suggestive," he said.

Following this period, the study said, two groundbreaking lawsuits caused the studio system to break apart.

Oscar-nominated actor Olivia de Havilland, who had an exclusive contract with Warner Bros., sued the studio in 1943 to be freed from her contract and won, the researchers noted in a statement.

Then in 1948, they said the US federal government sued Paramount Pictures in an antitrust case.

At the time, the researchers said movie studios owned their own theaters and distributed their own movies.

When Paramount lost, they said, studios could no longer exclusively produce, distribute and exhibit their films.

"These legal changes took the power away from a handful of men and gave more people the power to start changing the industry," Amaral said.

"There is a connection between increased concentration of power and decreased participation of women," he added.

Based on the data, Amaral said women producers also tend to hire greater proportions of women to work in their films.

"Producers affect the gender of the director. Women with power in Hollywood are making conditions better for other women," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Thu, April 02 2020. 12:54 IST