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The representation of women in film – Student blog

For International Women’s Day 2021, Year 1 BA Film and Moving Image Production student Emily Gray discusses her thoughts on the changing role of women in film.

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The film industry, that powerful, ongoing excellence that has always been filled with gender equality, female protagonists and equal star pay… right? Wrong. Women in film have most definitely had a rough ride, so buckle up as we dive right in to how the representation of females in film has developed (and by that I mean, improved) over time!

The Golden Age

Rewinding it back to 60’s Hollywood Cinema first, where the likes of Hitchock, Billy Wilder and Robert Wise thrived – their female cast members however… not quite so much!

It may be surprising to read that women in 60’s cinema weren’t exactly represented as they would be in a 21st century film. Actresses of the ‘Golden Age’ (Marlyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn) were valued (mostly) for their slim appearance and beauty, making them perfect candidates for love interests in Hollywood films… and nothing else.

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Now, believe it or not – back in the 60’s, women in film were tied to strict contracts, practically glueing them to their designated director for a number of films (and therefore many years) leaving no room for career development, given the same carbon copy role of ‘the love interest, with their sole job being to support the performance of the male protagonist’… in simpler terms ‘make the men look better’… thank goodness for change!

Women in 21st century film have blossomed into protagonists, directors and family favourites, paying homage to the ladies who laid the groundwork in the 60’s, making it possible for women to be represented as they are today! Thank you Golden Age women! Where would we be without them?

The 21st Century

Pulling forward to the 21st century, away from the sexualisation/exploitation of women in cinema to the celebration of women in film! The development of the role of the female has been rapid and extremely positive, now we have strong female leads/roles/directors in almost every film we see!

For example, the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games; a strong, independent woman who ultimately (spoiler alert!) wins the game by using not her looks, her sexuality or her femininity – but by simply outsmarting the rulers of the game! Katniss’s character is the perfect example of the knowledgeable woman, celebrated for her brains over beauty!

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The strong female roles of today (Captain Marvel, Katniss Everdeen, Valkyrie, Wonder Woman – to name a few!) show a true development of how women are represented in film, and are now celebrated for their strong roles, comparing this to 60s cinema… the representation really has improved, and is ever improving… from hardship to protagonist, the role of the women will always be pivotal in film.

To round our tour through how women have been represented over time up, I will leave you with a few feminist film favourites of mine, with some real tough female roles!

  • Oceans 8 (2018, Gary Ross)
  • Birds of Prey (2020, Cathay Yan)
  • Wonder Woman (2017, Patty Jenkins)

Happy Watching!