TIFF 2014: Hollywood's silent women

Female characters remain dramatically under-represented in top movies, according to a recent survey.

Don't let the red carpet fool you. Hollywood is still a man's world, say industry insiders

This scene from Xavier Dolan's Mommy shows Steve (played by Antoine Pilon) silencing his mother Diane (played by Anne Dorval). Mommy is one of the few films premiering at TIFF featuring a female lead. (TIFF)

Take a glance at the star lineup for the Toronto International Film Festival and you’d be forgiven for assuming that Hollywood’s leading ladies are a tremendously powerful lot, free to pick and choose from a plethora of meaty roles. But the reality for most actresses is far less glamorous.

A recent study found that women represent just 30 per cent of all speaking characters in top movies — the same proportion as American cinema in the 1940s.   

Angelina Jolie stars as the notorious Sleeping Beauty villain in Maleficent. According to Box Office Mojo, the film ranks fifth in top grossing movies of 2014, earning $747M worldwide so far this year. (Greg Williams/Disney Enterprises/Associated Press)
Despite the major box office success of female-led films like Gravity, Maleficent and The Hunger Games series, women made up just 15 per cent of protagonists in the top 100 movies last year.

Films with clear female leads are sprinkled across TIFF’s galas and special presentations (like Reese Witherspoon in Wild; Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy to name a few), but the vast majority of Hollywood productions at the festival are dominated by men.

Getting female stories to screen

TIFF's artistic director Cameron Bailey insists it's not for a lack of trying. Festival programmers make a concerted effort to bring female stories to screen.

"We've been paying a lot of attention to how women are represented and how women filmmakers represent their own stories—the stories they want to tell—in the last few years," he explained. "[But] we have noticed despite all the efforts that were made in past years . . . there hasn't been a significant amount of change."

Melissa Silverstein an author and founder of Women and Hollywood, a respected site related to the issue of women and film. (CBC News)
As the author and founder of the industry website Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein fights for gender parity across the entertainment business. But equality, she says, is a long way off with fewer than 5 per cent of all studio movies in the past years led by a female director.

"What is happening is that the vision of women is missing, and this is a problem because we need to have the experiences of women in our theatres and on screen so we can all benefit from them."

In the above video, Silverstein describes how Hollywood's relationship with the international market is contributing to the lack of female stories.