Oscar season is a time when members of Hollywood are celebrated and reward for the work that they do. But it is also a time when we see just how male centered the movie industry really is. As Allan G. Johnson points out, “If you want a story about heroism, moral courage, spiritual transformation, endurance, or any of the struggles that give human life its deepest meaning, men and masculinity are usually the terms in which you must see it,” and since the vast majority of Hollywood films are about these narratives then that might explain the overabundance of stories about men’s lives.
Here are a few simple questions to keep in mind next time you watch a movie, to help you identify whether the story you are watching is male or female centered.
- Who has the most screen time?
- Whose perspective do we see the scene from?
- Whose story arc does the plot revolve around?
- Do we see them make decisions?
- Who do we most identify with?
Related Links and Articles:
- People, Systems and the Game of Monopoly A must see video from Allan G. Johnson, be sure to watch all the way through when he goes over the Academy Award winners in terms of race and white centeredness.
- Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G. Johnson, I borrow and expanded on Johnson’s finding in this book to analyze the Academy Award winners for Best Picture in terms of male centeredness.
- Women in Hollywood Factoids – statistics about women in Hollywood from Women in Hollywood
- “Kathryn Bigelow makes history as first woman to win best director Oscar” at guardian.co.uk
** This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you. Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subtitles and click TRANSLATE to get started.
As you might have guessed, I watch a lot of movies, some of my favourites are science fiction but also dramas, action, thrillers and I’ll even admit the occasional romantic comedy. If you go to the movies a lot too you might have noticed one thing that the vast majority of these films have in common, most of the movies seem to be stories about men. One of the primary reasons Hollywood continually churns out movies about men is because we live in a male centered society. Most simply, male centeredness is an aspect of patriarchy that shows us how most of our attention is placed and prioritized on men, men’s stories, the things men do and the things men don’t do. As a result, the images we see in the media often focus on male-centered stories.
One way to demonstrate the male centeredness is not only to look at the movies that are made but to look at which films are most honoured and celebrated. To do this I looked up the films that won the Academy Award for best picture over the past 50 years. Let’s see whose stories are being told?
Starting in 2009 is The Hurt Locker which although directed by a woman is still all about men
Slumdog Millionaire – men
No Country for Old Men – need I say more
The Departed – is about men
Crash – is an ensemble
Million Dollar Baby – is interesting because it’s pretty equally a story about a man and a woman
Lord of the Rings – men
Chicago – is woman centered
A Beautiful Mind – men
Gladiator – is about a man who fights other men
American Beauty – man
Shakespeare in Love – man
Titanic – is from a man’s perspective
The English Patient – man
Braveheart – man
Forrest Gump – man
Schindler’s List – man
The Unforgiven – is about men on horses
The Silence of the Lambs – is about a man who eats people, and this is interesting because although Jodi Foster’s character plays a pretty big role in the film, you would never describe it as a movie about an FBI agent who… you would describe it as a movie about Hannibal Lecter.
Dances with Wolves – man
Driving Miss Daisy – is about a man and a woman
Rain Man – is about a man and his brother
The Last Emperor – man
Platoon – man
Out of Africa – is woman centered
Amadeus – is about a man
Terms of Endearment – is woman centered
Gandhi – is about a man, albeit a pretty extraordinary one
Chariots of Fire – men
Ordinary People – is about a family
Kramer vs Kramer – is about a couple
The Deer Hunter – men
Annie Hall – is about a man and his love life
Rocky – is about a man who fights other men, again.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – man
The Godfather, Part II – men
The Sting – is about two con men
The Godfather, Part I – men
The French Connection – is about men
Patton – men
Midnight Cowboy – is a man
Oliver! – is a boy
In the Heat of the Night – is about men
A Man for All Seasons – man
The Sound of Music – is woman centered
My Fair Lady – is another interesting one because it’s pretty equally about both a man and a woman’s story
Tom Jones – man
Lawrence of Arabia – is so male centered that there aren’t even any female speaking roles in it
West Side Story – is about both a man and a woman
And finally in 1960 is The Apartment which is from a man’s perspective
So only 4 out of 50 are centered exclusively on women’s lives. The vast majority are stories about men and their lives and although a few are ensemble casts the women often play secondary or stereotypical roles.
Year after year we see men and men’s stories being created, produced, celebrated and awarded while women’s stories take a back seat or aren’t even represented. and it’s also Hollywood behind the scenes that is dominated by men. It’s astonishing that Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to have ever won an academy award for best director in it’s 83 year history, and she won for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009, which is most definitely a male-centered film. In fact only 4 women have ever even been nominated for best director. And what’s more startling is that women only account for 7% of Hollywood directors. Hollywood executives, production companies, financial investors and backers are most interested in marketing to young men and funding stories that they, as men, can relate to. Thus they fund and produce the majority of Hollywood films to appeal to this demographic.
Obviously, I want to see a many, many more films centered on women’s stories, however it’s important to note that even women centric films can be sexist. For instance, in so called “chick flicks” depict women in stereotypical gender roles obsessed with shopping, love and finding “Mr. Right”. I want to see more films that depict women as full and complete human beings. And just so we are absolutely clear… I’m not saying stories centered on men are never good, interesting or important but I want to point out that they are disproportionally valued and most rewarded in our society.
Here are a few simple questions to keep in mind next time you are at the movies, to help you identify whether the story you are watching is male or female centered.
1. who has the most screen time
2. whose perspective do we see the scene from
3. whose story arc does the plot revolve around
4. do we see them make decisions
5. who do we most identify with