There is a popular and oft-repeated Hollywood misconception that movies starring women or made by women or otherwise geared toward women are not interesting to the moviegoing public at large. However, a new study released by Creative Artists Agency and the digital strategist Shift7, detailed today in The New York Times, demonstrates that out of the top-grossing movies released from 2014 to 2017, those that starred women earned more on average than those that starred men, regardless of budget, and that films that passed the Bechdel test (in which two female characters must have a conversation that has to do with anything other than a man) did much better than those that did not. This is despite the fact that women accounted for only about a quarter of the solo protagonist roles in the top films from 2017 and only played around a third of the major characters, and that “the number of female protagonists with speaking roles in top films dropped in 2017 from the previous year.”
After appealing to the better angels of the movers and shakers in the movie industry through public shaming via glossy magazine pages and on awards show stages and the foundation of organizations like Time’s Up, this latest study’s aim, it seems, is to hit Hollywood where it really hurts (or at least what it pays the most attention): the wallet. “The Bechdel test is a low bar to clear, and it’s surprising how many movies don’t clear it,” states Liza Chasin in the study’s press release. Every film in the study that surpassed $1 billion in global box office also passed the Bechdel test, which its researchers say goes to show that the more that movies incorporate diverse experiences, the more likely it is that a more diverse (and therefore more abundant) audience will turn up to buy a ticket. “Understandably, the studios think about the bottom line,” Chasin said, “so it’s great to see a growing body of data that should make it easier for executives to make more inclusive decisions.”
“A lot of times in our business, there is a lot of bias disguising itself as knowledge,” CAA agent Christy Haubegger told the Times. “The perception that it’s not good business to have female leads is not true . . . . They’re a marketing asset.” And it’s time for Hollywood to sit up and pay attention.