Sometimes I forget that there’s more to the internet than music downloads and celebrity gossip and, no, I’m not talking about naughty pictures of barnyard animals - I never forget about those. What I am talking about is a provocative discussion on race and gender in the publishing word (which got me thinking about race and gender in the movie world, but more on that later).
If you think about it, just about any business will make use of people’s race and gender if it means making more money. Take television. Back in college I took a communications course that broke down the demographics of the actors and actresses on television shows.
One study on American television programming revealed that there were a disproportionately high number of men on screen compared to women. And of the female actresses, a disproportionate amount were younger women while the men on television had a wider distribution of ages. And it probably goes without saying that racial minorities were also underrepresented.
Think about that for a second. In the television industry, men are more likely to be hired for roles than women and younger women are more likely to be hired than older women. And good luck if you’re an aspiring actress who’s both female and a minority.
You could argue till the U.S. Army withdraws from Iraq whether it’s the network executives or the viewing public who are responsible for the hiring bias towards television actors and actresses, but the bottom line is that networks are only interested in making money and that means airing shows that people will watch. And whether it’s intentional or not, people are watching shows that under represent women and minorities.
Now you might be wondering where I’m going with all of this. As it turns out, I’m hoping to use this discussion to win an argument I’m having with my dad.
But before I get to the argument, I’m going to assume that all of the results from the television study can be applied to the movie industry as well. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I’ll do a quick analysis of the current top ten movies (through the week of August 10th, 2007) and each film's top one or two lead actors and actresses to see if my shapely-gut-instinct is correct.
From Rush Hour 3 (number 1) to Daddy Day Camp (number 10) there are roughly fourteen “leads.” Eleven of the fourteen leads are men (or male voice actors). None of the female leads are older than Catherine Zeta-Jones (37) and only four of the fourteen leads are racial minorities (that’s including Catherine Zeta-Jones). And if we use our “lead” role here as a sample for the general population of movie actors and actresses then our results seems pretty consistent with television standards.
Now on to my
Not too long ago my dad told me how he was disappointed to see Marisa Tomei playing William H. Macy’s significant other in the “comedy” Wild Hogs. My dad reasoned that a role opposite an older, relatively “fugly” man signaled the end of Ms. Tomei’s acting career.
Basically, he and I are in agreement that Marisa Tomei will have a difficult time getting future work. But we disagree on the reasons behind the difficulty.
My dad believes that Marisa Tomei’s career up until now has been based on her looks (in addition to the requisite modicum of acting ability) and that her career will end when she is no longer appropriately attractive/desirable. Simply put, when she is no longer pretty, she will no longer work. Being cast as the love interest for an unattractive man (William H. Macy) therefore implies that Ms. Tomei herself is no longer an attractive actress and that her career will soon end.
My argument is that the success of Marisa Tomei’s future career is dependent on more than just her ability to look good. Going back to our understanding of acting gigs in movies, it’s possible to see that Marisa Tomei (and female actresses in general) struggles under a significant handicap. Remember how there are fewer roles for women than men? This means that, through no fault of her own, Ms. Tomei is less likely to find work than a comparatively talented male actor.
(Obviously we’re speaking in generalities here and even though Marisa Tomei is the subject of our debate, her name is being used to represent any attractive woman who continues to work as a professional actress beyond her early youth.)
Okay, I’m pretty certain I’ve gone on longer than is healthy, so now I’ll give the floor to you guys.
What I’d like to hear from you all is what you think on the matter. Am I full of hot air? Is my dad not seeing the big picture? Are we both missing the point completely?
Please share your thoughts so I can rest my poor aching head.