Actresses attack Trump, but Hollywood is rife with gender bias

A new study out of Duke University suggests that for all the Hollywood rhetoric lamenting gender inequality, the film industry is actually among the worst offenders.

In 2015, for instance, Meryl Streep sent letters to every Member of Congress calling on them to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, declaring that “a whole new generation of women and girls are talking about equality—equal pay, equal protection from sexual assault, equal rights.”

More recently, Chelsea Handler wrote an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter in January outlining her reasons for participating in the Women’s March on Washington, such as showing support for Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.

“We have an opportunity right now to stand together and use our voices to fight for the very rights women fought for and won years ago,” she wrote, adding, “Let’s teach our Predator-In-Chief a lesson that he can’t do anything he wants, and that he can’t trample all over the rights of America’s 162 million women and girls.”

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Both Beyoncé and Alicia Keys made similar remarks in separate interviews with ELLE Magazine, as well.

“We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes,” Beyoncé told ELLE in April 2016.

A few months later, Alicia Keys sat for an interview with the same magazine, during which she declared her commitment to feminism.

“Let’s look the definition up because I have in my mind what I feel it means…The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of political, social and economic equality’—so yes. Yes, I am a feminist, and whoever isn't is crazy,” Keys said. “It's about owning your power, embracing your womanhood.”

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Yet a study conducted over the summer by three Duke University students suggests that Hollywood itself is rife with gender bias, even based on some of the most minimal criteria conceivable, according to the Duke Research Blog.

Sammy Garland, Selen Berkman and Aaron VanSteinberg spent 10 weeks this summer studying the roles of women in American films as part of Duke’s Data+ summer research program, concluding that more than 40 percent of the 7,000+ films they evaluated fail to pass the Bechdel test, which requires only that the movie have at least two named female characters who speak to each other about any topic other than a man.

According to the team’s findings, “American Hustle” barely manages to pass the test on the strength of a single scene in which two women discuss nail polish, while films such as “Spider-Man,” “The Jungle Book,” “Star Trek Beyond,” and “The Hobbit” all fail to meet at least one criterion.

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“To close the gap of speaking time, we just need more female characters,” Berkman asserted, though Garland added that “to better represent women on screen you need more women behind the scenes,” as well.

The students also analyzed the contributions of roughly 10,000 writers, directors, and producers, concluding that the 13 most-influential people in the film industry are all men whose films generally fail the Bechdel test.

“What this tells us is there is no one big influential producer who is moving the needle,” Garland explained. “We have no champion.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @katierzehnder