At the end of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, actress Jessica Chastain, who was serving as a jury member, said that she found the portrayals of women in the festival’s films “quite disturbing.”
To many, this isn’t exactly news. The lack of women in film, both in front of and behind the camera,has been at the forefront of Hollywood criticism in recent years, with scholars and writers detailing the various ways women tend to be underrepresented or cast in stereotypical roles. University of Southern California communications professor Stacy Smith, who researches depictions of gender and race in film and TV, found that of the 5,839 characters in the 129 top-grossing films released between 2006 and 2011, fewer than 30 percent were girls or women. Meanwhile, only 50 percent of films fulfill the criteria of the Bechdel Test, which asks whether a film features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
Despite the uphill climb for women in film, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Horror is one genre where women are taking on increasingly prominent parts. Yes, screaming is still a staple feature of a scary flick. But women are assuming central roles. Not as victims, but as monsters and heroes.