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Should Women Be 'Hidden Figures' on the Screens?
Uploaded Time: 2017-03-06

Hidden Figures, a movie telling the story of three African-American female scientists who worked at NASA in the 1960s, garnered the Best Group Performance Award at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild and was nominated for three Oscars this year. The outstanding movie also sparked occasionally heated debate among commentators from China Women's News, who think, in a similar vein, women characters should no longer be overlooked on the big screen.

The film adapted from a real story reveals the struggles of an unheeded group, the female scientists of color, towards discrimination faced both at levels of gender and race - while they have all made great contributions to the country's spaceflight undertaking.

The contrast easily provoked the public's thoughts on female characters and women's social status. Later, two key phrases, "Bechdel test" and "A list campaign," were hotly discussed.

Derived from American artist Ellison Bechdel's cartoon Dykes to Watch Out For, the 'Bechdel test' asks whether a film or a literature work features at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man or a boy. The requirement that the characters must be named is sometimes added.

In 2013, manager of Sweden Bio Rio Art Theater Aileen put the standards into use by initiating the "A list campaign", which was featured to offer qualified films with a special "A approval" mark.

Furthermore, organizers brought this campaign to China on the occasion of the International Women's Film Festival launched last September in Beijing.

Though the "A approval" mark can't guarantee a non gender-discrimination work, it is an important reference measure.

Until 2012, 80 percent of movies, including some well-received ones such as The Lord of the Rings and Avatar, could not pass the Bechdel Test, according to Aileen.

In this context, neither popular Oscar winner La La Land nor domestic hit-the-screen titles such as The Mermaid, The Lost Tomb or Lost in Hong Kong have met the standards, let alone some extremely men-dominant films such as Operation Mekong and Scrapper.

"This uneven distribution has reflected the gender inequality which lies in mainstream film and television circles," said a commentator.

"For a long time, female characters whether at home or abroad, were created and shaped from men's perspectives. They have personalities like innocence and weakness and are supposed to wait to be saved by a hero and then live happily ever after with him," added another commentator.

In recent years especially, leading ladies on the big screen tend to be younger. Even if a female role becomes powerful, it would be ascribed to her male partner's efforts. A representative example for this is a Chinese TV drama with worldwide sweeping popularity named The Legend of Zhen Huan.

"All in all, most of the time female characters are 'hidden figures' who serve as foils to men. They can be lovers, wives, daughters and mothers, but can never be themselves," said a commentator.

Aside from what we've seen, relevant statistics have also intuitively shown the current status of females in filmdom and TV circles.

According to a media-majored gender study center founded by famous American actress Geena Davis, only 12 percent of movies from the surveyed 15 countries portrayed women as protagonists. The ratio of female to male characters who have lines in movie scenes is three to seven. The ratio of female to male characters who have jobs in movie stories is two to eight. Moreover, the latter two ratios have never changed in the past more than 70 years since 1940.

Data from the Top 10 Well-Received Hollywood Movies is just as disappointing. Although lively female roles like Jyn Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are emerging, the proportion of their lines is generally less than 30 percent. Most ironically, the only film that made it is the animation film Finding Dory II.

"This is extremely unfair. Looking back, contributions made to the spiritual and material civilization of human society by women are as much as those by men. Women never failed to play their roles no matter in terms of politics, economy, technology, military, culture or art, hence they should not be hidden when it comes to the screens," said a commentator. "They should be written, recorded and revealed. In all events, a history with women absented will ultimately become a lame story."

However the good news is, statistics found that among the 1,615 movies released from 1990 to 2013, those who pass the Bechdel Test have yielded relatively high box-office takings and they also commonly cost 35 percent less than their peers.

"This could be attributed to women, who have become the majority of the industry's consumer group. They are also willing to see more female roles appear on the screens," said an industry insider.

"In light of that, gaining equal status for female characters is not only a requirement in theory but also a matter of market demand. Even the typical saving-the-princess Disney tales have transformed themselves to sister stories like Frozen, relevant insiders cannot pretend to neglect this point any more," concluded a commentator.

 (Source: China Women's News/Translated and edited by Women of China)