Cate Blanchett called for more female lead roles during her Oscars acceptance speech
For the past two years ‘Miss L’ – a British actress – has been exposing the sexism and misogyny which goes on in the film industry with her anonymous Twitter handle @ProResting. As new figures reveal the majority of film audiences are women, Miss L reveals what really goes on behind the scenes… and why women are still so under-represented on screen.
Scrolling through the list of upcoming auditions, I rolled my eyes in despair. ‘If you’re comfortable to go topless with nipple tassels then it’s a bonus.’ ‘The actress will be required to perform a lap dance routine. The actor will be required to drive a car.’ Yes, really.
Welcome to the depressing, sexist and misogynistic reality of being an actress in 2014. And far from being unusual, these casting calls – all of which were published last month on official industry websites – are the norm.
The spotlight is on the film industry thanks to the annual awards season, As Cate Blanchett accepted her Oscar for best actress she said, “To the audiences who went to see it [Blue Jasmine] and perhaps those of us in the industry who are foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences. Audiences want to see them and in fact they earn money."
I couldn’t agree more and am really pleased she spoke up. For women desperate to make it in the acting profession, we face endless auditions with increasingly ridiculous ‘briefs’. I got so fed up with the disparity between female casting calls (‘must be busty’) and male ones (‘late forties, scientist type’) that two years ago I set up an anonymous Twitter account, @ProResting to record the everyday sexism which goes on in the industry. I tweet the most offensive and adverts and the response has been huge. I now have 7,500 followers and get hundreds of messages a day from other frustrated actresses sharing their audition horror stories.
It’s no surprise I’ve touched a nerve. In the film industry, women are routinely objectified: more than a quarter of female actors get partially naked, compared to just nine per cent of men. They are unseen: the ratio of male to female actors is 2.25: 1. And they are unheard, with the amount of female speaking characters at just 30.8 per cent in 2012. They’re also underpaid – a new study last week found actresses pay peaks at 34 compared to actors which peaks at 51. With statistics like this, you’d be right to question why any woman goes into the profession…
Meanwhile, new figures from MPAA show women make up 52% of film audiences and purchase 50% of tickets. So why are women STILL so poorly represented on screen?
In my case, I got my first taste of the buzz - the applause and recognition, people waiting to see me after a show - in my first production at 18. I realised I wanted to be in the spotlight so went on to study acting at drama school.
Angelina Jolie is a top-grossing actress... but still earns considerably less than her male counterparts
Graduating with a 2:1, my role models were English greats like Olivia Coleman and Jessica Hynes; the women paving the way for strong roles. I knew that, whilst some get spotted quickly, the majority of actresses had to claw their way to the top - so I didn’t expect instant fame. But I felt hopeful and ambitious, desperate to show the world what I could do. Only, I had no idea what the industry was really like.
My first acting job was travelling the country, acting out plays about the dangers of drugs in schools and feeling generally disillusioned. Any money I made was put straight into signing up to ‘casting call’ yearly subscriptions - the only way to hear about the best (and worst) auditions to attend.
They dropped into my inbox daily. “Female character: beautiful and very sexy with a fantastic body (preferably voluptuous).’ ‘The story is about a struggling actress who keeps being taken advantage of. No pay.’ ‘Your long hair SHOULD BE ABLE TO COMFORTABLY COVER YOUR BREASTS.’ Instead of interesting characters, women were often written as naked props.
Despite this, I stuck with it, getting jobs on adverts and indie films. The auditions were joyless, held everywhere from central London studios through to McDonalds. (Acting out a harrowing scene where I’d just been set fire to whilst people ate their Big Macs was a low point.) Though it’s frowned upon - and potentially dangerous for young women - many rogue directors still hold auditions at their private houses. I’ve turned up to addresses in the past not realising its someone’s home and had to send a quick email to my mum to let her know where I was just in case.
Miss L says female actresses are often expected to wear a LOT less to auditions
I suppose my sense checker is the Twitter account. I’ve kept it anonymous to avoid being blacklisted in the industry. But it acts as a sounding board to the hundreds of women who feel the same as I do. A fellow actress messaged me recently to say she’d just come from an audition where she was ordered to strip to her underwear and act out a sex scene on the spot - an unethical and uncomfortable request to say the least. Another revealed she’d landed her dream role but been told if she didn’t get naked, they’d sack her.
The only way it can change is by more women becoming the decision makers – be that producers or directors. So many programmes are directed by men, produced by men, written by men - who are all working to the dated rule of ‘sex sells’. Which means that the men get heavyweight roles, and women are on the side-lines, providing the ‘eye candy’. When people come back to me with the example of Bridesmaids - an all woman cast written by a woman – I say – yes, that is one film that was out three years ago. Being an exception to the rule does not equate change.
And until there is a significant change, the sexism will continue. Before we know it, a whole new generation of actresses will have been subjected to, and held back by, the same sexism that exists now. Don’t believe me? Just look at a few of the other casting calls that dropped into my inbox last week.
‘We need some girls to be psychotic nuns. You need to be willing to be topless too.’, ‘Mustn’t be too good looking as the character isn’t well off.’, ‘WANTED: Actress with no shame to humiliate herself by having (simulated) sex with a fat guy.’
You couldn’t make it up…