Patricia Arquette called it out in her Oscars speech in 2015, and Jennifer Lawrence wrote about it in an essay later the same year: Hollywood is sexist. To understand exactly how much, it might be useful to follow @femscriptintro, a new Twitter account set up by Ross Putman, a movie producer.
The account does one simple thing: Putman tweets quotes the introduction of female characters from movie scripts he reads, replacing the character’s name with JANE. No matter the age and movie, these characters have one thing in common: they are introduced as objects based on their appearances.
And so, JANE is “a gorgeous woman,” “blonde, fit, smokin’ hot,” “lithe, leggy,” “in her mid-30s and attractive, even now with dark semi-circles underlining her closed eyes.”
The objectification of these JANEs is as casual as it is shameless, and made perhaps all the more offensive and striking by the fact that the non-physical attributes attached to the female characters make them even more stereotypical. Jane “is too much of a professional to care about her appearance,” “was model pretty once, but living an actual life has taken its toll,” “very beautiful, very troubled.”
The exercise can be applied beyond the scripts quoted by Putman. Female introductions are particularly striking when compared to men’s in many movie scripts in the Internet Movie Script Database. This is how Rose and Jack are introduced in James Cameron’s Titanic, for instance:
The Renault stops and the LIVERIED DRIVER scurries to open the door for a YOUNG WOMAN dressed in a stunning white and purple outfit, with an enormous feathered hat. She is 17 years old and beautiful, regal of bearing, with piercing eyes.
Jack is American, a lanky drifter with his hair a little long for the standards of the times. He is also unshaven, and his clothes are rumpled from sleeping in them. He is an artist, and has adopted the bohemian style of art scene in Paris. He is also very self-possessed and sure-footed for 20, having lived on his own since 15.
These are William and Anna, from Notting Hill:
Mix through to William, 35, relaxed, pleasant, informal.
It is Anna Scott, the biggest movie star in the world — here – in his shop. The most divine, subtle, beautiful woman on earth. When she speaks she is very self-assured and self-contained.
Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, from Star Wars—A New Hope:
Luke Skywalker, a farm boy with heroic aspirations who looks much younger than his eighteen years. His shaggy hair and baggy tunic give him the air of a simple but lovable ad with a prize-winning smile.
A beautiful young girl (about sixteen years old) stands in front of Artoo. Surreal and out of place, dreamlike and half hidden in the smoke […] She is Princess Leia Organa
One has to wonder whether a less sexist industry with equal pay will come from better character description—or if the progress has to move the other way around.