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The percentage of female actresses in film is the same today as in the early years of cinema, according to the British Film Institute.
It says that in 1913, 31% of all the cast in 51 films were female actors, whereas of the films made in 2017 so far, the percentage of women cast is just 30%. The BFI states that films with an all-female director and writer team have a much higher rate of women on screen, with the number rising by nearly half, from 32% to 45%.
Women are often cast in stereotypical roles, with 94% of all unnamed prostitutes played by female actors. Before 1985 all drunks were men. The BFI says there has been some development in recent years with female actors cast in 10% of drunk character roles since 1985 and an increase in the casting of women as unnamed doctors from 3% to 15% for films made since 1985. However, this compares with figures showing 52% of actual NHS GPs are women. Moreover, 0% of women have been cast as unnamed police inspectors or police sergeants in film, despite the current highest-ranking police officer in the UK being a woman, London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Women also tend to have shorter careers and on average make fewer films than male actors.
Behind the scenes, the BFI says only 4.5% of all UK films are directed by women and senior crew roles remain dominated by men; in 2016 for instance, there were only 10 films written, directed and produced by three different women. Under 1% of crews are majority female and only 7% since 2000. Out of all lead creative crew roles, it says female directors of photography are particularly underrepresented – only 1.3% of UK films have a female director of photography.
Nevertheless, there have been some improvements in the gender balance behind the camera, says the BFI, with the percentage of crew members who are women rising from 3% in 1913 to 34% in 2017.
The statistics were released as the BFI launched its Filmography, the world’s first complete and accurate living record of UK cinema.