For Your Consideration: Why Are Actresses Deemed Less Worthy Than Their Male Counterparts?


With the awards season well under way and rumbling towards the Oscars, there has been the usual feting of winners and condoling of losers, but there is quite a bit more controversy this year than usual.

No, I don’t just mean the shocking snub for Jennifer Aniston at the Oscar nominations; whilst I haven’t seen Cake, the film many thought she deserved a gong for, I loved her sublime performance in The Good Girl, opposite Jake Gyllenhaal (if you haven’t seen it, go now).

I am talking about the whispers that somehow, female actors are less than their male counterparts, even when they are nominated for, or win, the top acting awards. In the infamous Sony email hack of last year, it was revealed that Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male colleagues for American Hustle, even after starring in the phenomenally successful Hunger Games franchise. Bradley Cooper, on the other hand, known mostly for the Hangover films, was deemed worthy of more money.

Aaron Sorkin, one of the most respected writers of film and television, made possibly the most ridiculous statement of his career when he wrote the following email (again part of the Sony leak):

“That’s why year in and year out, the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Actor has a much higher bar to clear than the woman who wins Best Actress…Cate [Blanchett] gave a terrific performance in Blue Jasmine but nothing close to the degree of difficulty for any of the five Best Actor nominees. Daniel Day-Lewis had to give the performance he gave in Lincoln to win – Jennifer Lawrence won for Silver Linings Playbook, in which she did what a professional actress is supposed to be able to do…Julia Roberts won for being brassy in Erin Brokovich…and Al Pacino lost for both Godfather movies…there just aren’t that many tour-de-force roles out there for women”.

What Sorkin is saying, and what I have seen repeated in the last few weeks – though not quite so bluntly – is that actresses have less to do, so therefore their awards are easier to obtain.

Leaving the merits of just how hard it was for Pacino to play a Mafioso aside, could it be that women in films, just like in life, are often quietly stealing the show whilst the guys are out front chewing the scenery? Therefore, we tend to not notice the more subtle, emotional performances of female characters until they suddenly begin to behave in a well, “brassy” manner.

It is true, of course, that a lot of the most powerful, blockbuster roles in film are still reserved for male characters, and with the recent surge in popularity of action films and television series I don’t see that changing any time soon. However, Marvel is making inroads both with Captain Marvel and Agent Carter, so things might just be headed in the right direction.

It’s about time; when Joss Whedon, creator of the most bad-ass hero of them all, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, says there is “genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned quiet misogyny” in the industry, you know something is wrong.

We must wait until the Oscars ceremony, on February 22, to see if the Best Actress winner; either Marion Cotillard, Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Julianne Moore or Reece Witherspoon, refers to the controversy in her speech or if there is any chatter in the media. There should be – the role of women in Hollywood, their value and the spectre of misogyny needs to be dealt with, and if not now, in 2015, then when?

Lastly, let us have a look at just what a woman can achieve on the screen, albeit the small one. Viola Davis, muse of Shonda Rhimes and star of How To Get Away With Murder, won the Best Actress SAG award, and whilst her acceptance speech is classy and restrained, it is also announcing, with quite a bang, that women are here; we’re not going anywhere; and we’re every bit as good as anyone else.

Sara Hunter Smith