The horrible truth behind sexism and age gaps in Hollywood

A new study into the age gap between male and female film characters has revealed that things are far, far worse than we thought

Pretty Woman
Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman

New studies into sexism and the age gaps between male and female film characters has revealed that things are far, far worse than we thought

Prepare to weep into your bucket of popcorn and tear your cinema ticket in two. Because a new study has revealed that – when it comes to on screen gender equality – things are worse than we thought.

Yep, research into the top 100 films from 2015 found that 31.4 per cent of named or speaking roles went to women - the remaining 68.6 per cent went to men. Similarly, only 19 per cent of all directors were female, and women were three times as likely as men to be shown in revealing or sexy clothing.

Just to reiterate that, in case you missed it, that means less than a third of all speaking parts went to women.

Speaking parts. Not even leading parts.

And that's just the start of it.

You may remember (don’t worry if you don’t – we’re about to tell you about it all over again) Maggie Gyllenhaal’s recent interview about the extent of the ageism that goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood.

'I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55,” she told The Wrap last month. “It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.'

But while we were busy shaking our heads so violently that we needed a small lie down in a dark, dark room, Stephen Follows from IndieWire decided to take a much more proactive route. He investigated 422 successful romantic comedies (released between 1984 and 2014), in a bid to see just how much older male actors are than their female counterparts.

Unfortunately, his findings might just make your head explode. Turns out, while the average age gap between male and female actors is four and a half years, the average age of women on screen has never been older than that of their male partners. And although the age gap does become ever-so-slightly smaller in female-directed films, women have only directed 12 per cent of all romcoms in since the mid 80s.

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman

In fact, some of the age gaps between male and female leads are so humongous, they’re actually a bit (OK, a lot) creepy.

“Blame It On Rio” stars a 51-year-old Michael Caine – while his on-screen love interest is 18-year-old Michelle Johnson. Leonardo Di Caprio was 39 in “Wolf Of Wall Street” – compared to 23-year-old Margot Robbie, who played his wife.

In “Magic In The Moonlight”, Colin Firth is 53 – a whole 28 years older than his lover, played by Emma Stone, 25.

In fact, Emma is repeatedly paired against men old enough to be her father – in “Gangster Squad”, her character dates Sean Penn. Who’s also 53.

And if your eyebrows aren’t raised already, how about this: in “Pretty Woman”, Richard Gere was 40. But Julia Roberts was only 22.

It’s not all bad though. Did you know Olivia Newton John is five years older than her Grease co-star John Travolta? So y’know: there’s that.

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