As you may recall from the last time you looked at this page, a few of us collected some data during the #31HorrorFilms31Days challenge, AKA October. Now, your humble proprietress here at THE BLOG IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE also writes a column for Truthout called Ladydrawers that illustrates gender issues in comics and other media, so she had a pretty basic interest in doing just a teensy bit of content analysis by tallying just a handful of statistics. But that wasn’t enough, of course. Because the content of any media is just the part that viewers see. What really matters, actually, in media, is who decides what gets seen. Consumers of media forget this, but if you’ve ever tried to make a living as a woman in any arena of media in which it is advisable to remain clothed during work, you learn pretty quick that the person behind the camera, the text, and the checkbook has a great deal more power—and is granted more flexibility in how to exert it—than the one in front. So we combined the data we’d originally collected based on viewing approximately 60 films, and some more data, compiled by INTERN POWER, collected from IMDb and other sources on the labor of these films both off- and on-screen. We’ve come up with a really quick snapshot of gender and race in horror films. (Just keep in mind that the viewing lists were totally subjective, and based on the interests, predilections, and foreknowledge of two pretty engaged gender-aware viewers of horror.)
Director(s), by gender: 2% female; 98% male
Writer(s), by gender: 9% female ; 91% male
Producers, by gender: 13% female; 87% male
Listed Lead Cast, by gender: 41% female; 59% male (none were identified via IMDb or preliminary searches otherwise as trans or non-binary)
Perceived Lead Cast, by gender: 49% female; 51% male (onscreen, none were identifiably trans or non-binary gender, nor did any characters express gender identification preference in opposition to verbal or visual gender identification)
- In the original version of this data set presentation, we had determined “lead characters” based on impact over plot, time onscreen, significance to title, and other such factors. IMDb and other film sites’ listings, however, offered markedly different notions, in some films, about who did and did not play a “lead” role. This matters primarily because differences between on-screen character development or ability to drive plot and the listing as a lead role in a film may not be reflected either in credits or pay. Additionally, studies have shown that reported appearances of so-called minorities in social and cultural settings can outweigh actual appearances.
Listed Supporting Cast, by gender: 31% female; 69% male (none were identified via IMDb or preliminary searches otherwise as trans or nin-binary)
Listed Lead Cast, by race: 17% castmembers of color; 78% white castmembers; 5% unknown (per visual identification and text descriptions in IMDb and elsewhere)
Supporting Cast, by race: 26% castmembers of color; 61% white castmembers; 13% unknown (per visual identification and text descriptions in IMDb and elsewhere)
Perceived Race of Castmembers (as opposed to characters): 18% characters of color; 82% white characters
- It’s important to note that this total included films like Manster, wherein all characters of color are played, poorly, by white people with ridiculous and shifting, regionless accents.
Death Toll, by gender: 44% female; 56% male
- In other words, female characters in horror films die in greater proportion than they are paid to drive plot, but in lesser proportion than they are perceived to.
Death Toll, by race: 29% characters of color; 71% white characters
- That is, characters of color are about twice as likely to die in a horror film than have a lead role in it, and have a pretty solid chance of perishing onscreen, if they make it that far.
Agency of Characters, by gender: 65% of the films passed the Bechdel Test.
- Rob’s list featured 24 films that did pass and 7 that did not; Anne’s list was closer to a 50% split, and included films like Zombie Strippers, wherein female characters speak to each other, but about stripping, or 5ive Girls, in which characters discuss God, or rules set and enforced by men.
Sexual Violence: There were 47 incidents of sexualized violence or rape onscreen for an average of slightly less than one incident (.78) per film.
- Rob’s list included 3 incidents of sexualized violence; the remainder were on Anne’s list, many of which had far more than one incident per film, and in fact several plots were based on it entirely. V/H/S, for example, an anthology film, had several segments each with separate plots based on the commission of sexualized violence. It should be further noted that while V/H/S did offer a higher-than-average incidence of sexual violence—a distressing volume, for many potential viewers—this film can also boast one of the 8 female producers listed on any of the 60, and a higher-than average support cast of 46% female actors. So while it might be dangerous to assume that women in decision-making positions in the film industry will decrease depicted sexualized violence, it is clear that, as a plot point, it at least allows roles for women.
A final note: I attended a local screening of a really great film a few weeks ago, and I would like to find a way to support such efforts in the future. Unfortunately, despite the diversity of audience members (in terms of gender, mostly; it was a screening on the North Side and the audience was largely white), attendees were encouraged to chant Boobs Boobs Boobs at one point, by an organizer of the event; subject to one film that had no horror elements at all save a writhing, long-haired, naked, white lady that perhaps was under attack from some terrifying force never pictured; and presented films by some of the most female-unfriendly public speakers I have ever encountered. This on top of what we can surmise from a worst-case scenario based on the above: no films in which women directed, wrote, produced, starred in, spoke to each other, or survived with apparel intact. Your humble proprietress here at THE BLOG is well aware, based on her experience and history in the comics industry, that a culture that punishes diverse participation in any media form will not change until the labor policies do; that the labor policies won’t change until the content does; and that the content won’t change until the culture does. For this reason, she has chosen to offer the organizers of this particular event to the demon god VORBM who, in exchange, promises to change all that.
Data collection team:
Anne Elizabeth Moore (your humble proprietress)