Leading Lady Parts: Exposing Hollywood's Exploitation of Women Actors through Jessica Swale’s Short Film

Inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, director and writer Jessica Swale wanted to create a visual glimpse into the careers of female actresses within the film industry. Thus, ‘Leading Lady Parts’ was born. With a range of successful and well-known actresses, audiences can see past their characters and their red-carpet personas and instead see the human being. They see a very heartfelt and emphatic look on these women and witness what they have to settle for every day as part of their careers.

The film features actresses Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Gemma Chan, Florence Pugh, Wunmi Mosaku, and Stacy Martin all playing themselves within in a regular audition for ‘The Leading Lady Part’ for an unnamed upcoming film.

The short itself is painfully funny in its dialogue, yet once you’re done laughing you’re hit with the reality that they’re not joking. While you’re giggling over the three casting directors trying to explain how a ‘leading lady’ should be an impossible mixture of a “sexy virgin”, the reality sinks in that women (in all forms of media) are punished for being sexually conservative but also for being sexually expressive.

The short, produced by Rebel Park Productions' Gemma Arterton, Jessica Malik and Jessica Parker in association with The Fyzz Facility, Hanway Films and Popcorn Group, is the first in a series aimed at shining a light on the portrayal of women in the media and the challenges women face in the workplace across all industries.

In comparison to its humour, the film is also blunt in its treatment of women as Felicity Jones (Rouge One, The Theory of Everything) is asked to strip down in front of the casting directors. Florence Pugh (Falling, 2016) was then criticised for not being “thin” but “with a big rack” and “with hips” but “not big hips”. The demeaning of the women's appearances is further exposed as multi-award winning and highly-successful Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, 300) is rudely labelled as ‘the leading lady’s mum’ due to her age, presenting the trope that actresses are either sex objects or mothers.

Thankfully, the film doesn’t focus solely on white women as the specific struggles of women of colour are also explored. Gemma Chan (Humans, Captain Marvel, 2019) had barely begun to read when she was asked if she could “be a bit more white”. The situation wasn’t much better for Wunmi Mosaku (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, 2016 -  Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016) who is completely disregarded not only as an actress but as a human being as she walks into the room. The comedy completely fades from his scene as the grim and horrific truth of how women of colour are treated within the film industry (and unfortunately in every industry, and in life) is pushed into full view of the audience.

The conclusion results in actor, Tom Hiddleston (Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2008+ - The Night Manager, 2016), stepping into the audition and landing the Leading Lady Part without even reading a line. This scene produces the idea that the film industry believes that a leading man will always trump a strong, intelligent and worthy leading lady.

The film has not only shone a light on the shameful treatment of actresses but also on the male-dominated field of film directing. Rebel Park Productions have released a range of interviews with the cast via their social media platforms (Instagram: @rebelparkproductions – Twitter: @rebelparkprod). During these short interviews, each member of the cast describes their struggles in the film industry as a woman, and how uneven the industry is in regards to gender equality. It is also revealed the majority of the cast, who've all earned over ten years in the film industry, have only worked with a maximum of five female directors throughout their careers.

This is not surprising as according to a July 2018 study centered around women’s roles in popular films, only 7.3% of said films were directed by women (105 out of 1,438 creators).

This is not surprising, as only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker) has ever won Best Director with five additional female directors nominated for the award since 1929. On top of that no woman has ever won a golden globe for Best Director, and only four have nominations to their name (Sophia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, Kathryn Bigelow and Barbra Streisand). The Cannes Film Festivals offers little improvement as only two women have won Best Director (Sofia Coppola and Yuliya Solntseva) with a fifty-seven year gap between the two.

Unfortunately, the injustice doesn't stop there as out of all of the above mentioned winners and nominees, only one woman (Ava DuVernay) from an minority has even been considered for the award. If it wasn’t hard enough to get a directing job as a woman, imagine the additional prejudices against women of colour, disabled women and queer women. As of 2018, only 2.5% of speaking roles were acted by people with disabilities and out of the 100 top films of 2017, only 57 featured actresses of colour, 35 featured Asian/Asian-american actresses, 34 featured Hispanic/Latina actresses and only 6 featured LGBT females.  

Of course, the exploitation does not limit itself to directing and acting as women (out of 1,248 content creators) only make up 10.1% of writers and minus 1% of composers.

Leading Lady Parts is yet another step in the right direction to full undivided equality for women in and outside the film industry. It has been nearly ten months since the initial #MeToo movement gained worldwide popularity and films like this help keep pushing the issue, disallowing it from falling into a fad and into a defining moment in history.

By: Claire L. Smith

Follow Claire: 

Twitter and Instagram: @clairelsmxth