Women have been institutionally underrepresented or misrepresented in American cinema since the inception of Hollywood. They have suffered from both unequal pay and marginalized screen time, but most importantly, perception. Just ask Emmy Rossum.

Stacy Smith, a media researcher and USC professor, has dedicated her life to analyzing this massive gender inequality within our entertainment system. Her findings were presented at the 2016 TEDWomen conference in a talk titled: "The Data Behind Hollywood's Sexism." Stacy’s team has looked at every character in the top 100 grossing USA films from 2007 to 2015, totaling 800 films so far.

To qualify as a "character" in the study, an actor only has to speak one word on camera. These are the criteria that characters have been broken down by:

Gender, Race, Ethnicity, LGBTQ, and Disability

Stacy found that women have appeared in less than one third of 35,205 total roles. This statistic has not changed in 8 years, and this statistic remains the same when compared to films produced from 1946 to 1955.

Female portrayal

Stacy also examined the representation of female actors who managed to land a role. She found that women are about 3 times more likely to be sexualized on screen or made to show excessive skin. And overwhelmingly, the women we see are thin. In animation, it is not uncommon for a woman’s waist to be drawn with a circumference comparable to her upper arm.

Kim Possible may find it impossible to get pregnant when she’s older.

Behind the camera

How can we alter this perception, you ask? Stacy reports that of 886 directors of those 800 films, only 4.1% were female, only 3 of those women were African-American, and one was Asian. Several imbedded ideologies within Hollywood contribute to the propagation of this historic trend.

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Among industry insiders, an overwhelming vision prevails of the director as a male personality, and this affects everything from the hiring process to the green-lighting of new projects. In addition, films with a female protagonist are not believed to be as viable for a return on investment. Nor are female consumers as a target audience.

Stacy calls out Hollywood for this misconception, citing "The Hunger Games" franchise, "Pitch Perfect," and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" as undeniable financial successes. The factors that do in fact determine the success of a film are production value and distribution. Take that, Harvey!

How can we change?

Stacy proposes that gender equality on camera can be reached in a mere three years using her "Just Add 5" rule. Going forward, filmmakers must add 5 female, speaking characters to each top 100 film of the year.

She urges A-list actors to demand an inclusion clause in their contracts. This would stipulate that the roles which do not directly affect the main storyline be more evenly divided amongst men and women.

The result on screen would be a surrounding world for our characters that more accurately depicts real life, and cultivates an image of equality.

Studios, networks, and production companies can follow suit in this course of action, as well as implement additional tactics. They can establish company policy granting interviews to a more diverse range of candidates for crew and writing jobs, changing the perception of men as the more dominant figure on set.

Lastly, you can make the difference too by supporting the types of films you want to see. Search a bit deeper into Netflix for a female-directed film, try a film at the art-house cinema featuring a female protagonist, or donate on Kickstarter to low budget, female-founded productions that you are interested in seeing come to life. With hope, the first movie from Marvel’s cinematic universe directed by a woman is coming. The Black Widow feature is.