Places Journal: Despina Stratigakos on Women Architects in Film

by Despina Stratigakos | Sep 27, 2016
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its 2015 Oscar nominees, the response on social media was fierce. For the first time since the late ’90s, all the nominees in the top acting categories were white. Twitter users deployed the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to protest the lack of diversity. In 2016, yet another all-white slate reignited the controversy and sparked calls for a boycott.

Many observers have argued that the problem is rooted less in the Academy as an organization than in the broader culture of the film industry, which offers few major roles to actors of color. A study of “Inequality in 700 Popular Films,” by researchers at the University of Southern California, found that in the 100 top-grossing movies of 2014 there were only 17 leading actors from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups including blacks, Asians, and Hispanics, even though these groups make up 37 percent of the U.S. population and 46 percent of the ticket-buying audience. The picture for women is even grimmer. Only 21 of the top 100 films in 2014 had a female star or co-star, and of those, only three were from underrepresented groups. None were over 45 years old.

Inevitably, the gorgeously produced worlds we see presented in Hollywood films influence how we see our own worlds — how we view our personal and professional lives. It matters, then, that those onscreen work worlds are disproportionately populated by white men, and that architecture is among the whitest and most masculine.

A few years ago Kathryn Anthony, professor of architecture at the University of Illinois, along with two former students, analyzed the image of the architect in Hollywood by viewing 45 movies released from 1942 to 2010 in which a leading character is an architect. As reported in ArchDaily, in the overwhelming majority of these films — 91 percent — the architect-protagonist is male (he is also likely to be “clean shaven … with dark hair and brown eyes”). And in 96 percent, the architect is white. In only two films were the architects people of color, both men: Jungle Fever (1991), in which Wesley Snipes plays a New York architect who has an affair with his white secretary; and The Namesake (2006), in which Kal Penn plays an architect of Indian descent. Both films were also directed by people of color, Spike Lee and Mira Nair, respectively.

Read full article including many film clips here.
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