Perennial Academy Award contender Meryl Streep lashed out at the film industry this week for downplaying the importance of women both on screen and off and said, with tongue only slightly in cheek, that if current trends continue, women will be eliminated altogether from movies by the year 2010.
"The range of roles isn't there (for women) and hasn't been for a long time," Streep told a predominantly female audience at Wednesday's opening of the Screen Actors Guild's first National Women's Conference at the Ma Maison Sofitel Hotel in West Hollywood. "I'm barely able to contain a guffaw when a reporter asked me what drew me to a role, as though there is a rainbow of well-written female leading roles."
A SAG report released Wednesday showed startling decreases in both women's roles and relative income. In 1989, 71% of all roles in feature films and 64% of all roles in TV went to men. The report said the combined income of men more than doubled that of women ($644 million to $296 million).
Women are at a disadvantage in every age group, the study shows, except children under 10. The greatest disparity begins after age 40, where the percentage of roles for women drops off dramatically.
Streep, the keynote speaker for the conference, called it a career nightmare for actresses who reach 40. No matter who they are, she said, they face the "age police who want to see your passport or driver's license."
Streep blamed the blockbuster mentality in Hollywood for spawning big-budget male action films, at the cost of character-driven films with balanced gender roles. Referring back to the days when there were as many female stars as men, she said "the crackling wit and stylish verbal surprise which characterized films of the past has been crushed under the wheels of blockbusters."
The main culprit for the current disparity is the dependence on foreign markets, where male action films are dominant, Streep said. "What we see (in the U.S.) is predetermined by what deal makers think will go over well in Southeast Asia."
SAG President Barry Gordon told the audience that it's up to labor and the public to force a change of thinking among management, but Streep said she doesn't "hold out much hope that anything will change."
"There's profit in the old way of doing things," she said. "It's the bottom line that drives the dream machine."