Posted on: March 1, 2016
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The Dutch newspaper NRC did a study on the total number of Oscars for playing prostitutes and mistresses that were awarded throughout it’s history. The Oscars are an American movie award spectacle held every year in Los Angeles. According to research by the BBC a total of 12 percent of the Oscars for best actress went to roles like a whore or a mistress. To find out if the BBC number is the correct one the NRC did their own count.
In total the NRC counted 91 female lead Oscar winners. A total of five characters worked in prostitution. A large overrepresentation considering that there are only an estimated half a million prostitutes in the United States, 0.15 percent of the total population.
A young Jodie Foster plays a prostitute in Taxi Driver.
Sixteen of the Oscar winning characters had a relationship with a married man: 17.5 percent. This number corresponds with reality. 15 percent of American women state that they have practiced adultery at some point in their life.
The combined number for mistresses and prostitutes infers a staggering total of 23 percent. A much higher number than the original BBC source states. How is this possible? Possibly the BBC only counted characters who’s primary occupation was being a mistress: licentious female characters. That would be 7 percent. Prostitutes and licentious women combined make a total of 13 percent.
According to Helen O’Hara of the British film magazine Empire: “society still loves strong men and vulnerable female characters”. Film scholar Maryn Wilkinson argues that females have been cast for big dramatic lead roles in melodrama’s since the beginnings of film. This is the type of role that tends to win awards for women. Men dominate the action and thriller genres. “Melodrama’s are about struggling relationships, adultery, poverty and social mobility, so you easily end op with these types of roles. Women tend to have excessive emotions, men are stoic and powerful.”
Charlize Theron plays a prostitute in the movie monster. Source: Mirror.co.uk
Wilkinson does see a shift happening; strong female characters are making an appearance in Hollywood. Since 2007 there hasn’t been a prostitute lead role awarded with an Oscar. The last one was for the movie “Monster”, a biographical film about a prostitute called Aileen Wuornos, played by Charlize Theron. Not really your typical vulnerable woman: she killed seven of her costumers. There is good chance that the number of Oscars for playing prostitutes and Mistresses will decline in the coming decade.