‘The Irishman’ shows that gender equality has not yet conquered the film market

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The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s latest release, features a stellar cast of cinematic stars: Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Ramano, and Anna Paquin, to name a few. But from that cast, there was a certain leading character who had more screen time than lines to convey. Paquin, though seen alongside the other heavyweights on screen, said all of seven words throughout: ‘Why?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why haven’t you called Jo?’ This was said during her brief ten minutes of presence during a three-and-a-half-hour-long film.

Needless to say, both the press and viewers have questioned the lack of time devoted to Paquin’s role as Peggy Sheeran, the daughter of Frank Sheeran who is played by de Niro. The character becomes aware of her father’s ability to act violently when she is a child. Later, her awareness of her father’s involvement with the Bufalino crime family grows, as does her distaste for his lack of a moral compass.

Paquin, though seen alongside the other heavyweights on screen, said all of seven words throughout

Reviewers have noted that Paquin’s performance banks mostly on her facial expressions and body language, which does receive fair importance. But more than anything, the decision for her to speak just a mere seven words has been challenged.

Paquin herself tweeted: ‘I auditioned for the privilege of joining the incredible cast of @TheIrishmanFilm and I’m incredibly proud to get to be a part of this film.’

Despite Paquin’s Twitter statement, her role seems to be curtailed and compressed in comparison to that of her male co-stars. The actress proved her talent even through her silence, but the choice to keep her this silent is an odd one. Why would the director and writers focus so deeply on the development and lines of male actors, whilst giving Paquin so little?

This choice seems to be indicative of Hollywood’s deeply-rooted attitude towards female actors. Though all-female casts have become more prominent over the years, this often seems to be more of a headline-grabber and publicity-inducing move. Moreover, the need to develop films with an all-female cast in order to make a statement illuminates a greater issue in the world of film: that for decades, women of Hollywood have been sidelined, both underpaid and underutilised. Movies dedicated solely to women exist to shift a pattern, but it’s a pattern that has existed for so long.

The actress proved her talent even through her silence, but the choice to keep her this silent is an odd one

There’s also the issue of pay that demonstrates gender discrimination within the business. Consider the Forbes 2019 list of richest actors and actresses, for example. The richest actor, Dwayne Johnson, makes a whopping USD$89.4 million annually. On the other hand, the richest actress, Scarlett Johansson, makes USD$56 million. There is a stark difference between the two, though they were crowned with a similar title.

For Paquin to merely ask three short questions as Peggy is alarming within a film this lengthy, especially with de Niro and Pacino saying infinitely more words and being featured on screen for much longer. This reflects a troubling and embedded issue of inequality, within an industry that most would argue has the power to change societal norms.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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