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One woman for every two men in Finnish films

Yle took a look at Finnish film history on the occasion of Finland's centennial, and found male actors outnumber female actors 2 to 1.

Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle looked back at Finnish film history over a 100-year period and found that making movies in Finland is a man's world. Men outnumber women two to one throughout the cinema's history in Finland, but things were most dire between the 1970s and 2000s, when there were no women included in the top ten listings of actors.

Outi Hupaniittu, a former post-doc researcher of Finnish film history at the University of Turku, says she is familiar with the situation.

"Of course it's a problem. It is a structural issue, because the Finnish movie world industry is very male-dominated," she says.

Things might be changing for the better, however, as Yle's analysis showed that four female actors have made the top ten during the current decade that began in 2010: Elina Knihtilä, Krista Kosonen, Laura Birn and Iina Kuustonen.

The top three positions on the list for this period are held by Matti Onnismaa, with roles in 21 films, Tommi Korpela in 16 films and a four-way tie for third place, with Ilkka Heiskanen, Elina Knihtilä, Antti Reini and Mikko Leppilampi each having played 14 roles.

Elina Knihtilä comments on being the only woman in this decade's top three:

"I've been fortunate. The statistics look really good, but I've only had one lead role in that statistics period. I've done quite a few supporting roles," she said.

Supporting roles only

Knihtilä's comments could have just as easily come from the mouths of legendary actors Siiri Angerkoski and Rauha Rentola, who worked on hundreds of Finnish films in the 1940s and 1950s, but hardly ever in the starring role.  

"They were basically filling in basic parts in the film: mums, aunts, waitresses, a woman at a party or in a scene. They needed a woman in the room to say a few lines," says Hupaniittu, who now works as the archive director for the Finnish Literature Society.

The hundred-year film history of Finland had two golden eras, according to the Yle analysis. The first was in the 1950s, when 221 feature-length domestic films were made, and the second is now, in the 2010s, which has already seen the production of 225 feature-length Finnish films.

Elina Knihtilä, who teaches acting at the prestigious Theatre Academy in Helsinki in addition to her work as an actor, also chairs an association called Women in Film & Television Finland that seeks to promote gender equality in Finland's film and television industries.

"It is somehow understood that a male lead can encompass the human predicament more broadly than a woman in a lead role. Women are often defined more by their gender than by their humanity," she says.

Worse in Hollywood

For comparison's sake, the New York Film Academy studied casting from 2007 to 2012 and found that 30.8 percent of speaking characters in US films were women, making the average ratio of male actors to female actors in the United States 2.25 to 1. 

The material on Finnish actors and films was supplied by the National Audiovisual Institute. Data for 95 percent of the roles used to determine gender balance were sourced from the Population Register Centre and Wikidata. Actors that have changed their names or taken artist names may be listed under several different names.

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