The term actress
After 1660 in England, when women first started to appear on stage, the terms actor or actress were initially used interchangeably for female performers, but later, influenced by the French actrice, actress became the commonly used term for women in theater and film. The etymology is a simple derivation from actor with -ess added. When referring to groups of performers of both sexes, actors is preferred. Actor is also used before the full name of a performer as a gender-specific term.
Within the profession, the re-adoption of the neutral term dates to the post-war period of the 1950 and '60s, when the contributions of women to cultural life in general were being reviewed. When The Observer and The Guardian published their new joint style guide in 2010, it stated "Use ['actor'] for both male and female actors; do not use actress except when in name of award, e.g. Oscar for best actress." The guide's authors stated that "actress comes into the same category as authoress, comedienne, manageress, 'lady doctor', 'male nurse' and similar obsolete terms that date from a time when professions were largely the preserve of one sex (usually men)." (See male as norm). "As Whoopi Goldberg put it in an interview with the paper: 'An actress can only play a woman. I'm an actor – I can play anything.'" The UK performers' union Equity has no policy on the use of "actor" or "actress". An Equity spokesperson said that the union does not believe that there is a consensus on the matter and stated that the "...subject divides the profession". In 2009, the Los Angeles Times stated that "Actress" remains the common term used in major acting awards given to female recipients (e.g., Academy Award for Best Actress).
With regard to the cinema of the United States, the gender-neutral term "player" was common in film in the silent film era and the early days of the Motion Picture Production Code, but in the 2000s in a film context, it is generally deemed archaic. However, "player" remains in use in the theatre, often incorporated into the name of a theatre group or company, such as the American Players, the East West Players, etc. Also, actors in improvisational theatre may be referred to as "players".
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject
. (December 2018)
In 2015, Forbes reported that "...just 21 of the 100 top-grossing films of 2014 featured a female lead or co-lead, while only 28.1% of characters in 100 top-grossing films were female...". "In the U.S., there is an "industry-wide [gap] in salaries of all scales. On average, white women get paid 78 cents to every dollar a white man makes, while Hispanic women earn 56 cents to a white male's dollar, Black women 64 cents and Native American women just 59 cents to that." Forbes' analysis of US acting salaries in 2013 determined that the "...men on Forbes' list of top-paid actors for that year made 21/2 times as much money as the top-paid actresses. That means that Hollywood's best-compensated actresses made just 40 cents for every dollar that the best-compensated men made."