AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, October 30, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Yet more bullshit “explanations” for why there aren’t more movies about women…

HOLLYWOOD HATES WOMEN, PART 10,853,184. Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post laments the disappearance of strong women from multiplex screens:

In an era when women in movies fall along a spectrum defined by Hannah Montana and “Twilight” on one end and “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!” on the other, where are the screen heroines of yesteryear, who could be strong, serious and sexy?

More than ever, (Producer Lynda) Obst adds, the movie business is geared toward the young men who go to movies most frequently. “And by and large that’s a comedy audience and an action audience. To get a project greenlit now, studios are requiring more and more what we call ‘unaided awareness,’ which is where you get this addiction to toys and comics and old titles….”

Because it only matters what boys want. That’s just the natural way of things, and everyone knows it.

But wait: Even if we concede that everything simply has to be geared toward boys in a Hollywood concerned with nothing but making money, that doesn’t explain why we aren’t seeing more movies about toys and comics and stuff blowing up that feature strong, serious, sexy women. We do get them, once in a rare while, even recently: 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, for instance, featured Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in what could only be described as a screwball action movie — it had all the witty banter of anything Howard Hawkes gave us in the 1940s, plus all the shoot-’em-up action that boy audiences need lest they curl up and die of suffocation. It made almost half a billion dollars worldwide, and was the No. 10 movie in overall box-office takings in North America for that year. There is no reasonable way to suggest that it was not a hugely profitable hit.

So, while it is a well-known, well-understood, and incredibly frustrating Hollywood foible that the industry falls all over itself to replicate the success of some movies, where are all the imitators of Mr. & Mrs. Smith? By this point, four years later, we should have seen a spate of so many sexy screwball action romances that we’re complaining about them. Where are they?

Where are all the greedy, cashing-in reruns of Chicago ($306 million worldwide in 2002)? Of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($275 million worldwide in 2001)? Of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($213 million worldwide in 2000)? None of these are romances, or dramas, or any of the genres that are supposedly box-office poison: they’re full of violence and bloodshed and action… and they also happen to feature women in dominant roles, not as sidekicks or girlfriends or victims or prizes for a male hero. If movies like that can, obviously, be big hits with all sorts of audiences — including boys — why don’t we see more of them?

Maybe dramas are dead, for the moment, on the big screen. But that’s got absolutely nothing to do with the question of why there aren’t better, stronger, sexier (in all senses of the word), more prominent leading roles for women in the genres that are not dead.

Hollywood’s disdain for women has nothing to do with its desire to make movies that are easy to sell. There’s something else going on, and it’s the same thing that has been going on with women since forever: Women’s experiences are not valued, even when they’re doing the same things are men (ie, blowing shit up). Women are all but invisible unless they are slotted into very narrow roles — as wives, mothers, and victims — and even there, they’re still almost invisible.

Obst isn’t wrong when she notes, in the article above:

Some of the greatest parts for women — the Academy Award parts for women — are often in dramas, and this is the worst time for dramas since I’ve been in the business for the last 10,000 years.

But the greatest parts for men — the Academy Award parts for men — are also often in dramas! And yet even though “dramas are dead,” there’s still an abundance of well-written parts for men to play, complex characters doing interesting things, in movies that are far from blockbusters, sometimes even far from financially successful.

Dramas may be dead, but that still won’t mean that this year, as critics’ groups and the Academy are putting together their best-of lists, there will be great performances by men in great films that will have to be stricken from the lists, because there will simply be too many of them to laud them all. And it doesn’t mean that there won’t be a struggle to find a handful of great performances by women in great films — or even in not so great films — because there’s just not that many of them. It’s not that there aren’t great women actors: it’s that they’re not getting the opportunity to show what they can do, because neither Hollywood nor filmmakers outside Hollywood can see much value in telling any stories about women, even when there would be money to be made in doing so.

It’s a weird sickness in the movie industry — and in our culture — and it disgusts me, not just as a woman but as a human being.

OPENING THIS WEEK. Michael Jackson’s This Is It is about the manchild pop star who is clearly, in one scene, uncomfortable trying to emulate sexual attraction to the woman he’s singing a duet with. Gentlemen Broncos is about a teenaged boy who wants to be a science fiction writer and the grownup male writer who steals from him. The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is about two male vigilantes, their father, three male cops… and one cartoonishly sexy female FBI agent who wears six-inch fuck-me heels to crime scenes.

And people wonder why I’m so angry…

(Click here for the AWFJ’s regular new-release rundown, sparse as it is this week.)

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  • Lucy Gillam

    *raises an angry fist in solidarity*

    I keep expecting this to mellow with age. Instead, I just keep getting angrier about this bullshit.

  • Lisa

    I think that’s because you become more aware of it as you get older

    it is a weird sickness in society

  • http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/bio.php?ID=262&reviewID=37629 Tyler

    Interesting. I have always thought a good path to success for women filmmakers would be to make general-audience material, gain clout, and then eventually have the freedom to make anything they want. But Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a pretty good example. If I had to guess, I’d say competing studios felt the success had more to do with supermarket tabloid drama than the premise. Aeon Flux could have done the same (female director, too!) but I don’t think it was a very big hit, and I understand the studio kind of screwed it up.

    As for your other two examples, the success went more to the musical than the women (although Mamma Mia! has both), and it’s easier to import and dub Crouching Tiger knockoffs than make new ones. But I still think this film is on the horizon, a Transformers-like action blockbuster starring a teen girl (although hopefully better than Transformers, and starring someone other than Megan Fox, who I’m hoping will just go away).