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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

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

I wish someone in the industry would just finally admit that Hollywood thinks women are icky and they don’t make more movies about us because they’re afraid of cooties. It would more plausible than anything else I’ve heard.

Yes, it’s The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy.



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  • Hank Graham

    A few years back, I was talking to a local studio rep as to why they’d cut off the advertising to “Moulin Rouge” so early. His answer was that their marketing numbers showed that it only had strong appeal among teen-age girls. I had to remind him that a few years before, “Titanic” had become the number one hit of all time, propelled, at first, on its strong appeal among teen-age girls.

  • Judging by the disappointing numbers put up by “Amelia,” it’s no mystery why Hollywood is hesitant to make more films with “strong” female leads.

  • A few years back, I was talking to a local studio rep as to why they’d cut off the advertising to “Moulin Rouge” so early. His answer was that their marketing numbers showed that it only had strong appeal among teen-age girls. I had to remind him that a few years before, “Titanic” had become the number one hit of all time, propelled, at first, on its strong appeal among teen-age girls.

    If I was the studio rep, I would have reminded you that “Titantic” was a spectacular and epic melodrama with mass market appeal, while “Moulin Rouge” is a fucking musical. No amount of advertising could convince straight guys to go movie-musicals without their girlfriends/wives.

  • Paul

    And then I would have reminded the studio rep that “Titantic” is half character build up and half tragic romance in which the guy dies so the gal can find herself. Not exactlly the kind of movie that guys, gay or straight, go to by themselves or in packs.

    As for Amelia, from what’s been posted about it, the problem could well be that the film is a little too artsy to be a blockbuster.

    But I think the real question Mary Ann is talking about is why, for example, Linda Hamilton, after kicking ass in “T-2”, didn’t go on to a career in action films. Sigorney Weaver seems to have started the action heroine trend and it seems to be disappearing with her.

    Or why we don’t have more big romantic dramas when Titantic and Gone with the Wind were big blockbusters? (Personally I think it’s harder to write great romance than great action, but I’ve covered that on other posts).

  • Debbie

    As a female moviegoer, I kinda don’t WANT to go see movies about women. Sorry, I know I’m probably going to get flamed, but I can barely stand hanging around with other women at work and listening to them blab about their weddings and children (“Steel Magnolias” style), so why would I want to pay to see movies about them?

    Although, “Agora,” the story of Hypatia; I would be interested in that.

  • amanohyo

    Ease up on generalizations Mr Bag. I went to Moulin Rouge without my wife who hates corny romantic musicals. The same thing happens with Disney movies like Tarzan (I like em’ she doesn’t). We both went to Hedwig and the Angry Inch and were equally interested in it after the preview (neither of us liked Chicago that much). The most passionate opera (and Rocky Horror) fans I know are all men. Men go to concerts. Men watch music videos. Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz were two of my favorite movies as a child. And honestly, what human being doesn’t enjoy Singing in the Rain? Every musical is not of the Highschool variety, (just as every man is not a douchebag..although every sperm is sacred).

    Debbie, which of the movies MA mentioned in the article were mainly concerned with weddings and children? Not every woman is obsessed with those topics; one of the main points of the article is that even if you buy the argument that there’s only a market for sexy, violent action movies and comedies, there’s no reason that strong female characters can’t appear in those movies and draw both male and female moviegoers in droves as many films have already demonstrated.

  • MaryAnn

    As a female moviegoer, I kinda don’t WANT to go see movies about women. Sorry, I know I’m probably going to get flamed, but I can barely stand hanging around with other women at work and listening to them blab about their weddings and children (“Steel Magnolias” style), so why would I want to pay to see movies about them?

    Debbie, do you honestly believe that blabbing about weddings and children constitutes the sum totality of women’s experience?

    Is that all *you* do?

    And even if that *were* all that you do, do you think that, say, Indiana Jones is a realistic depiction of a man? Is James Bond realistic? Why can’t we have fantasies about women living exciting, adventurous lives, fantasies that are just as ridiculous as the ones we see about men?

  • amanohyo

    Also, even though the 1982 version is far superior, I’m sure quite a lot of guys watched the 2007 Sweeney Todd…ditto for Willy Wonka come to think of it…and 8 Mile… and 99% of the movies made in India. Maybe I just don’t understand what you mean by “movie-musicals.” Does This Is It count? If it does, then John Odehus has some splainin’ to do…he seemed suspiciously eager to watch it (probably because he’s *whispers* one of them gays. We’d better taunt him mercilessly ’til he learns to watch movies like a real man).

  • thank you amanohyo, for that cogent discussion about how not to generalize what all men like. also, did anyone mention that most musicals, romances and most “chick flicks,” not to mention love songs and sweeping dramas are written by…men?

    another question, if “straight guys” think that women want romance as depicted in the movies, and straight men supposedly want “girls” to sleep with them and bring them beers and such — why then don’t they make some attempt to be like the men in those movies, instead of like the guys in stupid dick flicks like “Hangover” or other such fare? i’m looking at you, Lawschool Doucehbag (although perhaps your chosen moniker says it all) and others of your ilk. not obviously evolved people like amanohyo.

  • JT

    Judging by the disappointing numbers put up by “Amelia,” it’s no mystery why Hollywood is hesitant to make more films with “strong” female leads.

    Maybe the disappointing numbers were the result of absolute no marketing, bad buzz and a dump release in 800 theaters. It really has nothing to do with the American public’s aversion to strong female leads.

  • mortadella

    People have a way of taking successful films about women (and/or successful films MADE by women) and discrediting their popularity by indirectly calling them anomalies.

    Sci-fi writer Joanna Russ wrote this book called “How To Supress Women’s Writing,” that explores this behavior in regards to literature — but I think you can apply Russ’ list of criticism used to devalue women’s work (or stories about women) to films as well:

    She didn’t write it
    – She wrote it, but she had help
    – She wrote it but she shouldn’t have
    – She wrote it, but look what she wrote about
    – She wrote it but she only wrote one of it
    – She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist (but it isn’t really art)
    – She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly

    Russ then writes, “If women’s experience is defined as inferior to, less important than, or ‘narrower’ than men’s experience, women’s writing is automatically denigrated.”

  • Accounting Ninja

    Wow, Douchebag, lol. I can just *feel* your excitement at sticking to us fuddy duddy feminists. What logic! What manly wisdom! It’s all so clear to me now, that you have the answers.
    But JT beat me to it to the real reason Amelia seems to be tanking: NO advertising. I only maybe saw TWO commercials about it. Two. And they were on Discovery channel or Animal Planet or History channel, I forget which one. But it was hardly an advertising blitz on widely watched network tv.

    Hmmmm. Wonder why that is?? Oh. Right.

    And Debra, your post saddens me, but honestly it echoes what I might have written years ago. How pervasive is sexism when women really believe “all women are x”, but then we feel “special” or defective or better than all of “those” typical women. But expand your horizons and do some feminist reading*, by REAL women, not just what the culture tells you women are. It opened my eyes not to look down upon other women. I am not like the “typical” woman (that tv and movies tell us is typical). But there are millions of us. Of course, this means you have to give up your Unique Snowflake Status, but oh well.

    Are there women who talk of things I don’t talk about, or who are focused on things like husbands and babies and stuff? Well, yeah, just like there are guys who talk only sports. But, like me, you just need to get out and talk to more people. You’ll also find that, behind all the “small talk” of that stuff you disdain, lies people with all sorts of interesting facets, if you let yourself see them. Or, some people just won’t be interesting to you. But see them as the boring-to-you individuals they are. Don’t indict their entire gender.

    It’s hard to see anything very clearly looking down the bridge of your own nose.

    *btw, “feminist reading” need not mean a college course. Even a site like this one counts.

  • StevenM

    Sad, isn’t it, that even in the twenty first damn century women are still dragon-bait in so much fiction? Of course Sci-Fi had its golden age of Ripley and Sarah C.. More recently, though, horror has had some stronger, more 3D ladytypes (I’m thinking The Ring, 28 Days/Weeks, the Dawn of the Dead remake, Silent Hill, Cloverfield, The Descent, etc.), which is nice to see but, unfortunately, good horror movies don’t often get the artistic credibility they deserve. Has anybody else noticed this about the horror genre, and am I wrong in thinking this something of a silver lining to the big dumb cloud of modern mainstream cinema?

  • Jester

    Hollywood doesn’t make action movies with women in the lead role because when they do, women stay away in droves:

    http://boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=actionheroine.htm

    I’ll grant you, many of these movies are terrible, but many of them are quite good. Aliens, The Fifth Element, and Courage Under Fire are three of my favorite movies, all with very well-acted female leads.

    When it became clear in 2005 that Firefly fans weren’t going to push Serenity past the $40M it needed to get a sequel made, Universal repackaged their advertising for it to try to sell it as a female actioner, with the net result that women still stayed away in droves. And Serenity is an excellent, well-written movie with several strong female characters.

    Women have already voted with their money on this issue, and they’ve voted no, pretty firmly and repeatedly.

    The story in comedies isn’t much different. Whip It is an excellent, quite fun movie with many strong female leads. Women have stayed away in droves. Instead, they’ve spent an absolute TON of money on Couples Retreat, which is awful and perpetuates any number of female stereotypes.

    If women want to know why quality movies with strong female leads aren’t being made, they need look no farther than the closest mirror. I realize that this is not a particularly popular answer, but it’s the true one. As long as women spend their money on trash, trash is what they shall receive. Hollywood is set up to make money, regardless of the quality of the end product.

  • If I was the studio rep, I would have reminded you that “Titantic” was a spectacular and epic melodrama with mass market appeal, while “Moulin Rouge” is a fucking musical. No amount of advertising could convince straight guys to go movie-musicals without their girlfriends/wives.

    Ah, yes, I can’t possibly imagine any straight male being interested in a movie musical number like this. In fact, that tune is the most obvious attempt to pander exclusively to straight women and gay men that I’ve ever seen…

  • As is this.

  • And this.

  • bree

    No, Jester, you’re putting the cart before the horse and you yourself just explained how:

    “They” spent a ton of money on marketing Couples Retreat, they did NOT spend a ton of money marketing Whip It, a delightful movie featuring several actresses arguably popular with female moviegoers. But it was dumped with a limited release in relatively few theatres. Whip It made no money because women (and men for that matter) tend not to go to movies they have never heard of and know nothing about.

    The Marketing Machine is deciding which “chick” movies will make money and which won’t by completely ignoring those films deemed “not bankable”, and of course it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because the movies deemed not bankable receive no promotion and a limited release into very few theaters and then bomb, reinforcing the agenda of the Marketing Machine. When all movies receive the exact same vigorous promotion to the movie-going public and the same wide theatrical releases, then one can judge whether women are in fact voting with their wallets.

  • But marketing doesn’t always make the difference marketing majors would like you to think it does.

    The history of film is filled with movies that got major advertising pushes–Last Action Hero, Showgirls, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band–only to strike out at the box office.

    Even the best ad campaign can’t get people to see a movie they really don’t want to see. All it can really do is call it to their attention.

    That said, it’s kinda surprising that Ms. Barrymore’s movie got so little publicity, considering how much attention she’s gotten for mediocre fare like Charlie’s Angels.

  • Jester

    Widest release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($128M U.S.): 2000 theaters. Widest release of Whip It ($12M U.S): 1800 theaters. The problem obviously wasn’t distribution.

    As for marketing: chicken, meet egg. Egg, say hello to chicken.

    As I pointed out, women don’t go to these movies even IF there’s a major marketing push for the flick (as their was for Serenity, for instance; you couldn’t turn on the TV for a while there without seeing Summer Glau hanging from a fire sprinkler).

    Mamma Mia’s marketing budget was laughably, ludicrously small for a flick that opened on 3200 screens, but it didn’t prevent that movie from bringing in almost $150M in the U.S. Women will find the movies they want to see.

    So while I agree that there is SOME truth to the marketing question, you can’t dump all, or even most of the problem there. Most of the problem falls on what women spend money to go see at the theater. Sex And The City, anyone ($150M)? How about 27 Dresses ($90M)? Or The Ugly Truth ($90M)?

    And the more these fail-movies succeed at the box office, the more they’re going to be marketed to women. And the more money women will spend on them and their future variants. Sex and the City 2, anyone?

    As I said, check a mirror. The problem’s right there.

  • bree

    So I’m the problem? Well, maybe you should check your own mirror. Don’t be surprised if you see an ass.

    Your comparison of Whip It to CTHD – a multiple academy award nominated and winning world-wide phenomenon of a martial arts/action/adventure/action/romance movie – is absurd.

    Sex and the City, Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses, HEAVILY marketed and widely released. Sometimes a phenomenon like Mama Mia comes along, but using it as an example of “what women want is silly” is…silly.

    Try again.

  • bree

    Oh, and the Serenity example? Are you kidding? Only fans of Firefly would even know what Serenity is or care, and Firefly, though an excellent series, had a very limited TV run.

  • Jester

    Oh, please.

    I compared CTHD and Whip It across ONE element: their distribution. You could find CTHD. You could find Whip It. I found both. You apparently did, too. Serenity played on 2000 screens, and you obviously found that. The movies are out there if you frakkin’ look.

    I presented Serenity as a movie with a female action lead and strong female characters, marketed by Universal to women seeking a female actioner. Even if you don’t get Firefly, you should be able to get their later trailers. Explain to me who exactly THIS was being marketed to, if not to women seeking a female action heroine:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWc4XlvDlhc

    Women voted with their wallets to stay away.

    They voted with their wallets to see crap like 27 Dresses, Mamma Mia, The Ugly Truth, Sex And The City, and 50 others I could name like them, regardless of marketing budget.

    Other GOOD movies, *with* strong female characters, *without* a strong marketing budget, that despite that did just fine at the box office, thanks in large part to women: Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Love Actually, Mean Girls, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (it only got a marketing budget AFTER the Oscars), Erin Brockovich (ditto), Dreamgirls (ditto). But these are the exception, not the rule.

    The rule is Waitress, Garden State, Anywhere But Here, Where The Heart Is, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Oh, and Whip It. All excellent movies with well-written female characters that women stayed away from in droves.

    I could go on, but you’ve obviously already discounted my opinion.

  • Joanne

    Jester: I’m afraid as a woman who did pay to see Serenity and did not pay to see the “crap” you cite (though I watched Mamma Mia on a flight and enjoyed it) I have to disagree with you. I’d love to have seen Waitress in the cinema but was living in NZ when it was released everywhere else and never managed to catch it. Got that one out of the library. Loved it.

    If this thread’s proved anything it’s proved that you can’t generalise about what men and women like seeing at the cinema. Yesterday I went to see An Education which does have several strong female characters, though they’re hamstrung by the era in which they live. I appreciated that.

  • chuck

    Sigorney Weaver seems to have started the action heroine trend and it seems to be disappearing with her.

    Dude, I love Sigorney getting out of a freezer pod in her underwear as much as anyone, but she’s hardly the last of a kind.

    Ever heard of:

    Milla Jovovich.
    – Resident Evil Multiple movies
    – Ultraviolet
    – Zoolander
    – Fifth Element
    to name only a few action flicks.

    or

    Anglina Jolie
    – Tomb Raider (multiple)
    – Beowulf
    – Sky Captain and the world of Tomorrow
    – Gone in sixty seconds
    – Mr. Mrs. Smith
    To name a few of the action flicks

    Or maybe a few of these

    # Halle Berry – XMEN
    # Jennifer Garner
    # Sarah Michelle Gellar The Buff-ster
    # Daryl Hannah – Kill Bill I and II Blade Runner
    # Lucy Lawless – Xena, BSG
    # Amanda Tapping – Sanutary, Star Gate
    # Uma Thurman – Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction

    There is more but I grow weary.

  • Lisa

    To be fair to Debbie, I think that “blabbing about weddings and children” as “the sum totality of women’s experience” is Hollywood’s VIEW of women which is why I can’t stand chick flicks for the most part myself. Its view of women is boring and reductive. I’m tired of being told if you’re an unmarried career woman, you’re desperate for a man. If you’re a married housewife, you’re just sad. Who was it that said there are 3 roles for women – Hooker, Lawyer, Driving Mrs Daisy?

    However I quite liked Sex and the City – I thought most of the criticsm of that was by men and was a bit sexist -altho I think I remember that you didn’t like it either, MaryAnn.

    “Why can’t we have fantasies about women living exciting, adventurous lives, fantasies that are just as ridiculous as the ones we see about men?”

    yeah but I want to live in New York and have an exciting job and wear fantastic shoes too lol

    I would also love to see Agora we’ll see if it’s released in my neighbourhood!

  • MaryAnn

    Hollywood doesn’t make action movies with women in the lead role because when they do, women stay away in droves:

    Jester, please read my Week in Women column linked in the post.

    And who said anything about movies featuring strong women being aimed only at women? Even if you buy the bullshit that women like only certain movies and men like only certain different movies, that still does not explain why there aren’t more strong women characters in movies men supposedly like.

    Seriously: read the link.

  • amanohyo

    chuck, dude, I love Sigourney Weaver duct taping an automatic rifle to a flamethrower and confronting the Alien Queen (who lives only to reproduce…unless she has some hobbies I’m unaware of) as much as anyone, but if we remove the movies that are presented from a male character’s perspective, we have:

    Resident Evils
    Ultraviolet
    Tomb Raiders
    Mr. and Mrs. Smith? (haven’t seen it)
    Sanctuary + Stargate? (haven’t seen them)
    Buffy
    Xena
    Kill Bills

    Now, let’s remove the movies/shows that are mediocre to awful in almost every aspect of production (because no one remembers or cares about those), and focus on movies rather than television (as that’s what the original article is about). We are left with:

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith?
    Kill Bills

    Jolie and Thurman vs. Weaver and Hamilton (who to be fair was not the primary point of view character in her action movies either)… hmmm, you know what, I’m biased in favor of the oldies but I’ll concede your point. I suppose there are some action heroines still around. Sometimes the results of the study don’t turn out like you thought they would (my sponsors will be furious).

    And Jester, you’re correct that many women choose to watch wedding/romcom/shopping movies rather than action flicks, but what’s stopping all the men from watching more action movies with strong women in them? (Could it be that some of them are just bad movies?)

    Here in the midwest, unfortunately it’s still the dudes and dads who decide which movie the group/family/couple will watch most of the time. I imagine that’s the case in most of the rest of the country too although I can’t say for sure. And even if couples alternate choosing, what are the odds that the woman will be lucky enough to have one of those movies available as a choice when her turn comes up? And when you’ve been socialized to value marriage and gossip about relationships. it seems natural that a girl’s night out at the movies would gravitate towards a stereotypical “chick flick,” as almost every bit of marketing you’ve ever encountered in your life has reinforced the idea that that is the kind of movie you should be interested in.

    You’re right to suggest that we should all look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves, but it seems unfair to expect women to drag these woman-centric movies into the limelight all by themselves (they’ve got no upper body strength…just kidding). It’s a lot easier with movies like MbfGW and SatC because that’s the kind of movie that women are supposed to like in our society (and Lisa is right to point out that being a wealthy urbanite with a job who is obsessed with shopping and relationships and weddings is a tiny step up from being a middle-class suburbanite who is obsessed with relationships and weddings).

    Mr. douchebag is a good example of this power of socialization. He’s internalized the idea that straight guys (real men) are supposed to like action movies, and gay guys and women are supposed to like musicals. Debbie is the same way, she not only has internalized that women are supposed to watch chick flicks, she believes that there might be something wrong with herself because she doesn’t like them. You shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for liking (or disliking) a movie Debbie (you either, la douche).

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“You’re right to suggest that we should all look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves, but it seems unfair to expect women to drag these woman-centric movies into the limelight all by themselves…”

    They can’t do it without help from the men in marketing and movie making?

    Just calling it as I see it, your portrayal of women as helpless victims of market forces, whose taste in movies isn’t there own and won’t change until those in power save them from it, is rather condescending – sexist, even. Surely we can at least give women credit for knowing what they like and choosing it, can’t we? They do have brains, do they not?

  • amanohyo

    Women certainly can do it alone (as Titanic has shown), but I think a collaborative approach has a more realistic chance of broad success given the world that we live in. Jester seems to be laying much of the blame for the failure of movies with strong women at the feet of female moviegoers. My question is, why blame only women for not making these movies a success? Especially when in a lot of the country, it’s still men who decide what movies their families go out to watch (you city dwellers are so spoiled).

    I didn’t mean to suggest that women should sit and wait for men to rescue them by making their choices for them, and I believe that the forces of marketing and socialization have just as strong an influence on men as on women. However, I also see that men and their perspectives have more power and privilege in this world, and attempts to correct this imbalance by focusing solely on the actions of women won’t be as effective as an approach that spreads the responsibility more evenly.

    That reminds me of a list of tips to prevent sexual assault I recently read. Typically, these lists include things like, “don’t go to bars alone,” “don’t accept drinks from strangers,” “park in a well lighted area” etc. This list had things of that nature as well, but the number one tip was “Don’t be a rapist.” I think it was a good reminder that all of that all of us, women and men, share the responsibility to work towards a more just society. I apologize for implying that women are powerless or should be helplessly waiting for help from powerful men. I don’t believe that to be the case at all, I just think neither they nor men should isolate themselves when trying to find a path towards the elimination of sexism.

  • Chuck

    Don’t get me wrong, I also love Sigorney and Linda when they strap on the heavy armament and go for it. And I agree Resident Evil and the like are not top notch. There also is a huge steaming pile of male dominated action that is sorely lacking as well.

    I also have come to the point where I don’t dismiss TV. Over the years TV entertainment such as:

    Rome
    Carnival
    Dexter
    Madmen
    BSG
    Deadwood

    have brought me more entertainment punch then a lot of big screen offerings.

    Which reminds me of two additional actresses I forgot to mention above.

    Billy Piper
    Catherine Tate.

    The new series of DW to me has been more about the companions then about the Doctor, and I love what these two have done in what I see as a female leading role. Who can forget Donna screaming at the Doctor to go back and save anyone, someone, in The Fires of Pompeii, there was no doubt as to who was in charge.

  • Jester

    MAJ, I read your piece. Twice. I particularly liked the line where you insulted the boy-audience en masse by saying we were gonna die of suffocation if someone doesn’t get shot on screen. Way to perpetuate stereotypes that you’d be outraged about if they were applied to YOUR gender.

    As far as I’m concerned, the Mr. And Mrs. Smith imitator you’re looking for was Duplicity.

    Then I read the piece that you linked to. You didn’t quote the most interesting line in the WaPo piece:

    ‘Women are the predominant buyers of tickets at movies, but they don’t seem to support in any great strength going to see ‘The Brave One’ or ‘Duplicity’ or ‘Changeling.’ ” (The failure of “Duplicity,” the Julia Roberts caper comedy that came out earlier this year, is often mentioned as yet another death knell for meaty women’s roles.)’

    But perhaps you could enlighten me on the parts of your AWFJ piece that you think I missed.

  • JoshB

    Even if you buy the bullshit that women like only certain movies and men like only certain different movies, that still does not explain why there aren’t more strong women characters in movies men supposedly like.

    Even playing Devil’s Advocate I can’t think of a good explanation.

    Maybe because a male action lead is a proven commodity, the de facto standard. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

  • Jester

    @Lisa: It was Goldie Hawn’s character in The First Wives Club. Which, despite the fact that virtually nobody gets shot, I watched, and enjoyed.

  • Jester

    So, I showed the AWFJ piece to my wife (who is not a hard-core movie nut like I am). She works as a technical designer for clothing manufacturers. Her opinion of the piece was interesting. I quote it nearly verbatim:

    “She [MAJ] makes some good points, but she’s also missing an obvious point. Why doesn’t anyone design clothes for 65-year-old women? They’ve got all the money, after all. But business is about going after the cheap, easy money. You have to work ten times as hard to go after that market, and it’s not only harder, it’s not as fun and not as sexy.”

  • Jurgan

    “MAJ, I read your piece. Twice. I particularly liked the line where you insulted the boy-audience en masse by saying we were gonna die of suffocation if someone doesn’t get shot on screen. Way to perpetuate stereotypes that you’d be outraged about if they were applied to YOUR gender.”

    Wow, did you miss the point. Clearly, she was not saying men need to constantly see people being shot. Rather, she was insulting Hollywood execs for insisting they need to constantly chase after teenage boys’ patronage with violent movies. In other words: she didn’t really believe what she said, but rather she was mocking Hollywood for appearing to believe it.

  • wooster182

    What I do find is that while there is a lack of interesting women in film (arguably; I like the women I see in the films I watch), there are a plethora of interesting female character on television:

    Juliet and Sun on Lost
    Starbuck especially and Athena on BSG
    Buffy, Cordelia, River from the Whedonverse
    Beckett on Castle
    Olivia Dunham on Fringe
    The women on Southland, Leverage, and The Unusuals
    Sydney of course on Alias

    As far as I can tell, the two main stars of the new show V are two ass-kicking women.

    These are complex, strong, ass-kicking women. Why are they so much easier to name on television than on film? Hell, there was a female President on tv. I don’t think there’s ever been one on film that I can think of. What is it about tv that allows for stronger women?

    Does this also say about our society that for an hour and a half that we don’t really have to devote any sort of our lives to that we’d rather just see caricatures of our fantasies but for something like television in which we devote time and faith to, we want strong, well developed women that we can look up to and feel can protect us?

    Are we actually healthier than we seem?

  • Paul

    @chuck: I stand half corrected: the latter half, of course.

    I wonder if the next time I’m called a sexist I can just say, “But, but I support strong women characters in movies and books with my consumer dollar!”

    And Jester’s wife might be onto something, and not just because my grandmother hated spending money and wore the same clothes in the 90s that she did in the 70s, then when she died each of her 8 grandkids inherieted $60,000.

    Let us assume for a minute that the same people who succumb to advertising are the same ones who succumb to all forms of societial brainwashing. Let us then assume that people who do not succumb to societial brainwashing are more resistent to advertising. I might go out on a limb and conclude that women who don’t like “Sex and the City” and men who did (or liked “Becoming Jane”, if you wish a better movie as an example) are not very good consumers over all, and therefore not a primary target.

  • bree

    Just for the record, Jester did not suggest, “we should all look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves”; he said, “If women want to know why quality movies with strong female leads aren’t being made, they need look no farther than the closest mirror”, and to a woman (me), “check a mirror, the problem’s right there”.

    There is a big difference between the two latter comments suggesting women and women alone are to blame for the dearth of good female roles, and “we should all look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves” with includes men and the role they may play in deciding what movies get made, how they are made (overwhelming written and directed by men), and how they are marketed in relation to the reasons there aren’t better roles for women in film.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Seriously, Debbie? Seriously? That’s what you think women are? That’s what you think a movie about women has to be?

    Pick any blockbuster action or suspense movie that wasn’t about a real person or about a profession that discriminates against women (spys, cops, lawyers, and doctors don’t count; I’m talking about things like WWII combat soldiers or Catholic priests), and give me one reason why it couldn’t have had a woman protagonist. A real reason, not this bullshit, “men won’t go see it.” Because that reason is not only insulting to women, who are apparently expected to enjoy movies with protagonists who are not like themselves, but also to men, who are assumed to be so devoid of imagination as to be unable to identify with protagonists not like themselves.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Honestly, this is why I keep commenting about movies like 9 and The Water Horse, movies that may be charming and wonderful, but that reinforce over and over that male is the default, that unless a girl is a princess, she can’t be the focus of a story, that girls don’t have adventures, only romances. I don’t enjoy being this angry. But it just doesn’t seem to get any better. Hell, at least my generation had our Wonder Woman underroos. What does my daughter get? Princess and fairies.

  • MaryAnn

    But perhaps you could enlighten me on the parts of your AWFJ piece that you think I missed.

    You missed where I pointed out that there are lots of movies that Hollywood has aimed at men that feature strong women that have been hugely successful, and that have failed to be followed up on. (If you think *Duplicity* is a thematic follow-on from *Mr & Mrs Smith,* I suggest that you take another look at both films.) Meanwhile, Hollywood keeps beating other clearly dead horses.

    And what Jurgan said about my suffocation comment. Clearly, men do not die if deprived of nonstop cinematic violence, so why does Hollywood act like they do?

    Re your wife’s comment about easy money: Another of my points is that there obviously is easy money to be made in movies that feature strong women but still find the standard appeals-to-boys mode. And that easy money is not gone after while other less-than-easy money regularly is.

    My overall point is this: If it really *were* just about money, we would see more action movies and science fiction movies that feature strong women. But we don’t, so something else is going on.

  • Jester

    Sigh. Obviously, I did not miss that point, because I said several times that most movies featuring strong women completely bomb at the box office. The few movies you pointed out in your piece are the rare exception, not the rule. I listed many more movies that are the rule, and pointed to a long list of more at Box Office Mojo.

    As the WaPo piece makes quite clear, as long as these movies continue to bomb, more will NOT be made. Hollywood is a business, not a purveyor of art.

    You can choose to believe that a business wanting to make a profit reflects poorly on the human species. Hell, it might even be true. See: the current U.S. health care debate, et. al.

  • Bluejay

    Honestly, this is why I keep commenting about movies like 9 and The Water Horse, movies that may be charming and wonderful, but that reinforce over and over that male is the default, that unless a girl is a princess, she can’t be the focus of a story, that girls don’t have adventures, only romances. I don’t enjoy being this angry. But it just doesn’t seem to get any better. Hell, at least my generation had our Wonder Woman underroos. What does my daughter get? Princess and fairies.

    Lucy: I haven’t seen “9” but I agree about “The Water Horse.” Wasn’t the boy’s older sister the protagonist in the book? Cutting the sister completely out of the movie and making the boy the hero just seemed gratuitous to me.

    There *are* female adventurers to be found, in Miyazaki’s anime, for example. And if your daughter’s a reader, she’ll find plenty in books and graphic novels, as my own daughter is discovering.

  • Accounting Ninja

    for Lucy and anyone interested, I recommend The Hathor Legacy. It’s a site devoted to the search for strong female characters (the focus is mostly on tv rather than movies, but still). They also critique women’s portrayals in commercials. Give it a look.
    Also, pertinent to this conversation: Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not To Pass The Bechdel Test

  • Lucy Gillam

    Thanks, Accounting Ninja. I’m actually quoted on that site a few times ;). I rant about stuff like this a lot.

  • MaryAnn

    You can choose to believe that a business wanting to make a profit reflects poorly on the human species. Hell, it might even be true. See: the current U.S. health care debate, et. al.

    You’re falling into the same trap that’s was mentioned above: if it involves women and it’s successful, it must be an anomaly.

    I *am* talking about profit. I *know* Hollywood is about making money. I’m saying that even by that measure, Hollywood is refusing to make movies about strong women when it would be to their benefit not to do so.

    *Paranormal Activity* may be an “anomaly,” but do you *really* think we’re not going to see a slew of similar movies coming out of the Hollywood studios in the next few years, all attempting to chase the same rainbow? Of course we will. By the same measure, we *should* have seen movies trying to replicate the success — however “anomalous” you want to consider it — of movies like *Crouching Tiger* and *Mr & Mrs Smith.* Yet we haven’t. Why not, when the same rule — Replicate anything that’s successful — drives Hollywood in other instances?

  • amanohyo

    Maybe in the minds of Hollywood execs, movies like Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and even The Forbidden Kingdom were attempts to repeat the success of Cthd. Perhaps their logic goes something like, “this action movie did great at the box office even though it has female main characters, just think how great the same kind of movie would do if we release a similar movie with male main characters!” In other words, maybe most of them really have bought in to the bullshit that these movies were a success despite (rather than in large part because of) the presence of strong women?

    I’ve never seen any of the Underworld movies, but the marketing seemed to be centered around a strong female character. There was actually a brief glut of low quality videogamish movies with women (“chicks with guns” as los dudebros would say) that seems to have subsided (Tomb Raider, Underworld, Resident Evil, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet). Most of the marketing seemed to be aimed at traditionally male communities, and the girls were presented more like fashion plates than action heroes (maybe I’m being sexist when I make that observation?). However, it is an example of Hollywood realizing that a female main character might actually matter in some positive way… to men of course.

  • Jester

    I pointed out one imitator, and you rejected it out of hand. But I wasn’t the only one to make the connection I did. I thought of it at the time I was watching the flick, and I wasn’t the only one. “Mr And Mrs Smith Duplicity”, put into Google, results in 154,000 matches. The bulk of those matches (once duplicates are removed) are movie reviews that concluded that Duplicity was Mr. And Mrs. Smith, but trading in bullets and explosions for brains.

    Putting “Mr And Mrs Smith imitator” into Google results in (quite ironically) a pointer to the Jennifer Aniston vehicle “The Bounty”, which will be released March 2010. Looks like it’s got a very similar plot. Guess we’ll have to see how it does, and how closely it actually compares.

    As far as I’m concerned, CTHD’s spiritual successor was Hero. It didn’t capture lightning in a bottle the way CTHD did. I’m not sure anything could.

    But successful movies failing to be imitated is NOT limited to movies about strong women. When Gladiator made a half BILLION dollars world wide, the trades, en masse, predicted an onslaught of sword and sandals epics to come. I seem to have missed them, unless you want to count “Rome” on HBO. I enjoyed that immensely, but I’m not sure it counts. The POTC flicks made triple or quadruple that, but I haven’t seen a lot of new pirate swashbucklers in the pipe, either.

    But since Keira Knightley’s character was retconned into a swashbuckler herself for the sequels, no doubt that’s her fault. ;-)

  • Jester

    Doh. Cross-post, amanohyo. But excellent catch! I’d completely forgotten about HFD.

    There’s your CTHD imitator, MAJ.

  • MaSch

    Gladiator -> Troy, Alexander. I think I saw an article once that mentioned some others, but neither the article nor the names of those hypothetical other movies is in the forefront of my brain right now.

  • Jester

    @MaSch: Oh, very good catch. I’d forgotten about those two (easy to do, they were both awful…). But there was a four year gap between Gladiator and those two. By that timing, The Bounty is right on time.

  • CB

    All the examples of Hero, HoFD, and even to an extent CTHD show is that Chinese/Hong Kong cinema is kicking Hollywood’s ass with regards to strong female characters (in action movies). Especially multi-dimensional characters. If there was more than two dimensions to anything in Resident Evil series, I missed it. Even The Bride was pretty flat, outside of her strong motherhood instinct which showed up all of twice.

    Miyazaki is a phenomenon unto himself. He absolutely loves strong, complex female characters, both as protagonists and antagonists. The only movie I can think of with an ostensibly male hero was dominated by the conflict between the two main female characters (and named after one of them, princess mononoke obviously). So at the very least, we’ll always have his legacy of strong female role models and characters for girls.

    Joss Wedon on the other hand… He does good work, but his “love” of ultra-petite female action heroines is almost fetishistic. I dunno. Summer Glau as a physical bad-ass works when she’s a terminator, but frankly I thought River was more powerful when she was an insane genius rather than a programmed ninja. Are those scenes from the trailer really supposed to appeal to women gagging for Action Women?

    I always thought part of the appeal of Ripley and Sarah Conner was that they were ostensibly ‘normal’ women of the non-bad-ass variety, thrown into situations in which they have to find the inner strength to become bad-asses, but they do so in very believable non-action-hero-stereotype ways. Aliens even includes what would in another movie be the Token Tough Girl in the butch but still feminine (mrawr!) Vasquez, but instead contrasts her trained Marine bad-assery with Ripley’s more organically earned toughness. Both Ripley and Sarah came about their sex-symbol status more organically as well.

    Compare with, say, Underworld or Tomb Raider. In Underworld the lead is a sexy vampire dressed in tight leather. She’s Sexy Action Gal from the word “go”. Tomb Raider? The start of Jolie’s action movie career was a character from the even more explicitly sexist realm of videogames — a character famous primarily for her “assets”! So, am I surprised if women were not inspired by these characters to go see their movies? Not really.

    But this goes back to one of the issues raised by MAJ’s article — with these Sexy Action Gal characters obviously targeted more at the men than at women, and with these movies like most action-fests sinking or swimming without women in attendance, why are there not more of them?

  • Paul

    Well, okay, you all have convinced me. If I have kids I’m buying the complete DVD set of “Star Trek: Voyager.” If you want shows with strong women talking to strong women about something other than men, not much is going to beat a starship captain with a half-Klingon chief enginneer talking about temporal mechanics. One of the earliest episodes was the best along those lines, about how Capt. Janeway choose Tores to be chief engineer.

    As tough as the DS 9 women could be, it seemed they spent their time off with each other doing girl stuff that didn’t work out. Such as the first Dax and Kira arguing in medieval outfits as they came out of the holodeck. The brave commander asks them what’s wrong.

    Dax: She punched out Lancelot!
    Kira: He kissed me!
    Dax: He was supposed to kiss you!
    Kira: I was playing a married woman!

    Still one of my favorite scenes.

    Unfortunately the Star Trek franchise seems to have peaked with those shows, feminism wise.

  • bree

    The character of Ripley in Alien was written as male in Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay. Ridley Scott decided he wanted to cast a woman in the role instead, and got guff from his producer because a screenplay re-write at that point in the low-budget project would cost too much $, to which Scott replied something to the effect of, “Don’t be stupid, just leave it, it’s fine as it is.”. And so he held his ground, cast Weaver, and that was how cinema was gifted with one of the great female roles/heroines of all time, because some guy didn’t try to “write” Ripely as female.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Bree: Amanda Tapping tells a similar story about SG-1. Her first few eps were horrible, and the writers finally admitted that they didn’t know how to “write women.” She told them, look, just write her like an officer and a scientist, and I’ll play her. Since I’m a woman, she’ll be a woman, and hey! Much, much improved.

    Women, shockingly, are people, and a woman lawyer or cop or spy doesn’t have to be appreciably different than a man in the same profession. And yet look at the fifth (?) comment in this post, assuming that any movie about a woman must involve weddings and children.

    (Not that involving children is a bad thing. My favorite male TV character right now is Rick Castle, and I mostly love him because he is an awesome dad. Which just goes to show that Hollywood knows how to make parents interesting as long as they’re men.)

  • MaryAnn

    I pointed out one imitator, and you rejected it out of hand.

    Because it’s not an imitator!

    But I wasn’t the only one to make the connection I did. I thought of it at the time I was watching the flick, and I wasn’t the only one. “Mr And Mrs Smith Duplicity”, put into Google, results in 154,000 matches. The bulk of those matches (once duplicates are removed) are movie reviews that concluded that Duplicity was Mr. And Mrs. Smith, but trading in bullets and explosions for brains.

    Sorry, but it’s a stunningly lousy connection. If we can say that *Duplicity* was *M&MS* with no bullets, then we can say that *O Brother Where Are Thou?* is *The Boondock Saints* with mythology instead of misogyny.

    I mean, seriously: If we trade out any one option for any other option, we can “connect” any two movies.

    Or, flip side: If *Duplicity* is *M&MS* minus bullets, then doesn’t it, you know, prove my point that “boy” movies with strong women can sell to “boy” audiences (as Hollywood interprets this), but take the bullets out, and the same audiences won’t see it? (Which isn’t to ignore the flip flip side, which is that *Duplicity* needed better marketing, not to not be made in the first place.)

  • Wooster182

    To say that the absence of of bullets is the reason Duplicity got much lower box office than Mr. and Mrs. Smith is ridiculous. M&MS got much more buzz and a hell of a lot better reviews than Duplicity. Second of all, Clive Owen is not nearly the name that Brad Pitt is and Julia Roberts is headed towards the pasture of her career as America’s Sweetheart while Angelina Jolie is still fresh in the population’s mind.

    Lastly, a huge proportion of people that went to see that film went because of the buzz surrounding whether AJ and BP were dating or not. It was a frenzie back then. Sure, the movie would have done well without it, but it did even better because of it. Duplicity had no such luck.

  • Lisa

    Movies I like about women would be stuff like Heavenly Creatures, Notes on a Scandal, Girlfight, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver, Devil Wears Prada (which I liked better than the book – the film seemed to acknowledge that Meryl Streep had worked very hard to get where she was and that there are sacrifices to be made to have that type of job/power – whereas in the book she seemed sort of snarky), Thelma and Louise, Sense and Sensibility – I paid to go see these movies in a cinema and would like to see more of this stuff.

    I don’t want to go and see any movie which has a scene where the female cast get together and have a singalong

    I liked Sex and the City because I feel like I know these women after having spent so much time with them.

    I don’t think Hollywood knows how to deal with iconic women anymore (never mind write for them!)

  • LaSargenta

    Totally useless addition to this conversation: I went to see Duplicity because it seemd like a caper film. I didn’t know I was to consider it a “woman’s film”. I really like caper films. They are clever and fun and there aren’t enough of them. The best recent one before Duplicity was Sexy Beast.

    I even like it when they are wrapped in gritty caper-gone-horribly-wrong plotting like The Getaway. (Yes, that’s Peckinpah, I think I’m the only female apologist for good old Sam left.)

    This nickel-and-dimeing about which movies are women’s movies is bizarre to me.

    The character of Ripley in Alien was written as male in Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay. Ridley Scott decided he wanted to cast a woman in the role instead, and got guff from his producer because a screenplay re-write at that point in the low-budget project would cost too much $, to which Scott replied something to the effect of, “Don’t be stupid, just leave it, it’s fine as it is.”…

    Years ago I heard and interview with Louis Gossett Jr. where it seemed that pretty much the same thing happened with him in Officer and a Gentleman. Seriously. Bizarre to imagine. Now, of course, he is the main thing that I remember from the film because he just ran with that role!

  • LaSargenta

    Oh, and I just wanted to add that Mr&Mrs Smith was really just a ripoff of Prizzi’s Honor mixed with some Tony Gilroy $h!t and larded with that couples’ counselling stuff and I couldn’t stand it. Yes, it was well made, but maybe I’m not actually female since I couldn’t stand it.

  • bree

    Lucy Gilliam: I’m not surprised, but thank goodness Tapping had the guts to intervene on her own behalf.

    LaSargenta: Regarding Louis Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman, that really is weird! I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job with the role than Gossett Jr. so I guess Taylor Hackford’s instincts to make the role male paid off.

  • LaSargenta

    so I guess Taylor Hackford’s instincts to make the role male paid off

    Uh, rereading my post, I can see where I went wrong…I didn’t specify that it was the racial difference, not the female-male difference. It was assumed during the casting that the drill sargent would be white, like just about everyone else in the film.

  • CB

    Great stories about Alien, SG-1. See, that’s how you do it. In the majority of roles, male characters are not defined by their maleness. Neither should most female roles. But of course for many femaleness becomes the most important part.

    BTW, LaSargenta, when you said that “pretty much the same thing” happened to Louis Gosset Jr., it made me imagine the writer responding to the casting director’s choice by saying “I don’t know how to write black guys”, which for some reason seems funny to me (in a way “I don’t know how to write women” doesn’t).

  • bree

    Sorry LaSargenta, I should have known what you meant! A female-to-male change of drill sargent sounds too good to be true.

  • Paul

    It is interesting how there are almost never as many black guys in a movie about the army as there in the actual army. I think the % of blacks in the army is at least twice their % in the general population.

  • Lisa

    by the way I fucking hated Mr and Mrs Smith

    I was actually pretty repulsed by the scene where he literally is kicking her head in before they make up and fuck (way to associate wiolence with sex, Hollywood)

    and apart from that the film did not make any sense

    liked the opening scene and the closing scene if you just saw them you’d think you’d missed a better film

    I remember reading an article in an newspaper many years ago about black judges in tv and movies and the headline went something along the lines of when was the last time you saw a white judge on an american tv network? (this was a while ago and i’m not american so things may have changed) but basically the theme of the article was that while black people were now allowed to play judges on tv, etc that they were still marginalised in terms of the percentage of roles available to them / screen time they were allowed i.e. while there may be better roles that it was just tokenism and that it was still hard for a black man/ women to be the lead in a tv series (again see i’m not american so I don’t know if this has changed) and I think that sometimes happens with women too. It’s like the creators of a show go look there’s a woman who’s a doctor , there’s a woman who’s an architect we’ve done our job for equality today, lads but it’s just tokenism and it does not translate to women being the lead or having interesting, exciting stories told about them. They’re still just there for the love interest, with no character development. Maybe all scripts should be written for white men and then y’know just change the gender and colour whatever.

    I’m reading that back and I’m hoping I made a valid point

  • Paul

    Yeah, Lisa, I think you do have a point. I think “Star Trek: Next Gen” had the same thing going on with Admirals.

    Rumors in the SF community claim that David Weber determines the gender of characters by flipping a coin, unless the gender is relevent to the plot, so there’s women all over his space opera military series.

  • AJP

    If you want to look at how tokenism works, look at the original Law & Order series. THe DA is always a white man. His assistant is always a woman. The police detectives are usually men (mostly white), and occassionally one is a black man. The police lieutenant is a black woman.

    The other iterations of Law a& Order mix up the gender and race assignments somewhat, but usually they follow a similar type of pattern.

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