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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why aren’t there more professional female characters in movies?

Kate Winslet in Contagion

Monika Bartyzel, film critic and my fellow Alliance of Women Film Journalists member, tweeted this recently:

When was the last notable professional female character on film? Hoping I’m memory lapsing and that the last wasn’t really Miranda Priestly.

Television has done better with depicting women who are professionals, and depicting them in stories that are at least as much about work as they are about romance and family. Looking back over this year in film, though, I’m not seeing anything near the same attention devoted to women as people with lives beyond men. The Artist is as much about the rise of actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) as it is about the fall of actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Though most audiences won’t see it till next year, Albert Nobbs is about Glenn Close as a professional woman… though she has to disguise herself as a man to get away with that. That movie is very much about how women are hindered from being professionals, much as The Help is, too. Sarah’s Key is about Kristin Scott Thomas’s work as a journalist (and how it mixes with her personal life), but notably, as with The Artist, this is a French film, and far removed from Hollywood. The upcoming Young Adult gives us Charlize Theron as a novelist, but the film is mostly about the collapse of her personal life (there are some funny bits about how she gets her writerly inspiration). Bad Teacher was about Cameron Diaz being truly terrible at her job. Larry Crowne gave us Julia Roberts being indifferent about her job. Perhaps only Contagion this year offered us competent professional women — more than one! — who are so good at their work that they’re specially called in when there’s trouble. Oh, and there’s Oranges and Sunshine, in which Emily Watson’s social worker finds a hotspot of trouble and bullies her way in to fixing it.
Not many of these characters feel notable however. The most fully rounded depictions of professional women came from films that got only limited releases; the big studio films temper the notion of women as professionals by mixing in lots of personal stuff and/or comedy.

Why aren’t there more professional female characters in movies? And to repeat Bartyzel’s question, who was the last really notable professional woman you can recall in a movie?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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