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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

attention, Hollywood: the wild success of Gravity means audiences have no trouble identifying with a female protagonist

gravitybullock

Hi, Hollywood. You know how you just avoid making movies with female protagonists because you keep insisting that no one wants to see them? And now Gravity is the biggest movie of 2013 in North America that isn’t a sequel or a remake or a reboot or based on a comic book? Yeah. That $222 million? Plus another $208 million globally? And whatever huge cash prize the film is going to rack up now that it’s open in the U.K., too? That’s for awesome space FX and glorious 3D, sure, but also for Sandra Bullock, who spends most of the movie on her own fighting to survive in a storytelling scenario that works as well as it does because it demands that the audience identify with her. Utterly and completely and intimately.

See? People are okay with that — even dude-people! — and will still fork over hard cash to see a woman doing, you know, interesting stuff. Using her brain and everything! And Sandy doesn’t even have to get raped or kidnapped or threatened or menaced or abused. She doesn’t have to fight to save a child. She’s not looking to get married. She’s got nothing to live for… except herself.

And moviegoers have not been exploding from the shock of this.

Oh, and you know how George Clooney teases Bullock’s character cuz her name is Ryan Stone, and isn’t Ryan a guy’s name? And Stone replies, “Dad wanted a boy”?

That’s aimed right at you, Hollywood.

(It’s true, at least, that Alfonso Cuarón had to fight the studio to keep his central character a woman. They wanted a man.)

But you got a girl, and she is kicking ass on behalf of your profit margin.

So there.

SEE ALSO: “only 18 percent of 2013’s US wide releases are exclusively about girls or women (and 60 percent exclusively about men)”


  • Audiences never had an issue identifying with a female protagonist. They just had an issue identifying with shitty movies. MALE executives wanted to see a correlation between movies that bombed and women so they did. And talked about. Endlessly. So people believed.

    Our world has so much further to go…

    I hope this is a step in the right direction though.

  • RogerBW

    ObHollywoodExec: “Oh, it’s just a coincidence. Let’s remake it with a guy.”

  • You and I know that. I’m hoping that Hollywood will that now, too. Though they’ll come up with some other justification for the film’s success.

  • bronxbee

    excellent.

  • Martin Sane

    Haven’t seen it yet but from I read in other reviews Bullock’s character is a mere puppy to Clooney’s awesomeness, totally uncapable of doing the easiest things by herself, helpless and dependent. The question came up how an untrained and obviously uncapable woman could be entrusted with a mission in space as did the regret that Bullock’s character was a wasted chance. As I said, haven’t seen it myself but is there more wishful thinking than you want to admit or are all those other critics completely off?

  • Bluejay

    I’ve seen the film. Your characterization is incorrect; Clooney’s character is a veteran astronaut on his last mission, while Bullock’s character is on her first, so she’s trained but inexperienced. She’s in no way a caricature of helplessness, but neither is she the opposite caricature of invulnerable hypercompetence; she’s intelligent and courageous, and she struggles and copes and makes mistakes and figures things out. She feels human and real and absolutely riveting.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a good movie. That’s why people went to see it. Doesn’t matter who the protagonist is as long as it fits the story

  • Bluejay

    Exactly. So you agree with MaryAnn. If people went to see it because it’s a good story, and they had no problem identifying with a woman the same way they would identify with a man, then there’s no reason why more main characters can’t be women.

  • Martin Sane

    Ok cool thanx, always interesting to see how different people have different interpretations on movies. I’ll definitely check it out myself.

  • Steven Lyle Jordan

    In yo FACE, Hollywood.

  • I agree. So why doesn’t Hollywood make more good movies that happen to have female protagonists?

  • Robert Clay

    In the spirit of Ripley …. :-)

  • Karl Morton IV

    I’ve no idea where the hyperincompetence thing came from – doesn’t seem like we were all seeing the same movie. Do post back here how you found it, if you go, hmm? :)

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