Why are women portrayed so negatively in film?
The powers that be in Hollywood figured out long ago that the young male demographic is their target audience. Women, it seems, don’t go to the cinema unless it’s with their friends (in groups) and usually to see a good old fashioned ‘rescue me’ rom com. You know the type – gorgeous male rescues lonely female from her humdrum life and whisks her off to paradise aka love. What’s wrong with us women!!!
The concept of women waiting to be saved basically confirms what most men suspected all along: that women are neurotic and insecure and expecting to be taken care of. And deep within the innermost place in a woman’s heart and which she will only reveal under pain of death or worse (for the shame of it) is the simple fact that ALL a woman really WANTS is a man. Period.
Hang on a minute! Isn’t this what feminism is all so not about? Didn’t we all burn bras and everything else because we wanted equal rights and to assert our independence as people first, not just as women? We’ve come a long way, baby. Not.
Where are the strong, capable women with a brain, who are successful and comfortable in their skin as seen in a theatre near you? Can we think of one single woman in a successful mainstream movie who had it all figured out and the plot was incidental to her? Put another way – when you watch James Bond, here is the guy who is totally together. The one weakness he has is an inability to say no to whichever woman takes his fancy – or when pushed, to force himself to do ‘it’ for Queen and country. Imagine if James Bond had a Bridget Jones-like moment where he thinks he is too fat. Get the point? Bond doesn’t suffer with self-doubt because his skin fits like his bespoke suits. And that’s what gives him power.
Contrast that confidence to the all familiar female character roles – forced to take a long personal (cinematic) journey or rather, where her character arc goes through everything including the spin cycle and from where she finally emerges to finally bag her man. End of story.
Here’s the bad news (as if it could get any worse): women, by and large, as movie goers are to blame for this – because they are not that interested in seeing strong role models on screen. Who wants to see a samurai with tits? Don’t laugh – in the corporate world, they call this the glass ceiling. But in real speak, it boils down to the fact that the fairer sex is her own worst enemy.
Which in turn got me thinking that in twenty years of working with women and men at management level, that I met in that space of time very few, actually NONE, not one woman who was together in her head. Every single one had some neurosis, some problem, some insecurity, frankly some deranged psycho attitude that stemmed principally or completely from the fact that they just needed a shag or to relax and get to know themselves on their own steam BY THEMSELVES. Such a basic ‘dilemma’ of the man being both the problem (lack of) and the solution (grabbing one) seemed to nuke every other aspiration that these women should have considered themselves entitled to. Sure, I expect to get hate mail for making such a remark but I have the twenty years of misery working with a bunch of hormonal lunatics (myself included occasionally).
And what a great shame it all is!
Hollywood looks at the bottom line – it’s a business, after all. Although a story might get the green light, it could go nowhere unless the distribution is assured. And distributors ask the fatal question – who’s gonna watch this stuff?
It would take a radical shift in our own thinking as women that there are members of the female contingent who have incredible stories to tell- how about a story about a woman who is up against a man who is just as in control as she is – this reality actually exists: Hillary Rodham Clinton vs Barack Obama in the race to the White House. And not a soft, little underbelly in sight. Their fight was almost epic in scale.
OK, OK, I hear you say, what about kick ass, action chick, Tomb Raider with the pout, Angelina Jolie or Hillary Swank/Maggie in Million Dollar Baby. But, Tomb Raider was successful because it was a spin off from a virtual game not to mention that the character itself is the hardcore fantasy of every adolescent male. Similarly, Maggie (in Million Dollar Baby) might be a boxer but in her mind she’s a girl who just wants a dad.
The truth is, strong women dramas are a tour de force opportunity for today’s great actresses. We get to see them on TV – think Glenn Close in Damages (although she is ruthless and strong. Seems strong and nice can’t go together)- but on the big screen we are deprived. I would even argue that any woman with her own ideas is portrayed as a parody. Think Katie in The Way We Were or Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada. Had it not been for the sheer strength of Meryl Streep’s acting ability, and the nubile Anne Hathaway (who was given equal time on screen) the film may not have been so successful. I suppose it’s a start that the one with the cojones gets 50%.
Of course one would argue that the era of experimentation has all but disappeared – now that studios are so focussed on the bottom line that they are loathe, albeit unable, to take unnecessary risks. So what would be the sure fire winning formula to convince Hollywood to make a drama with the strong female lead?
I would reckon that the first ingredient would be the out of this world actress with super malleability. In other words someone who morphs so brilliantly into the role that it doesn’t feel like acting. Forgive me for saying this but so many actresses these days appear to have been hewn from the same cloth and not one has the charm, charisma, drop dead gorgeous magnetism of yesteryear. I blame it on the craze to be size zero (listen up gals: to men, the starving and emaciated look was never a turn on). Actresses these days are so thin that any woman paying good money to see them in a film is bound to leave the theatre in suicide mode. And who wants to pay to be depressed!
So apart form a super-gifted actress, we need a plot. A story that is sufficiently universal that everyone, from as many demographics as possible, wants to see it (to reduce the risk of expecting only women to want to see it since studios will need to love the idea in the first place).
In order to reduce the investment risk even further, we need a low to medium budget– that rules out spectacular special effects or multiple locations.
Sounds to me that we need: A) a super-gifted actress B) in an inspirational C) dramatic role that will D) appeal to demographics of all shapes and sizes given it’s E) universal theme.
So think FEMALE and INSPIRATIONAL and you know what, we’re getting warm.
Next, why don’t we throw in: the commitment shy on-off boyfriend, the ex husband who she threw out/who left, the kids who resent her because she’s strong but not always around, etc., etc.
Now we need to settle on the BIG UNIVERSAL PLOT IDEA. And please, no one mention romance.
© Samantha van Dalen 2010This article first appeared on shadowlocked.com, a really excellent movie website.