May 5, 2008

Welcome to the New, Post-Female American Cinema

That's the title of the lead article in the NY Times summer movie preview and I gotta say it sure looks like Manohla Dargis has been reading this blog cause everything she writes in this piece I've been writing about since the day I started blogging. The piece is great and reiterates the point that Hollywood has given up on women especially in summer. (It's worthy to note that things don't markedly improve throughout the rest of the year, especially not for studio movies -- which are the movies that most Americans get to see in their towns. Indie movies might make it to cities with art houses or are released under a banner like "AMC Select" or Regal's "Cinema Art" Both the $150 million hit Juno and the current Then She Found Me were released in this pattern.)

The question is what can be done about it, and does anyone with any power care?

Some quotes from the piece and my analysis:

And, frankly, it is hard to believe that anyone in a position of Hollywood power would be so stupid as to actually say what many in that town think: Women can’t direct. Women can’t open movies. Women are a niche.
Remember Hollywood is a town where its ok to be a sexist, it's even a badge of courage and why shouldn't it be -- the boy crap movies make the money. I've said this before and I'll say it again, we (women) need to use our economic power TO GO AND SEE the good female centric films. I'm not saying that we should see any and all women centric films or the bad women directed films. I don't want to see bad movies that are directed by either men or women. I want to see good movies. But if we don't support the women making good films and the good films that have female leads, we're toast. And don't think they don't know exactly who is seeing their movies. They have detailed research (like political exit polls) and know gender and age breakdowns.
Nobody likes to admit the worst, even when it’s right up there on the screen, particularly women in the industry who clutch at every pitiful short straw, insisting that there are, for instance, more female executives in Hollywood than ever before. As if it’s done the rest of us any good. All you have to do is look at the movies themselves — at the decorative blondes and brunettes smiling and simpering at the edge of the frame — to see just how irrelevant we have become. That’s as true for the dumbest and smartest of comedies as for the most critically revered dramas, from “No Country for Old Men” (but especially for women) to “There Will Be Blood” (but no women). Welcome to the new, post-female American cinema.
I gotta say this is a good point. There is a huge disconnect between women gaining power in Hollywood and the women appearing onscreen. My question is are there too few women in senior enough positions to have any power? Can that still be? Or are women making decisions like guys cause its all about money and not about content?
Last year only 3 of the 20 highest-grossing releases in America were female-driven, and involve a princess (“Enchanted”) or pregnancy (“Knocked Up” and “Juno”). Actresses had starring roles in about a quarter of the next 80 highest-grossing titles, mostly in dopey romantic comedies and dopier thrillers. A number of these were among the worst-reviewed movies of the year, including “Premonition” (Sandra Bullock) and “The Reaping” (Hilary Swank), the last of which was released by — ta-da! — Warner Brothers. The days of “Million Dollar Baby,” for which Ms. Swank won an Oscar, and “Speed,” which rocketed Ms. Bullock to stardom in the summer of 1994, feel long gone.
Knocked Up does not count in my book as a female-driven movie. I would count Hairspray as a female driven film but that came in at #24 and The Golden Compass came in at #39 (using stats from Box Office Mojo).
There may be more women working in the industry now — Amy Pascal is a co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment — but you wouldn’t know it from what’s on the screen. The reasons are complex and certainly beyond the scope of a seasonal rant like this one. Some point to the lack of female directors, whose numbers in both the mainstream and independent realms hover at around 6 percent. Others blame the female audience, though the success of “Baby Mama” indicates — just as the summer hit “The Devil Wears Prada” suggested two years ago — that if given something decent that speaks to their lives and lets them leave the theater without feeling slimed, women will turn out.

Among the pleasures of the movies are the new worlds they open up, but there are pleasures in the familiar too, like seeing other women bigger, badder and more beautiful than life. And whether it’s Sigourney Weaver in “Alien,” Rosario Dawson in “Death Proof” or Meryl Streep in whatever, I am there. The black filmmaker Tyler Perry has built his success partly on the truth that when audiences look up at the screen what they want to see are faces much like their own. In 2008, when a white woman and a black man are running for president and attracting unprecedented numbers of voters partly because they are giving a face to the wildly under-represented, you might think that Hollywood would get a clue.


These last two paragraphs resonate. Women will see movies that are good and speak to them. But the problem is that women (especially older women) still might not show up exactly how Hollywood wants them to show up, on the first weekend. I think that it will happen occasionally, and I am betting big on Sex & the City making it happen in a couple of weeks, but it's not something that's going to happen every weekend. So wouldn't it be good for Hollywood to pay attention to what happens in the second weekend or third or fourth? Baby Mama which was number one last week dropped off 40% in its second weekend, but Harold and Kumar which was #2 last weekend dropped almost 60%. Do movies with women have longer legs because women don't only go out the first weekend? If anyone has research, I'd love to see it.

But more importantly, we need to learn from Tyler Perry model like the article says and start our own studio. We need to make movies that we want to see and use the great marketing experts out there who know how to market to women (cause Hollywood clearly is not employing them). I'm ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need a whole new model cause at the rate we're going sooner rather than later there will be no women in the movies at all.

Full article: Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?