May 30, 2008

A Women's Cultural Moment

Whatever your thoughts are on the actual content of Sex and the City, as a follower of movies about women I can't help but acknowledge that this is a cultural watershed moment for women's films for a couple of reasons.

  1. Everyone (who talks about movies) has spent the last couple of weeks talking about a film that stars and celebrates women and women's friendships. Indiana Jones is so yesterday's news one week after being released after an almost 20 YEAR WAIT!
  2. Everyone (who talks about movies) is scratching their heads trying to figure out how much money an R rated movie targeted at adult women can make. Imagine women preoccupying the minds of Hollywood's men.
  3. The male misogynists in the film blogosphere have outed themselves in a big way with their extreme nastiness about the film with one actually calling the film a Taliban recruitment film.
  4. This film has sold out almost 800 shows for this weekend.
Harry Medved of Fandango has been watching these screenings sellout all week and told me:
"It's unusual for a female driven movie to inspire so much fan anticipation. You would usually associate sold out shows with a comic book movie or a sequel to a summer tentpole. Clearly there is an audience for adult female driven pictures and many observers are hoping that Hollywood will make more of them. We haven't seen anything like this before.
I am tired of hearing myself talk about this so I asked women who work in a variety of areas of the business (writers, bloggers, producers, directors and many others) to comment on this moment and what it might mean for the future for films about women. (Some of the women chose to be anonymous to protect themselves and their jobs.)

Here are the questions I posed:
  • If it's a success do you think that this will change Hollywood minds about whether women can "open" movies?
  • If it doesn't do the predicted numbers, do you think this will spell more difficulties for women centric films?
  • Do you think that because this is an "event" that other films about women will be held up to an unrealistic standard?
  • Do you think there is a double standard for this film?
  • Are you surprised by the nasty tone that some of the media has taken on this week?
The answers (some answered the questions, other gave their general thoughts- names appear AFTER the quotes):
I think that the discussion about whether women can open movies is multi-faceted and has little to do with this one film. It has as much to to, generally, with the scripts that are out there with strong female lead roles, and the gender role Hollywood, and, by extension, the movie-going public, expect women to play. Bottom line: Hollywood, and a big chunk of those who spend their dollars at the box office, still prefer to see women in supporting roles. The Queen, which had one of the best female lead roles in recent history, did just over $56 million domestically, and that was largely on the coattails of an Oscar push and savvy marketing. Men don't go to see an Angelina Jolie film because they're interested in her strong portrayal of a female character; if they did, A Mighty Heart wouldn't have tanked. They go to see Angelina Jolie because she's hot. Sadly, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

The paradox is, that yes, if the movie doesn't hit the expected numbers, male Hollywood will latch onto that as further proof of women's inability to open at the box office. But don't expect the reverse to be true.

I think other films about women are already held to an unrealistic standard, and this won't change that one way or the other. JUNO was an anomaly because it appealed to a broader cross-section, especially the teen market. But generally, a film about women has to have a driving component that males are interested in, ala KNOCKED UP, to reach that market and those dollars. Really, it's largely about the differences between men and women on a societal gender level. Women talk about their feelings, and women's films tend to be talky and to deal with issues men either don't care about, or don't care to face. Infidelity, unplanned pregnancy, relationships -- unless it's couched in a comedic element or shit being blown up, men just don't want to see that.

After the way Diablo Cody was attacked on the male-dominated sites? Not hardly.
Kim Voynar, Managing Editor, Cinematical

Of course I want the film to open HUGE this weekend, but the hoopla has really disturbed me in that it seems to celebrate everything we so need to get beyond. I feel the whole sales pitch for this movie has been to use women to sell what they're always expected to sell -- clothes, accessories, sex, neediness.

Believe me, I love these women in their (almost) diversity, but I feel that even if it's a huge success, it will be because it's an event and NOT really a movie and if it falls short it will be all our fault.

NO one will be willing to objectively respect the grosses for perhaps reflecting the actual appeal or worthiness of the movie.

And by the way, can we do SOMETHING about that horrific label "chick flick". Besides being demeaning, it is also dismissive, undignified, and disgusting. And you can certainly quote me on that.

And women shouldn't dignify the work by using it at all. --
Rosilyn Heller, producer, Trade

I think that Sex and the City will do well, and that it really should be another example of the obvious, that if films are made that really speak to women, women will come out and see the films.

Obviously, because of the success of the TV show, this is an "event" film. But the TV show was successful because it spoke to women.

Unfortunately, the Hollywood money machine seems to always find a way to dismiss successful women's films as anomalies, and I fear that will happen with Sex and the City as well.

But one hopes that slowly it will become clear that films that have meaningful women characters and themes that are important to women are often very successful.
Terry Lawler, Executive Director, New York Women in Film and TV

When women open movies anymore no one in the press seems to pay much attention. When Tina Fey and Amy Pohler opened Baby Mama it was just kind of glossed over. I think that if the film opens well they might consider the female demographic slightly more worthy of catering to, much they like they must begrudgingly admit that African-American audiences can really rake in the bucks.

It's possible. They have more than just being female, though, to contend with - they also are over 40 and not the kind of women the target demographic necessarily lusts after. This is why many of the male-dominated film sites aren't giving much attention to the film other than to bray about how unattractive the women are. If it doesn't make money it will confirm the worst - that even a movie version of a popular TV series can't overcome the general reluctance by audiences to watch films that are about women.

The event part is what is going to bring in the numbers.

Only in as much that there are so many movies about men who fumble through life and have dating and career woes. No one says a thing. What people seem to be responding to in a negative way is the "sex" part. There is something odd and intimidating about older women on the prowl. It was okay on TV, and they were a lot younger. Male viewers have been trained to respond only to hot, young things -- at least here in America that's true. It doesn't seem to be as true in Europe. The other thing is that there is a sense that these women are just collecting a paycheck and thus, they're to be disregarded as anything other than desperate money-grubbers.

Surprised and not surprised. Many of the fanboy movie coverage sites are so sexist they're intolerable. It is no wonder that the main criticisms of the film had to do with the way the women looked. On the flipside, women who write about film probably don't really want to be known as women so much as writers who accurately report on the industry.
Sasha Stone, Awards Daily

I think Hollywood will spin it as a chick flick. Not as proof that women can "open" movies. Pessimistic? Yes. Realistic? Probably also yes.

Until Hollywood reflects more women across the board, as executives, directors, producers, writers, vfx supervisors, production designers, etc. and I'm talking MUCH more than presently, I doubt it will be any different. I haven't seen evidence of ability to rise above the 13year old male as a common denominator in my many years here. I'm very sad to say this, but it's what I've seen.

I think anything can and will be used against making movies that aren't (easily and universally - read young male demographic) saleable. Or simply that the arguer doesn't like/want to make. Personal preferences play strong roles but more than anything, Money talks in Hollywood, especially since Hollywood now has to justify itself more and more to corporate America. Studios in particular are weaker than ever given the state of the business. Independent investors and alternate funding sources are the ones to watch in terms of innovation whether it be regarding women or minorities of any flavor. Or anything remotely alternative really.

I'm not sure about double standards actually, but I would not be surprised at any nasty tones thought I'm not sure which ones you're talking about. it is a chick flick, is it not? "chick lit" being an easy way to diminish women writers (not to mention the possible universality of female experience) across the board categorically, why not wield the same sort of weapon against potential film in-roads as well...I'm bitter, it's true.

Of course I only read variety a bit and the nytimes and latimes reviews, of which the nyt was dreck I thought the latimes article was nicely even handed, taking the good and bad into account and weighing it thoughtfully...bad girl Manohla!
VFX Supervisor

All I can really say is that although I may be one member of the media who has taken on a "nasty tone" in regards to SatC (and not just this week, but for the past two months since New Line started seriously inundating us with tie ins and overblown hype), I think $30 million is a conservative estimate. Chris Thilk at Movie Marketing Madness made an interesting comment today about how this is quite possibly the only film in the history of cinema that's been so blatantly targeted at one gender at the exclusion of the other (and possibly dangerously so––has any money or effort been spent to convince gay men that the elements of the show to which they responded will be incorporated into the version on the big screen?) Basically, if this movie *can't* make $30 million, the studios shouldn't waste their time making films specifically for women––it'll be proof positive that, at least as far as summer blockbusters go, the ol' four quadrant theory is better (and safer) business.
Karina Longworth, Spoutblog

If the film does as well as expected, the 'powers that be,' i.e. the studios, will come up with an excuse for it's success, once again calling it a 'fluke' and claim that it's success won't necessarily be repeated by another film starring women. In actuality, Sex & The City was a very successful cable show... went into syndication and found an entirely new audience of millions. So the timing couldn't be better.

I'm thrilled with the passion that women have shown for this film and their plan to see it on opening weekend. It can only be positive for 'the girls,' but don't get too excited and assume that they'll rush to make another 'chick flick' with women over 30 in the very near future. Sorry to be so cynical....
Producer of some of the biggest female centric films

I think it's FANTASTIC that there is a woman's event movie. I hope Sex & The City opens huge. No matter how it does the first weekend, I think it can only bode well for women in Hollywood. I'm confident that it will do enough business given the pre-sales to be the biggest "chick flik" opening ever! (Sorry, I know you hate that term but I've accepted it as the pop culture moniker for women movies.) Perhaps then our female executives in Hollywood would be brave enough to push for more female event movies. Women love to do things together, and I'm hoping that this film will be the proof necessary for studio execs to greenlight more female event movies. But, please, let women writers and directors have a bigger slice of the "chick flik pie." I'm also hoping that S&TC will hang out in theaters as long as "Greek Wedding" did to illustrate to studios that female-driven films build through word of mouth and opening weekends are less meaningful to women. Our purchasing behavior is absolutely different than those of boys and young men. It's worth investing in women. That's the bottom line that Hollywood needs to understand, and that's the message women must send to Hollywood.
Fay Ann Lee, director, Falling for Grace

The point here is: can women open movies? Meryl Streep can't. Jodie Joster can't. Julianne Moore can't. Julia Roberts can't. So, if this opens big, it's perhaps more on the model of Knocked Up -- the success of ensemble comedies.

I think the numbers will be phenomenal.

Possibly, because in general the people holding the films up are men, or women forced to think like them. The more women make films -- produce, write, direct -- for an audience they know exists, the better we'll all be.

No, in part because it was always a cult favorite, even if that cult was large and profitable. But now it faces the mainstream, mostly male, cultural critics. What would John Simon have written about the HBO series?
Thelma Adams, Film and DVD Critic, Us Weekly

I don’t put much stock in the success of any female-driven film changing the ossified Hollywood mindset. If SATC succeeds, as I think it will, the conventional wisdom will be that it worked because it was an adaptation of a popular cable show.

Could it be any more difficult for women-centric films?

The Hollywood films that are mass-marketed have heroes, not heroines. So, yeah.

The New York media is out of synch with the rest of the country on this one acting as though frivolity is unseemly after 9/11. Me thinks New Yorkers are peeved that SATC premiered in London rather then Manhattan. Even Mayor Bloomberg has been peevish about being cut from the film. The personal attacks on Sarah Jessica Parker’s not being conventionally beautiful are creepy. Why is it OK to be unconventional if you’re a guy (Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Will Smith) but not a gal?
Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer film critic, Flickgrrl

As for my thoughts on the film - it's just like the show. If you liked the show, you'll like the movie. I really don't get the fashion stuff (most of the clothes and especially the shoes seem so uncomfortable) but underneath all the superficiality the issues the film addresses especially about how women still need to be married to feel safe and the many difficulties in sustaining different kinds of relationships are right on the money. I happen to like and respect Sarah Jessica Parker and this film is a also a celebration of a hard working woman's career. I remember her from Annie and Square Pegs, how she endured the Robert Downey, Jr. drug years and of course my favorite, Footloose.

The film goes far to show that you can be glamorous and sexual at at 50 - one of my favorite moments was Samantha's 50th birthday dinner. I'm not going to pretend that the film is for everyone and it's not an overtly feminist film. But I can't help but think that the girl power this film is engendering will go a lot further than a feminist film that doesn't get seen by the masses.