June 24, 2008

What's the Problem with Female Ensembles?

Jeanine Basinger one of the few women who writes about women and film from an accessible academic perspective (have you read A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women? It's a great look at women in film from the 30-60s) takes a look at the lack of female ensemble films over the years for Variety.

It's significant that a film starring a female, no matter what other genre it might be (comedy, romance, musical, crime, Western, film noir, melodrama), was always known as "a woman's film." There was no equivalent "man's film" category.

Films with men didn't need to worry about genre status, but the female ensemble gave the woman's film a chance to grab some.

The female ensemble movie spins off from the woman's film, which was usually about a single woman, using her as an individual role model. The ensemble makes women important, and "The Women" is a perfect example. In it, men are simply eliminated. The women become the heroes. Audiences can't ignore them.

Today female ensemble movies are hard to cast since there's a shortage of top-ranked box office stars. It's easier in television, where actresses can be introduced into a series when they are unknowns and made famous as the characters they play. Television's ability to assemble successful female foursomes is a foundation of the sitcom: "Designing Women," "The Golden Girls," "Desperate Housewives" and "Sex and the City" -- all of which are female ensembles.
It seems to me that nowadays whether it is on screen or off anytime more than one woman is discussed in the context of another the whole premise is to try and create a cat fight. Think about the conversation over the last week about Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain. Who did better on The View? Who will make a better first lady? Just wants to make me barf.

I guess the more important point is -- what is so scary about women working together on film or off?
Few female ensemble films (Variety)