Monday, November 9, 2009

Killing Women Protagonists (How the film studios are failing to see the big picture)

If Sigmund Freud died without knowing what women want, what makes Harvey Weinstein think he can figure it out? The recent debut of “Amelia” sparked a feature article in the Washington Post (10/25/09) about the lack of riotous support of lead female roles in the 21st century. As the article delves into the success and failures of films like "Silence of the Lambs" and "Erin Brockovich," it points out that we’re seeing less and less instead of more and more roles like these for women. The steady decline over the last decade has now officially culminated in an all-out mandate from the studio executives to put the kibosh on any female leads. Women, they are saying, don’t support strong female lead characters in the movies – box office numbers prove it.

If only the Post author read Nancy Gibbs' article in Time magazine, which (10/26/09) covered “The State of the American Woman.” Never before, it says, have women been working so hard for so little while taking on so much responsibility. As more men lose jobs than women in this economy, more families are turning to the females for their main source of income, support and care. When and how would they ever have time to go to a movie, much less one that they would prefer to see? The article shows charts and graphs of the more diverse roles women are playing in their careers. It also lists the number of ailing parents and growing children they are responsible for these days. Yes, men are co-equals in helping out. But women, it says, are making a majority of the financial decisions, of which there are a plethora of highly important items. With such tight purse strings, not many women (and this is my own assumption) see a $10 movie ticket as more important than $10 cough syrup or $10 birth control pills.

Ann Hornaday’s Post article suggests that perhaps women get enough of a strong female lead in their own real lives. A box office analyst for states that when women go to a movie, they want romance – to escape to a story where the men take the lead. Melissa Silverstein, whose industry web site covers this topic, says in the article that “Figuring out how to reach women and young women is the challenge for this business.” Clearly this business has figured out how to reach men though. They’ve had about 70+ years to fine tune the art of pitching to men, who 9 times out of 10 want action or comedy – we’ll call it the Dude factor. Try quoting that law of averages for anything about women. What can 9 out of 10 women agree on? …good luck.

Should moms stay at home or go to work? Should women live with men before they marry them? Should there be a female President? Even that last question is more polarizing than you would think. Writer-director Rod Lurie is quoted in the Post piece about his show Commander-in-Chief saying, “we found that men supported the idea of a woman for president more than women did.” Hey, if Freud couldn’t figure us out, we really don’t expect Hollywood to, so don’t feel bad.

As women grow in profit sharing, though, someone might want to look into it. While films like “Whip It,” and “Jennifer’s Body” may not attract the same demographic as “Amelia” or “Obsessed,” there are women who want to see these movies and are willing to forgo a $14 lipstick one week to see them. Maybe Mel Gibson’s character could put his clairvoyant hat back on and understand that after all the equal achievements women have made in school, work, and home, what we’re really looking for is a well-told story that we can see on our schedule not the studios.