Tag Archives: Hollywood sexism

Women in Action 2017-2018: Preamble

So 2017 was a year, wasn’t it?

Six years ago, I started looking at how actresses were advancing and not advancing in movies in terms of the big star parts in big budget and high status films, mainly action, suspense, SFFH and action comedy. Women have been frequently blocked from major roles in those films, especially having fewer opportunities to be the lead role, as well as kept as much as possible from working behind the camera. (Women make up only about 12% of the directors for film in the main English language market.) They’re paid considerably less than their male counterparts, as people have been made aware, even though on average they have a more reliable track record for bringing in profitable box office. They are given fewer lines of dialogue than male actors, even when they’re in the lead role, and often fewer action things to do, even though women performing action and fight work has increased overall.

When I began doing this, in 2012, that was something of a turning point year for women movie stars in high profile action, so much so that the media actually noticed and called it rather optimistically the “Year of the Women.” The question was then, would that momentum build or sputter out. The answer seems to be that over the recent years the momentum did build, leading to gains for women actors. But an acceleration of women’s roles doesn’t mean that the increase is going particularly fast, given from where it started. For women, it has been a continual slow process of trickle, trickle erosion in what they are allowed to do, and most importantly, how often they’re allowed to do it, and how their participation is viewed in the industry.

In Hollywood, the (mostly white) men who still run most of the film dream factory are heavily focused on their status, on how other men see them, to bolster their position in their jobs. They are thus deeply invested in the idea that (mostly white) male actors are better for big action films, more competent and more popular, leading to a system that also sees men as better at doing the production and financing of movies (and thus reducing the competition in their field.) For Hollywood executives, even the women ones, an action movie with a female lead that does well has less status than working and hanging with a male movie star. The status of male movie stars is also carefully propped up with higher pay, and bigger budgets and wider promotion for their films, even though costly flops are not uncommon. To keep that system of male bonus points and high status going, Hollywood still tries as much as possible to treat women either as exploitable gophers (on the production side,) or replaceable eye candy (as actresses.) Hollywood brands action movies that don’t do as well with women leads as evidence that all actresses can’t carry franchises reliably, while successes of women-led movies are often dismissed as having only niche appeal and/or being flukes.

But there is eventually a limit to how much your status bonus points can get you versus actually producing real money in Hollywood. If one studio makes a woman-led action picture that does well, there is pressure on other studios to try to do woman-led films like the hit one. While global audiences have become essential for big movies, it’s often very unreliable (and not really hostile to women either,) and so domestic U.S. box office is still a concern — and the biggest group going to movies in the theaters in the U.S. are the women. The more women-led action films there are that do well, the less convincing the business arguments that women can’t bring in reliable box office and handle franchises, that they’re niche and narrow in appeal, sounds to people. Actresses continue also to leverage the star power they do have to form their own production companies and launch projects featuring themselves and other women off the ground, a number of them doing very well. So while things are still slow and Hollywood tries to block women – and itself – with as much foot-dragging as possible, at this point the industry would be hard-pressed to try to turn back time and keep women from the big roles and action pictures, even if it wanted to do so.

But star power and the lure of money weren’t the only things that had an impact on the industry with regards to women this last year. For a very long time, women and others have been trying to improve the workplace conditions in the industry, specifically with regards to sexual abuse and harassment of workers, which are endemic to it, particularly in targeting and controlling women. Such abuse is not only traumatic and often criminal, it discriminates against women, helps depress their salaries, and drives many of them out of the business altogether. The horrible case of Bill Cosby, everybody’s dad whose history of serial rapes got amplified media attention and legal prosecution in recent years, not only drew focus to sexual abuse in the industry but showed that media, the courts and the public might now sometimes start to listen if victims banded very publicly together. This came to a boil in the subsequent case of influential producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, who really should be in jail along with half the people who worked for him. The fact that Weinstein’s victims were also so numerous and that many of them were high profile actresses whose careers he tried to ruin caused the media endless fascination, and from there the boulder rolled – directors, screenwriters, actors, and further ripples in every industry from tech to the government.

The reverberations are still going on, including a few court cases and a smattering of firings. In Hollywood’s case, it ripped the lid off of just how bad the industry remained. And this has caused some surface changes in the business that may run deeper, given that an entire woman’s movement is blazing through the industry like a tornado. Hollywood is promoting its women-led movies a lot harder, it’s facing an army of actresses on pay inequality and professional treatment, and it’s finding its facile excuses for its discriminatory system and for only slowly changing that system to be constantly challenged. It’s too early to know if large changes are really going to happen from all this, especially given the current government in the U.S. But it has given a special significance to the women-led movies that came out in 2017 and a white hot spotlight on women actors and women-led big movies for 2018.

So let’s take a look at the tumultuous year of 2017 for women in the movies and where things are going in 2018.

 

 

Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started, Part 1

Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started, Part 2 (2011/2012)

How Are You Ladies Doing? (mid-year 2012)

It’s Time for Women in Film (2012/2013)

The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014, Yearly Update, Part 1 (2013 review)

The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014, Yearly Update, Part 2 (2014 preview)

Women in Film, Part 1: 2014 Review

Women in Film, Part 2: 2015 Preview Analysis

Women in Film Take the Stage, Part 1: 2015 Review

Women in Film Take the Stage, Part 2: 2016 Preview Analysis

Women In Film — Part 1: 2016 Review

Women In Film — Part 2: 2017 Analysis

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Women in Film, Part 1 — 2014 Review

It’s time again for Women In Film, where we look at blockbusters, action films of all types and big buzz films to see how actresses are doing in terms of prominence, box office moolah, and improving the state of female movie stars in the business. In this part, Part 1, we’ll be looking back at the films in 2014 to see what happened, and in Part 2, we’ll look ahead at what’s playing and up-coming in 2015 that we know about so far.

This analysis of mine has been going on since 2012, which media up-played as the year of the woman in film, because there were quite a few movies that year headed by women, including big action ones. As we know, part of that media coverage was simply hype – studies show that women are still hugely behind in grabbing major roles, and behind the camera it’s even worse, except for maybe producers. But it was also a valid reflection of shifts due to the trickle, trickle progress of getting Hollywood to accept and happily exploit the box office power of women, to an audience that largely doesn’t really care if it’s a man or a woman, (or even another gender,) helming a film. The year 2014 was, like 2013, a year mainly of sequels, old action franchises and superhero films, with Marvel dominating again (more on that later,) none of which tend to favor women as leads. So it wasn’t a ground-breaking year for actresses, like 2012, but it was a consolidating year, which did confirm that women can bring the box office themselves and are increasingly useful in ensemble action films. The bulkhead that was established still remains, with some interesting trends shaping for up-coming years.

Women had high impact roles in many successful action films this last year in which they weren’t the leads. In the superhero arena, Marvel again made good use of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the hit Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, and employed go-to geek movie star Zoe Saldana and Doctor Who favorite Karen Gillan, plus a cameo from Glen Close, in the big summer domestic winner, Guardians of the Galaxy. In their ancillary franchises, we had Emma Stone in Amazing Spiderman 2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past making key use of Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, and Ellen Page. Women were front and center in most of the big sequels: 300: Rise of an Empire, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fast and Furious 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Rio 2, The Purge 2: Anarchy, Horrible Bosses 2, Muppets Most Wanted, Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb, and the biggest movies globally: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. They also had critical leading roles in hits Gone Girl, Interstellar, Hercules, Monuments Men, Non-Stop, The Equalizer, The Maze Runner, the rebooted Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, Noah, The Imitation Game, Selma, Neighbors, The Nut Job, Dracula Untold, Into the Storm, Blended, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life, and Emily Blunt bluntly stole hit sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow from Tom Cruise.

But while women have become an ubiquitous if not always powerful component of the big action films, playing more than just “the Girl,” how about when they lead the movies? The proven player this year again was The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, the next to last installment of the mega-franchise, starring red hot Jennifer Lawrence. Hunger Games 3 won the U.S. domestic box office for the year, and is still making the rounds of foreign box office for over $751 million worldwide so far. That didn’t make the billion club or yet beat installment #2 of the franchise, Catching Fire, but it definitely made its makers happy and sets the stage for the last film in the story to be quite huge.

Mockingjay

The other big female led movie of the year was Disney’s Malificent, a live action alternate version of their animated film Sleeping Beauty, showing the cursing fairy’s side of the story. Starring Angelina Jolie — because who else could have done it that perfectly — Malificent was a big budget film that has taken in nearly $760 million in world box office and will live on television forever probably. (Jolie also got her director on in 2014, with her third film Unbroken, the war bio of Olympian Louis Zamperini, a modestly budgeted action picture that has earned over $160 million and is still opening globally.)

Divergent, considered to be The Hunger Games’ little sister of sorts, was put out as a mid-budget film in the relatively quiet period of March, starring Shailene Woodley. Other recent YA series adaptations had done only middling, and the female led The Vampire Academy, out just before Divergent, had flopped, but Divergent’s high action dystopia brought in over $288 million. Another YA adaptation with a female lead, If I Stay, brought in over $78 million on a miniscule budget, and the buzzy YA romantic drama, The Fault in Our Stars, took in over $305 million on only a $12 million budget.

The surprise hit of the year, however, turned out to be a film called Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson. The mid-budget, largely under the radar sci-fi martial arts thriller ended up with world box office of over $458 million, cementing Johansson’s rep as a star in action films and praised indies. It also meant more interest in inexpensive action flicks featuring a female protagonist, a house built by the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises and recent smaller budget successes like Colombiana and this year’s In the Blood. Continue reading

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Filed under Movies/TV, SFFH, Social Equality, Women