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Women in Film – Part 2 – 2017 Analysis

So if women built on momentum in 2016, what is happening this year? A fair amount, given that the “summer blockbuster” season for 2017 started in early March with Fox’s Marvel X-Men entry Logan and reboot film Kong: Skull Island. Women play principle roles in both those movies – young Dafne Keen playing a mutant girl with Wolverine-like abilities, and rising player Brie Larson is in the new Vietnam-era set Kong as an intrepid war photo-journalist, along with Tian Jing playing a biologist.

Some other action movies have already rolled out in the last two and a half months as well, as the former dumping ground of the new year has become a potentially fertile time period. The two reigning queens of the horror action films, Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, have returned with Underworld: Blood Wars (which was pushed forward from its original October 2016 release date,) and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Jovovich’s final film for the game tie-in franchise. The new Resident Evil racked in $307+ millions on only a $40 million budget and still going, for an all-time high for the franchise. Underworld: Blood Wars has had a slower start, but brought in over $81 million on an even smaller budget and still going globally. The two actresses together also got some extra press for their work in these successful but often dismissed franchises, since media has noticed that women are now taking point just a tiny bit more in hit action and SFF films.

On a slightly different spoke of the action wheel, Disney’s live action musical version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, had a record-breaking opening weekend with over $170 million domestically and has earned over $392 million in world box office. That’s good since the budget for the film was quite huge with the motion capture effects, and they estimate it might reach the billion dollar mark. Disney doing live action alt versions of its animated princess classics has so far been nothing but extremely popular, so more transformation of the vault properties are planned, as well as things like the up-coming 2018 Mary Poppins sequel. That’s going to give quite a few up and coming actresses spotlight roles backed by Disney’s machine.

The horror franchise of The Ring finally got its new one out, Rings starring Matilda Lutz. Rings has brought in over $81 million on a $25 million budget. And on a smaller scale, Before I Fall, adapted from the hit YA novel, stars Zoey Deutch and a female-heavy cast with a story of a teenager who relives the day of her death over and over, trying to change things. It hasn’t brought much money in yet, but has had a limited release.

In addition to Fifty Shades Darker bringing in audiences for nearly $375 million on the psychodrama front, women have so far this year played key roles in hits xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, The Great Wall, The LEGO Batman Movie, horror thriller Split, John Wick: Chapter Two, sleeper horror hit Get Out, and kid-friendly adventure Monster Truck. There’s also been a cluster of high grossing global Asian films, such as Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga and the animated film Your Name, in which women are doing major leads.

But what are the big up-coming films for the rest of the year with women leads? Chief among these for 2017 is first off Wonder Woman, out in June, starring Gal Gadot — the movie we’d come to believe would never actually happen as nervous studio executives just weren’t sure about risking big budget girl cooties. But DC Comics is in a film franchise arms race with Marvel/Disney, with The Justice League of which Wonder Woman is an integral part to be its answer to The Avengers. And DC is getting to beat Marvel to the punch with having the first woman-led film in their franchise, since Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie got pushed back to make room for Spider-Man being incorporated into their schedule and the Black Widow movie isn’t yet on the timetable. So they’ve poured quite a lot into promoting the film, with appealing trailers, and expectations are high for the first live action film of the most famous female superhero. Which of course raises the specter of studios possibly again blaming all actresses if Wonder Woman isn’t a blockbuster, and using that to try and nix future woman-led superhero movies as too risky. At this point, however, the momentum seems unstoppable – the machines of these comics franchises are just too big to risk leaving out the women. So Wonder Woman gets her movie shot and that’s a high water-mark for actresses in action.

No, I don’t know why they went with her kneeling either.

 

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Women in Film – Part 1: 2016 Review

It’s time to get back into the topic I’ve been trying to do annually for a few years now on how female actresses are doing in box office power in the big budget action, SFF, thriller, action comedies and horror films of each year – the mostly bigger money, bigger press or “cool” films that can catapult actors into a very high tax bracket. In the previous year of 2015, women packed a lot of punch in their roles in franchises and led in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and several other quite successful films, so 2015 ended up being a bigger year for the actresses than expected. 2016 did not quite match it, perhaps, in buzz, but at the same time, it marked a genuine shift and momentum that has been developing since 2012. Actresses are still struggling with blocks to their participation in film, but have firmly established themselves in action and big budget, a trend much less likely to reverse at this point.

A good chunk of that is again due to the folks at Star Wars/Disney. Needing a placeholder movie for 2016 to tide people over till Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the end of this year, the Star Wars machine planned their first supplementary prequel film for December 2016 — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which covers the desperate mission to obtain the plans for the Death Star taken out in the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. That was a bit special and the filmmakers did some rather special things with it. They first off made the story a grimmer, tragic, bitter war flick along the lines of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone (which let’s face it, always pleases critics and fanboys.) They CGI-wizarded one of the late great actors of the original Star Wars films, Peter Cushing, into a useful cameo and made excellent use of Darth Vader, (nice to hear James Earl Jones having fun with the voice again.) They came up with my now favorite robot, K2, voiced by the beloved Alan Tudyk in full snarky form.

And they decided, even though Force Awakens had been a woman-led story, to have Rogue One be one too, with Felicity Jones playing Jyn Erso, daughter of the designer of the Death Star, who leads a rogue platoon to go get the plans and try to reach her father. They expected the film to do well in December but not quite in Force Awakens territory. But the dramatic caper was a huge hit, coming in as the second most successful movie of the year, with over a billion worldwide box office and still going. Even if you argue that Star Wars has a bit of a built-in safety factor as a franchise, that the new SW movies have both been women led and done phenomenally does more than trickle, trickle erode the argument that women can’t open big movies well. And Rogue One is also set up to have solidified the change in the toy industry after Rey in Force Awakens forced the issue – lots of Jyn action figures and related merchandise, doing very well.

“I rebel.”

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Tired of This

No, not the other bigger political and life stuff, though I’m more than tired of that too. I’m tired of the nitpicky stuff. I’m tired of Hollywood and western film white supremacy and how deeply ingrained it is.

Also not so long ago, I read the best-selling SF novel The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey. The novel is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, set in the ruins of Britain, and it takes the time-honored SF approach of evolution, kind of like the original I Am Legend novel by Richard Matheson. It’s a well-written book with some interesting dynamics, although it feels a bit like what would normally be a novella dragged out to be longer. The novel centers around an unusual girl named Melanie and other children kept at a bunkered school where a woman named Helen Justineau is their teacher.

The novel has been made into a film in a joint UK/US production. (Don’t know if they changed the setting to the U.S. or not.) It’s starring Sennia Nanua as Melanie and Gemma Arterton as Ms. Justineau. The movie is scheduled to come out this year in September, which means I missed it in my round-up of women-led films and such for 2016, but you know, yay for another one!

In the book, Melanie’s exact appearance is a bit unclear. It seems like she is somewhat pale but also has kind of golden toned skin, so she might be a white girl or a black Briton or have Mediterranean or South Asian ethnicity. So any young actress might have played her and Sennia Nanua is a black actress. But also in the book it is quite clear that Helen Justineau is a black woman. It is in fact a key undercurrent in the story, related to some of the themes of the story. I like Gemma Arterton quite a lot, but that didn’t change the fact that it was ridiculous that she was playing a Persian princess in the game-based movie The Prince of Persia, and it doesn’t change the deliberateness of this switch here in The Girl with all the Gifts.

Now the filmmakers and the studios I’m sure can claim that they are just shifting things around, since they took a main character, Kieran, a soldier who in the book is a red-haired Irishman, and instead are having him played by black actor Fisayo Akinade. They also took another minor character who is indicated as South Asian in ethnicity and have her being played by black actress Dominique Tipper. But Kieran is mainly a sidekick character, so essentially it’s just having the black actor play support to the four leads, who except for Melanie, are played by white actors. Helen Justineau is a main hero/focus of the story. She is its questioning moral center. And what the film is putting forth is that such a hero role needs to be played by a white woman, not a black woman.

Add to that fact that Melanie, played by a young black girl in the film, spends the first part of the story strapped to a mobile chair with a mask on her face, controlled mainly by white people, and it gets more than a little symbolically problematic. You could say that it’s meant to function as a symbol of historic slavery related to the story, but so is switching out a black role for a white actress. The very strong possibility is that having decided to cast Nanua as Melanie because they liked her for the role, the filmmakers probably felt that they could not have two black acting leads in their movie. Because that’s how this kind of thinking works as well. Justineau also in the book has something of a romance with another lead character, a white British military commander played in the movie by Paddy Considine. While films have had inter-racial romances and it might not have been an additional factor, it does again contribute to the regular Hollywood approach of having only two white people bonding together as leads.

The reality is that white people play 80% of the roles in film, even though that’s not near their percentage of the population. It’s hard enough for actors of colors to get on screen at all, even when filmmakers are willing occasionally to racially change a white character in an adapted work. When lead and key roles in adaptations or that fit ethnically for non-white people are then given to white actors, it continues an industry-wide discrimination that visually helps fuel discrimination in the wider world, certainly in the Western world.

The logic that filmmakers use to apply to these things has slightly improved (trickle, trickle,) after lots of screaming, but they still regularly switch heroic roles, major and minor, of non-white characters to white actors and will now switch out other non-white roles of one ethnicity or race for another for seemingly strange reasons.

Take the film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The film was a good adaptation of the novel overall and had a number of non-white actors playing key roles. But one very pivotal supporting role, Mindy Park, the technician who spots that the protagonist astronaut is still alive on Mars and who is one of his main contacts, would seem by her name and slight indications in the story to be Korean American and instead in the film is played by a white actress, Mackenzie Davis. Again, I like Davis as an actress, but it’s hard not to see this as switching the heroic role to a white actress to be on the safe side.

On the slightly brighter side, the character of Venkat Kapoor, her supervisor, a South Asian American, was replaced, but by a black actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor. But that may have been because the filmmakers decided that they had too many Asian characters — the chief engineer played by Benedict Wong and several Chinese characters who help NASA, to have another Asian actor in a main role, and that they figured a white actor couldn’t pull off the last name of Kapoor (the character’s first name was changed to the less South Asian moniker of Vincent.) So yay, that increased the presence of black actors in the movie, but only because they didn’t want the number of Asian actors to outshine the number of white ones who play most of the leading roles.

The author of the novel, Andy Weir, pointed out that he doesn’t do a lot of physical character descriptions or had prescribed notions of their appearances, including of his protagonist astronaut, so technically Mindy Park could be a white American and “Vincent” Kapoor could be a black American, though he had thought of Park as Korean American. But if that’s the case, then the lead astronaut didn’t need to be played by a white actor like Matt Damon either. Mark Watney could have been a black man, multi-racial or any variety of ethnicity. But that would have made some people quite upset — that the character wasn’t a square-jawed white guy as they no doubt imagined him to be because they’ve been trained to imagine the hero as white, even when there are no physical descriptions.

This is not a problem that is going to be easily solved, given the old, ingrained myths by which we treat each other (see the anger at The Hunger Games movie having black actors play heroic characters who were described as black people in the book, by those with poor reading comprehension who assumed such heroes had to be white children.) Hollywood is deeply uncertain about whether they can get away with giving the global audience a regular diet of non-white leads, given that they’ve force fed us white leads from the beginning of film’s existence. And despite ample evidence to the contrary, they have clung to white and mainly male leads like a security blanket, even though numerous movies with such leads tank and the income stats are actually better for women leads and lead actors of color. It is, again, partly a social status issue for industry bosses as well.

Regardless, it has in recent years taken a good chunk of enjoyment out of certain films for me when they do this stuff and has influenced my movie watching choices. I love old movies. I mean, I really love them. I’ve grown up on them. I’ve seen probably thousands of movies in my life. But the white supremacy can go now, as quickly as possible. And a good start would be to take characters who are already not white people in the original material and not turn them into white people for current and future films.

Because we don’t need them. We really don’t. Much as I like many white actors, they aren’t the only ones I like, and they don’t always need to be the heroes or the majority group in an ensemble movie. And that’s my big sigh for today.

 

 

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Women in Film, 2015-2016, Part 2 – 2016 Analysis

Note to self: Get film analyses done before the chaotic month of May, especially as the “summer” season now officially starts in mid-March. Actually, with new strategies in releasing animated and thriller movies and such, you could say that it’s kind of summer all year round now. So while I was getting my ducks in a row once again, what has been happening/may be happening in 2016 for women in film?

While it is not likely that 2016 is going to be as seismic a year for actresses as 2015 or 2012, nor are the media likely to pay quite as much attention (they get bored, the dears,) there’s a definite shift going on that 2016 is busily helping push forward. Big action franchises looking to expand into global media empires, led by Marvel/Disney and DC Comics/Warner, are making use of women to further expand their tentacles. There are an enormous number of movies coming out, including women-led pictures that continue trends we’ve been seeing for the past six years or so.

The actresses hit the ground running first with SF YA movie The 5th Wave, based on the bestselling book, starring Kickass star Chloe Moretz and looking to pick up some of The Hunger Games and Divergent audiences. The alien invasion movie was cheap to make, and since it did well overseas, it made nearly $110 million, turning a very nice profit and possibly green-lighting sequels. Also early on, the horror movie The Boy, starring Lauren Cohan, took in nearly $65 million on a tiny budget, and other women-led horror movies The Forrest and The Witch (I sense a title trend here,) took in nice profits on low budgets. Sadly, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted from the mash-up novel, finally came out with limited distribution, but it was late in the game and it did not succeed. Let’s hope it becomes a cult film.

The action kicked up in March with animated film Zootopia, starring Ginnifer Goodwin as a female rabbit cop who enlists a fox con artist to help solve a perplexing case. The kids movie was a massive hit, with over $993 million in world box office and still climbing towards a billion. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a loose sequel/concurrent film to J.J. Abrams’ cult horror movie Cloverfield, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding her own against John Goodman and aliens, was done on a small budget and earned over $100 million in box office. The third title in the Divergent series, Divergent: Allegiant, starring Shailene Woodley, did experience some mid-series fatigue but made over $176 at the box office, paving the way for the fourth and last film.

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Women In Film Take the Stage – Part 1, 2015 Review

It’s time (finally!) for Women in Film, where we take a look at the state of women actors in tackling the serious Hollywood box office – the “summer” blockbusters, tent pole special effects movies, high octane action films, suspense thrillers, horror flicks, big buzz dramas, children’s and animated major features and comedy adventure films. In this first part, we’ll take a look at the past year of 2015. In Women in Film, Part Two, we’ll take a look at what’s been happening so far and what’s still to come in 2016 (and a little about 2017 and beyond.)

I will admit that I did not, going in, have particularly high expectations for the movies in 2015 when it came to the “lady actors.” I thought, from the look of those revamped big boy franchises for that year, that 2015 would be something of a placeholder year , like 2013 and 2014 – a year that didn’t particularly lose the trickle, trickle gains for women set off in 2012, since it would have some women leads in films and women in major supporting roles in big ensembles, but didn’t dramatically advance them either, since the machismo looked to be coming out the ears of the summer and winter line-ups.

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Awesome Frequently Asked Questions about Jurassic World

I’m at work on something right now, but in the meantime, I went to see Jurassic World. Which was fun, especially because it turned out to be a very crowded movie theater, which meant we had to sit in the third row of the theater. You know how you go to a lot of these 3D movies and the 3D doesn’t really add much to the experience if it’s not IMAX? Sometimes I don’t even go to the 3D version because it’s more expensive and really not worth it. But if you sit in like the third or fourth row? Much more effective 3D experience. Things really do jump out at you, which when you are watching a bunch of rampaging dinosaurs, is kind of neat. Stiff neck at the end, but neat.

Jurassic World was nowhere near as awful as Prometheus, Avatar and the utterly horrible The Expendables 2. It had some very funny moments and great action. The CGI and animatronix dinosaurs are still not quite real looking, but they are getting closer with each movie and they did it pretty effectively here. The actors, including the young ones, gave the best performances they could despite the awful script. Howard went for a total 1980’s look, which allows for discussions of retro fashion. There is an utterly horrible death of a minor character that goes on for a horribly long time, but is, gore aside, unquestionably a really creative death. There are many little tribute details to the first Jurassic Park movie, which reminds you that Jurassic Park, for its occasional faults, was a way better movie. And the movie did make me desperately want a robot raptor doll.

And Jake Johnson is in the movie and almost manages to save half of it. He should star in the inevitable sequel (because this movie has already hit a billion dollars.)

For a much better take on the movie than I could give you, here’s io9‘s article by Rob Bricken, entitled, “Jurassic World: The Spoiler FAQ.” It is awesome and sums up the movie nicely.

 

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Little Note/Up-Date On the Women in Film

So it’s been a bit hectic. The Hugo Awards drama I’ve commented some on at Whatever and SFFWorld, and then had to re-think some of it as weirder and weirder information keeps coming into it. So I’ll probably post some links to articles about it in the Social Equality section by others, but otherwise, I’m moving on. When things get more equal in society, there will be this sort of blow-up reaction from some.

As expected, I did miss at least one woman fronted action film for 2015 — Survivor, starring Milla Jovovich, so we do get some of her despite the next Resident Evil film’s schedule delay. It’s a spy thriller where Milla is a Foreign Service Officer in London who has to go on the run and deal with Pierce Brosnan’s baddie. It’ll be hitting movie theaters in the beginning of June. Angela Bassett is in it too. Looks like a lot of action:

Also missed, a prestigious bio pic, Suffragette, about the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S., and a thriller based on the novel by Laura Lippman called Every Secret Thing, starring Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks and Dakota Fanning.

The first, sleepier part of 2015 had a hit with spunky version Cinderella (not unexpected,) with $494+ million box office so far, the animated Home with $326+ million, and Insurgent, #2 in the Divergent franchise, taking in over $272 million. Not a bad start, and women have been helping the more ensemble giant action pictures too, such as Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Did I see any of those? Only Age of Ultron so far. I’ll probably see most of the others later. I’ll give an Avengers #2 review in a bit.

Also, books! What? Stop laughing. Really, I’m going to talk about some books this week, I swear.

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