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Hollywood and “Strong Women” Roles

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america young

So, I find myself waffling these days. And since waffling isn’t something I usually do, I thought I’d look into that.  You see I’ve been reading lots of blogs, posts and articles about needing more strong women roles.  And while you’d think that I agree with this based on my projects (www.girlsthefilm.com), I found that I’m not sure I agree with them.

I realized it comes down to semantics.  Do they mean Strong Women Roles like STRONG WOMEN roles, like action heroes?  Or do they mean strong WOMEN ROLES, which might mean flawed, interesting and complex women.  Based on these aforementioned posts and articles referencing projects like Hungers Games, Tomb Raider and Expendables 3 (now with an all-female cast) I would venture to assume they mean the former.

So, back to the waffling.   And now that I know the cause of my waffle, I have stopped waffling and know exactly where I stand on this.   More super badass chicks roles would be amazing.  Being a stunt girl myself, I’m all about a woman who can rain the fury of her fists upon the evil trying to take over the world.  However, if you do some research, you’ll see that actually there are quite a lot of STRONG WOMEN roles out there.

http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2012

Let’s look at the top ten movies on this list.

–       The AvengersYes, it was a little man heavy in the hero department.  They didn’t have Wasp but they also didn’t have Antman.  They did have a kick ass Black Widow (while I would rather different casting, her storyline was well done), plus Maria Hill is also awesome.

–       Dark Knight Rises – Catwoman rocked.  She was strong, interesting and hard core.

–       Hunger Games – Katniss Everdeen, Fox Face, Rue, even Glimmer and Clove plenty of interesting female characters.

–       Twilight – Breaking Dawn part 2 – say what you will about these books, guaranteed I have said worse (Even though I did read the books), Bella at this point is a badass vampire who transformed more effortlessly into being a vampire than anyone else in the history of vampires and seems to have a special vamp ability that NO ONE can beat.

–       Brave – Expert archer, sassy ginger who works through her relationship with her mom and saves the day.

–       TED – The woman in this movie is the only grown up with any sense or strength.  The men were children that didn’t learn anything

That’s not too shabby Hollywood.  That’s a lot of STRONG WOMEN roles.  Thanks!

Looking at TV’s hits in the past few years.  Plenty of strong leading ladies grace the small screen,  from Fringe to Buffy to Dollhouse to Revolution to Once Upon a Time.

I am actually welling with pride for Hollywood.  And I never say that.

We have plenty of STRONG WOMEN roles but I do see a shortage of strong WOMEN ROLES.  Action stars are usually STRONG people but not STRONG roles.  Action heroes rarely have layers because of that, having STRONG action roles for women does not make REAL women more relatable.   It does not make a difference in the eyes of the general public.  It actually makes them more stereotypically male.  The purpose to have more strong WOMEN ROLES in media is to make real women, of all types, more relatable and admirable.   So that men and women to want to watch movies about women as well as movies about men.

Here is my example.  This is The End.  Loved that movie, fraking hilarious and well crafted movie.

–       We follow a group of guy friends as they find themselves in the middle of the Apocalypse.

–       They are flawed  and cowardly (they were left on earth after the Rapture), all they talk about is guys stuff (Who “gizzed” on the one remaining playboy, “I Thought we were friends”).

–       There is one female character that has more than one scene.  That was supposed to be cast with a male actor (Daniel Radcliff) who wasn’t available.

–       All the other female characters are talking about sex, being smacked in the ass or naked.

And we found this hilarious.  Men and woman flocked to the theater to watch this.  As they should have, it was FUNNY!  It was marketed as a blockbuster fun-for-all summer movie.

So finally to my point.  (took me long enough).

What if.  What if it were

–       We followed a group of girl friends as they find themselves in the middle of the Apocalypse.

–       They are flawed and cowardly (they were left on earth after the Rapture), all they talk about is girl stuff (Who “Who used the last tampon?” “I thought we were friends”).

–       There is one male character that has more than one scene.  That was supposed to be cast with a female actor who wasn’t available.

–       All the other male characters are talking about sex, being smacked in the ass or naked.

How would Hollywood market this?  This movie which sounds hilarious would be a “chick flick” (shudder I hate that term.  It’s so limiting and patronizing).  This would not be a blockbuster fun-for-all summer movie but a movie to go see with your girl friends.

AND THIS IS MY PROBLEM.  The assumption that just because it has women in it and just because they are talking about things that aren’t things that guys talk about that ONLY WOMEN WANT TO WATCH IT.

Thank god for Bridesmaids because that finally broke the barrier.   It broke that barrier because they didn’t write stuff that they think men want to hear women talking about.  They didn’t write women talking like men.  They are funny women who are writing stuff that women talk about and do that is actually funny.   Funny for anyone with a sense of humor.  People say that men and women have different senses of humor.  And those people ARE WRONG.

Men and women don’t have different sense of humor.  DIFFERENT PEOPLE have DIFFERENT SENSES OF HUMOR.  DIFFERENT PEOPLE have DIFFERENT TASTES IN MOVIES.

I am a woman.  I LOVE action movies, Sci-fi movies and physical comedy.  I apparently defy the definition of a woman and I AM NOT ALONE.

I know men, manly men, who really enjoy drama movies, rom-coms and Gossip Girl.  They defy the definition of a man and THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

There are full grown men who only watch animated films.  There are kids who watch horror movies.  There are mothers who are obsessed with Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who (Hi Mom).   We are all so diverse and so mixed up.  None of us fit into boxes about what we like for entertainment.  Just because you are a woman, doesn’t mean you want to watch “chick flicks” (shudder) and just because you are a man doesn’t mean you don’t love “chick flicks” (shudder).

I actually don’t mind when women are 2D and sexualize or virginalized.  Some women really are 2D and sexual.  Some women really are 2D and virginal.   Plus we do it with men in movies all the time.  I mean what would you call Michael Sera in This Is the End?   Joey in Friends is a moron and nothing but sex.  I DO mind when that’s ALL Woman are portrayed as.  (This is an amazing doc about just that topic http://www.missrepresentation.org/)

The challenge is to ALSO write women that are more than that.  Woman who are flawed.  Women who overcome.   I don’t personally don’t mind being the butt of a joke sometimes but I’d also like to be a role model at times and a normal person at other times.  We need more female characters that represent the all the different types of women out there. And we need to make the studios understand that if they do make these characters that NOT JUST WOMEN will want to watch them.   This is a really interesting blog on The Heat (http://theweek.com/article/index/246474/girls-on-film-the-heat-breaks-new-ground-by-not-being-groundbreaking ).

I want to watch movies that entertain and enlighten me.    I don’t care who the characters are as long as the above goal is achieved.  I will not look at a poster and say “Oh this is about a group of racial diverse men.  This isn’t a movie for me.”   I don’t look at a trailer and think “Oh the main character is in a wheelchair.  This movie isn’t for me.” If it’s an interesting story, one that entertains and/or enlightens me, then I am totally in.   And I’m then I’m sent on a journey that I might have known nothing about.  And this journey could change the way I think and treat others that I don’t know as well as myself.

If we continue to tell men, you only want to watch movies that about men, no wonder they will have no clue about other genders and ways of life.  We are encouraging them to be self-centered.  We are saying that since only movies about men have a wide range of relatable stories, that men only need to concern themselves with movies about men.   Don’t worry yourselves trying to relate to women, they are only in movies to be sexy or a prize to be won, not the main event.  We should be making movies for both genders to enjoy together that open each others eyes and educate while under the guise of entertainment.

And once we show the studios that we actually do think this way, then they will start making more diverse movies, sexually and racially.  I truly believe if we can abolish terms like “Chick Flick” (shudder), “Bromance” (Shudder) and “dick flick” (shudder, puke) and just tell strong interesting stories with strong WOMEN and MEN ROLES (of all races), AKA “a great movies” (and by great movies, I don’t mean works of art, popcorn flicks can be well constructed and well thought out as well as mindless fun…but that’s another rant) AKA “great movies”, the world will be a better place.

America Young

About America Young

America Young is currently working in Film, TV and Video Games, as a Director, 2nd unit director, stunt coordinator and stunt woman. To date, she has done over 45 video games. She has directed 6 entire web series, 13 shorts and 2 music videos. America is so excited that all her years of production experience and geek obsession culminated into directing her first feature, a pop-culture comedy called “The Concessionaires Must Die!”, executive produced by Stan Lee. now available on all VOD platforms! She is a proud founder on The Chimaera Project, a non-profit which gives opportunities to women in the media arts.