Hollywood and “Strong Women” Roles

13

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

Filmmaker/Stuntwoman - Currently working in many aspects of film making. She is a writer/producer of “Geek Therapy” (licensed by Stan Lee & POW! Entertainment). She’s done motion capture for over 25 video games. Some of the characters she’s voiced are Wendy Darling in “TinkerBell”, Betty Cooper and a few characters in “Monster High.” She has stunt coodinated films and music videos for Katy Perry, Ashley Simpson, Chris Cornell and Natasha Beddingfield to name a few. She helped found, run and program the “Feel Good Film Festival” (2007- May 2011) and “The Catalina Film Festival” (2011- current). She is one of the executive producers of the feature film anthology called “Girls! Girls! Girls!” She is attached to direct the feature, “The Concessionaires Must Die.” When she’s not seducing the Barbarian King, kicking the crap out of Super- Heroes that support the Superhuman Registration Act, talking to fairies or setting herself on fire, she enjoys sipping herbal tea and sharpening her pair of Sai.

  • I was trying to read this article but was distracted by how hot you look in that picture … Is what a very bad man would say ^_^

    STRENGTH especially in women is sooo subjective … much more than “strength” for men can be. I would say my mother is a strong woman, not because she’s an action hero, but because she raised 3 rude ornery boys without drowning a one of us … On the other side of the coin I’ve listened to women say, “That isn’t strength” … Women that chose a working career over marriage & children tends to be their example.

    There are women that claim to be strong for enduring abusive relationships, there are women who claim to be strong by proof of trophies, goals or achievements and there are women that claim to be strong for behaving like stereotypical chauvinists; by sleeping around, lying, cheating & breaking hearts. The typical GUY THING, you know.

    The definition of STRONG? I think it’s a wide spectrum. I don’t really have a solid answer to it. For myself? I think it’s physical & mental endurance. I don’t need to prove my strength with status symbols like expensive cars or the number of women I’ve been with. I’ve found that strength comes from setting examples. That the respect others give me isn’t sought after nor paid for. Can’t really speak for the crowd, but it’s my definition.

    Hugs!!!

    • America

      I always love your comment Joseph. Strength is so subjective. But a “strong role” I define as one with dimensions. It’s a character that’s layered, with flaws and making interesting choices. I don’t mean they are strong but that the ROLE is a strong one. It’s variety from what we are used to seeing.

  • Jane

    I agreed with everything you said except for shuddering to the term “chick flick”.

    I know many people that hate that term, but I don’t see it as a negative term. When I think of chick flick, I think of “Pretty Woman”, “My Best Friends Wedding”, “Runaway Bride” (okay, any Julia Roberts movie), but also “Under the Tuscan Sun”, “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”, “Sleepless in Seattle” (okay, any Nora Ephron movie)… Why are we dissing chick flicks when they have been entertaining women and hiring women in front and behind the camera for ages!? We should be thankful to chick flicks, because it usually means a chick is the lead and she has some kind of depth to her in order to carry the film. Sure there are bad chick flicks, but there are bad action flicks too. Why write off the entire genre?

    Studio executives argue that action/”male” flicks do better in the box office, and it’s true. People don’t go out in droves to see Meg Ryan’s love life unfold on the big screen, they watch that in the privacy of their bedroom with pajamas on and homemade popcorn. Now, “Oblivion”, James Bond, Iron Man, you’ve gotta see those on the big screen!

    I personally like heartfelt chick flicks done well (or even raunchy, hilarious chick flicks, see “Bachelorette” on Netflix with Rebel Wilson and Kristin Dunst). I probably won’t see them in the theater to put in my “vote” to the studios about what I want to watch, but I will rent them or buy them to watch over and over again… The Notebook? Let’s be honest, we need more (quality) chick flicks.

    • America

      I love those movies!!!! I guess my main problem is that the term “chick flick” is become almost derogatory and excluding. How about RomCom? I feel that covers most Julia Roberts and Nora Effron movie but doesn’t dismiss the movie. I love me a good romcom. But a GOOD one =) But for exactly what you said, if the “chick flick” doesn’t have the power to get people into the theaters, then it’s dismissed. That is what’s frustrating!

    • America

      PS. The way you worded this comment was really clever =)

  • The biggest problem I see is the lack of variety in female roles. As you say, some women are sexual, 2D, etc; and the insistence on pigeonholing films damages the ability of both writers and audience to create and view something different.

    A Superhero may be a strong role, but if the women behind the powers is written weakly, then it damages the whole

    The chick flick thing…I dunno. It’s back to pigeonholing again. I love films like Thelma & Louise, Romy & Michelle, Legally Blonde, The Devil Wears Prada, etc. This suprises people who don’t expect me to like “chick flicks”: as if somehow the application of that label (given due to the the presence of female leads) invalidates anything in the story or the characters that might appeal to me.

    I get that categorising helps to organise, but I think our annoying habit of stopping there is part of what leads to the cardboard cutout characters (both male and female) which can so easily ruin an otherwise great storyline.
    SO many good films are missed because we get hung up on our own stereotyped ideas of what people will and won’t watch and what each label should mean to us…it’s a real shame.

    • America

      Princess Bride wasn’t discovered until VHS because of how it was marketed. Stranger than Fiction as well because everyone went looking for a “Will Farrel” movie. I get pigeonholing movies that NEED it and deserve it. But the movies you listed are solid solid movies. Well thought out and writen. Even Romy & Michelle. It’s silly but it’s GOOD. Mindless fun doesn’t need mean stupid and vapid. So I agree with you Mal!

  • Great article, America! I think your “This is the End” example is spot on. I too find about the term “chick flick” frustrating – not the movies themselves, but the term. To me it implies a lack of universal appeal, and I think that’s limiting.

    • America

      ThAnk you Erin!

  • Sam McCoy

    I’m always thinking about and wrestling with in my mind about how to make things better (and to further that I think race is something that is in a very similar place in my book, if not actually worse in some cases [I’m talking comics but movies are similar.]).
    What’s interesting to me is the regression that has really seemed to take place in the last 20 years or so. What I mean by that is that there was a time in the 70’s and 80’s where things were getting more diverse in a great way; The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and hell Maude were these shows with great strong female leads that were groundbreaking in their tackling of legit women’s issues (like Maude did with abortion) One of the biggest tv shows of the 80’s was a story of a black family. Now granted the Cosby’s may as well have been a story of a white family since it was a story of a family with a doctor and attorney as the parents but regardless it was a step in the right direction. Shit, Good Times was a successful show about a poor black family living in the projects!!
    But I digress, I don’t really know what happened. It boggles my mind that after Aliens no one tried replicating what that movie did masterfully. Granted Aliens is one of my favorite movies of all time, but Ripley is amazingly strong character in the movie in my opinion. Hell, to add another layer to it she’s a blue collar worker, loading up shifts with the lifters. And unfortunately for the most part I don’t think there has been an iconic female character like Ripley since then. And the best part of the whole thing is that men and women alike love, to this day even, Aliens. I don’t know these are just a few thoughts and I should probably go back to work.

    • America

      I love these thoughts Sam!!! Thank you so much for sharing them!

    • America

      And you have made the world better by writing a script with great female roles!

  • Steven Cain

    Outstanding job once again America! I think you are dead on with alot of your comments and observations. I generally don’t watch alot of movies but I do watch alot of TV and I have noticed that there are alot more shows in the past few years that either have female leads or have a serious female presence. I think it is also possible to have a role that is both a STRONG WOMEN role and a strong WOMEN ROLE at the same time, I would say that some of the female leads in a few of my current favourite shows would fall into that category, I would imagine that they are probably very tough to write as the urge to just let them slide into the more familar simply STRONG WOMEN role would be a tempation.