Females in Film: The Other Side of the Story

Written by Kristin Clift on . Posted in Film

Take a step back and examine your favorite movies. If you were me, you might be overly concerned with how obviously male-dominated the stories on the big screen are. But you’re not me. You probably haven’t even thought about it before. So, I want you to try out a fun test next time you view a movie that will help you become cognizant of the extraordinarily gender-imbalanced film world:

“The Bechdel Rule is a test for films, which follows three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two named women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something other than a man.”

Think about it. Soak it in.

Okay, now think about some of the popular movies that have come out over the last couple years and see if they pass. The Social Network? Fails. TRON: Legacy? Doesn’t cut it. 500 Days of Summer? Surprisingly, no. The A-Team? Not even close. Up? Fail again.

It seems movies are more likely to make it at the box office if they’re about white male protagonists. If anyone tries to sell a screenplay to the studio executives over at Tinseltown that focuses on women, it will, more often than not, get turned down. (This aspiring screenwriter rants about how her professors preached not to write toward a female audience in film school.)

Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population. That means women make up 51 percent of consumers. However, women arguably spend more money than men — and after examining my overflowing closet of shoes and clothes, I’d have to agree with this sentiment. From a purely economic standpoint, wouldn’t it be common sense and even advantageous to market to women just as equally as, if not more so than, men?

Apparently, the good ol’ boys club in Hollywood never got this memo.

Take the popular franchise, Wonder Woman, for example. I looked everywhere for a Wonder Woman costume this year for Halloween — they were sold out in every store. The Wonder Woman brand is most certainly marketable and profitable. But she has never made it to the big screen, despite years of attempts by producer Joel Silver and various screenwriters like Joss Whedon, who is known for writing strong female characters. (For more in-depth analysis of why Wonder Woman has not and will not make it to the big screen, read Entertainment Weekly’s article from November 26).

You’d think that with all the progress women have made in other areas of life, we’d be seeing more female presence in movies and not just acting (or directing) as satellites in orbit around a man’s world. But we’re not.

You might disagree with me and bring up a successful female in the industry like director Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow has indeed paved the way for future female filmmakers with her Oscar-winning masterpiece The Hurt Locker. However, only three of the 34 actors in the film were female. I’m not trying to downplay her pioneering achievements for women — I just want you to scrutinize the film industry and become conscious of the discrepancies.

You might also bring up how the good folks at Disney have made a decision to have Tangled be their last fairytale princess flick. And you might argue this is good progress for women. “Good riddance!” you might say. I’d have to agree — Disney fairytales teach little girls (and even little boys) extraordinarily unhealthy views of the world and relationships. This is undeniably true, but the thing is, those princess movies were made for female audiences. They were stories for girls about girls. Disney will no longer make anything specifically for girls. Even during production of Tangled, their last fairytale, they changed the story’s perspective from Rapunzel to the dashing scoundrel, Flynn Ryder — and then changed the title from “Rapunzel” to reflect those changes.

Finally, you may argue that male-focused films sell to a broader audience because females are more open to watching guy movies than guys are willing to watch chick flicks. The success of movies like Twilight is a huge indicator that female audiences bring the big bucks. The Twilight saga is probably worse for girls’ perceptions of reality than Disney ever thought of being (caveat: the Bechdel test does not require the movie to promote feminist ideals), but it is a franchise geared toward women. Twilight made massive amounts of money. Imagine what kind of profits could be made with a better (and hopefully less unhealthy) franchise geared toward women.

It goes without saying, the structure and constituents of female story cycles are inherently different than male story cycles. As a society that has been predominately male-centric for the majority of its existence, we are accustomed to viewing primarily male narratives, and most of the time we don’t think anything of it. There are so many stories to be told that we’re missing out on. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to realize the growth potential — and it doesn’t take a feminist to realize the gross gender-based discrepancies on the big screen.


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