Women of Hollywood Blockbusters
During her recent Academy Award acceptance speech for her time capsule- worthy performance in Blue Jasmine (2013), Cate Blanchett derided those that viewed “female films with women at the center [as] niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”It seems everytime a filmfeaturing female protagonists – likeBridesmaids(2011), The Help (2011), orThe Devil Wears Prada(2006)– posts high opening weekend box office numbers, the entire Hollywood machine gets taken by surprise. Perhaps it’s because most of Hollywood’s output is geared toward malesaged 13-25.Don’t believe it? Take a look at the list of one hundred highest-grossing films of all time on Box Office Mojo. As of March 2014, you will find only thirteen that feature a female protagonist. So, why aren’t theremore?
Why the hesitation on part of major Hollywood studios to produce and widely distribute more high-profile films with female characters whose wants, choices, and actions drive the narrative? No doubt the answer lies in the insistence on playing it safe to the point of underestimating the viewers’ intelligence, not to mention the over-reliance on sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have a built-in audience. More to the point, in an industry built on fear – of failure, lawsuit, originality, risk, you name it – studio executives are terrified of repeating the failure of Catwoman (2004), starring another Academy Award winner Halle Berry. But that commercial and critical disaster owes more to its campy tone and laughable writing than the female protagonist, or Berry’s acting skills. Catwoman would, of course, go on to have a more thought-provoking incarnation courtesy of Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012), albeit consigned to a supporting character. But try to find someone willing to bet that a movie with that level of writing and directing, featuring Catwoman at the center of the narrative, would somehow end up a box office failure.
Now, Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress who gained attention thanks to the Fast & Furious series (2009-2013), has been chosen to play Wonder Woman, but only as a supporting character in the upcoming, tentatively titled,Batman Vs. Superman, to be released in 2016.In news shocking to no one, Batman and Supermanhad thirteen theatrically released movies between them, while the first Wonder Woman film is stilllanguishing in Hollywood’s development hell.
What’s become an interesting pattern in recent Hollywood blockbusters are female characters – such as Merida (Kelly Macdonald) in Brave (2012), Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) in the above-mentioned Fast & Furious series, or Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)– that, even when relegated to the status of sidekick or love interest, have more agency and capabilities than female characters of yesteryear. But just because they can physically confront a villain, does that make them more interesting? In an interview with Elle Magazine, Natalie Portman, an Oscar winner for her unforgettable turn in Black Swan (2010), longed for female characters“to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho.”