Females In Film

November 26, 2008 at 6:00 pm 8 comments

It’s no secret that Hollywood is kind of a boys’ club. When not facing outright sexism, there’s a consistent cliquey-ness to the way women are treated in the film and television industry, whether it’s being marginalized on set, or just having no real voice in the media aside from Nora Ephron-type romantic comedies. Warner Brothers studios, shamefully, recently put a freeze on all films with female leads on the grounds that they “don’t sell”, even though the numbers say otherwise. Female directors are incredibly rare, and often end up having to direct fluff anyway.

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Opinions on Sophia Coppola tend to be polarizing, but I think she’s got a good eye for composition and a good ear for soundtracks, at the very least. Would she be where she is if not for a healthy dose of nepotism, though? I’d guess not.

Amy Heckerling had a smash with Clueless, and then basically disappeared for ten years. She recently wrote and directed I Could Never Be Your Woman, starring Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s pretty standard romantic comedy fare, but the writing is sharp, even if the story is a little clunky. Despite a cast including Fred Willard and Henry Winkler, it was direct-to-DVD, completely bypassing theaters.

My favorite exception to the rule is Mary Harron, who directed I Shot Andy Warhol and the über-masculine American Psycho. She hasn’t done anything of note since, however, aside from a few television episodes here and there.

Not only are women underrepresented in production, they’re painfully limited on-screen as well. They’re either personality-free eye candy (see everything Jessica Alba’s ever done), or screeching harpy stereotypes like in the latest Kate Hudson atrocity.

Bride Wars (2008)

As a response, cartoonist Allison Bechdel illustrated what’s come to be known as The Bechdel Test:

1. The film must have at least two women, who

2. Talk to each other about

3. Something other than a man.

Now, clearly these aren’t criteria for whether or not a film is worth watching, but it does force you to consider how shockingly few movies fit this criteria. The comic linked above mentions Alien. I know the Firefly television series would definitely pass, but I don’t think Serenity does. I haven’t seen the Sex & The City film, but whenever they aren’t discussing men, they’re discussing shoes and dieting, which is, in a roundabout way, definitely about men. Frida is a film about one of the strongest female figures in pop culture, a woman who refused to be defined by her gender, and it doesn’t pass the test. Kill Bill passes the test (although most of the conversations at least obliquely refer to Bill), and so does Sin City, but that’s hardly a bastion of feminism. More successful are films that focus on high schoolers. Bend it Like Beckham, Ghost World, and The Breakfast Club all successfully meet the criteria.

Plenty of good films don’t come anywhere near passing the test- John Carpenter’s The Thing, for one.  Still, it’s a way of evaluating how realistically a film is portraying the world, and to see how dramatically underrepresented women really are.

So what’s the answer?  Awareness is the first step, I’d say.  It’s great that film school professors teach us about modern behemoths like Scorsese and Kubrick, but let’s get some female role models in there, too.  Film is the fastest growing major in the country, and while girls are still dramatically outnumbered, you can bet the ratio is going to start to even out.  The more women start making films, the more we’ll see three-dimensional female characters on the silver screen.  In the meantime, let’s just hope Kate Hudson stops making films indefinitely.


Entry filed under: Aspect Fellatio, Betty, Miscellaneous Musings. Tags: , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pedro  |  November 26, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Excuse me, Miss Betty!

    Marry Harron directed a very good one before doing random episodes of TV series: THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE.

    Plus, this lady here (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0716980/) Kelly Reichardt, is one to be watching out. Waiting eagerly for Wendy and Lucy.

  • 2. Pedro  |  November 26, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    and who couldn’t forget: Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion and
    Claire Denis!

  • 3. parkrangerolivia  |  November 27, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Yeah, the piano was bomb. As is Penelope Spheeris, who directed Wayne’s World, which is just all kinds of amazing in every possible way.

    I’m not kidding.

  • 4. Pedro  |  November 27, 2008 at 7:31 am

    A couple of more for you gals
    – Catherine Breillat
    – Agnes Varda

    and yes, Asia Argento!

  • 5. Miranda  |  November 28, 2008 at 12:32 am

    Great post. The Thing rules. That’s all I got.

  • 6. Betty  |  November 28, 2008 at 12:41 am

    Dude, Pedro, thanks for all the suggestions. I have seen shamefully few (none) of the films by the directors you’ve mentioned. I clearly need to do more research.

    I also just remembered that The Sound of Music passes the Bechdel test, because there are so many goddamn nuns it would be silly if it DIDN’T. It’s also great, though, because the Baroness could have just been a two-dimensional bitch and instead is a mysterious, intriguing character with her own motivations outside snagging the guy.

    When is Sophie Muller going to make the jump to features??

  • 7. parkrangerolivia  |  November 28, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    SOUND OF MUSIC, yes!
    I don’t know, man. I haven’t been very pleased with her latest work, especially her Gwen Stefani masturbatory portraiture set. And that Sarah McLachlan video. ugh.

  • 8. alisaurus  |  November 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    great post. i immediately thought of catherine hardwicke, who directed “thirteen” which was an amazingly truthful depiction of modern teen girls, and “lords of dogtown,” which I thought was amazing, especially since there are hardly any girls IN the film and it was such a tough, skater guy movie. made by someone with a vagina! take that!


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