And 2013 doesn’t look much more promising. Here’s what we’ve seen thus far in summer blockbuster season:
The coming summer blockbuster season doesn’t look much more promising: we’ve got the latest chapter in the notoriously objectifying Fast and Furious franchise, the male-driven buddy comedies The Hangover Part III, Grown-Ups 2, and The Internship, and the male-driven buddy action flicks The Lone Ranger, 2 Guns, and R.I.P.D. In this summer’s movies, ladies can look pretty, but they’re mostly confined to the sidelines. If audiences would like to experience female characters with any more depth than that, they’re going to have to head to the art house.
So, why is Hollywood continuing to fail at representing women, despite recent high-profile examples that female-driven movies can be blockbusters? First and foremost, it’s impossible to overstate the extent to which men dominate movies, not only in front of the camera, but behind it. It’s even worse back there, in fact; as another recent Annenberg study found, the past decade has seen only 41 women make films that landed in the year-end top 100 lists. Put simply: the male-to-female ratio among studio filmmakers is 15.24:1. The stats are about as bleak for female screenwriters, so there’s your first problem — there aren’t enough women given opportunities to create complex roles for women, and most male screenwriters and directors are either afraid to write good roles for women or bad at it. So you end up with female non-characters who solely exist in proximity to the more important male characters, as girlfriends and wives and possible girlfriends and possible wives and maybe a bitchy boss; the relationships of substance and heft (like Kirk and Spock’s in Into Darkness, or Wahlberg and Johnson’s in Pain & Gain) are instead platonic male friendships.
And the other excuse that you’ll often hear is the old “hey, we’re just giving people what they want” standby — that the reason we see so many movies aimed squarely at teenage boys and thus unconcerned with girls (EW GROSS COOTIES) is that they’re the audience that’s going to the movies, so Hollywood is merely making the comic book flicks and gross-out comedies that they demand. Trouble is, that notion is bullshit. Earlier this year, the MPAA released their annual statistical rundown of who goes to the movies — and guess what, women go. More than men. (It’s not the first time they’ve discovered this.) According to the report:
Females have comprised a larger share of moviegoers (people who went to a movie at the cinema at least once in the year) than males during 2009-2012. The trend is relatively consistent, but in 2012 there was an increase of 1 percentage point in the share of females that attended the cinema (52%) relative to 2011.
So the conventional wisdom that “movies have to be geared towards men” is a canard. More women go to movies than men — men (fanboys, particularly) are just louder about what they want to see. And that’s what has to change. Hollywood is constantly worrying about falling ticket revenues, but the fact of the matter is, they’re failing to serve what is plainly, clearly the statistical majority of their audience. Fifty-two percent of the people in the audience are women, but only 28% of the people on screen are, and that’s not a problem that can be solved by a half-dozen catch-all “women’s pictures” per year. If Hollywood is serious about monetizing their audience, they might want to consider putting characters into their product that the majority of that audience can engage with.