You’ve gotta feel bad for Oscar bloggers. First of all, they’re Oscar bloggers. (Hahaha, I kid.) Second, due to the very definition of their job description, they have to spend something like the next six months basically twiddling their thumbs, waiting for awards season to begin anew at Toronto and Telluride. Some are coping by writing desperate “Wait, wait — what about next year” Oscar 2015 prediction posts. (Only a schmuck would attempt such a fool’s errand.) But at least one, Gold Derby’s Marcus James Dixon, decided the way to keep getting post-Oscar clicks was to pat Cate Blanchett on the head and assure her that no, sweetheart, people don’t want to see movies about ladies.
“Sorry, Cate Blanchett: ‘Films with women at the center’ don’t make money,” insists Dixon’s trollish headline, and the article itself is barely less gleeful. The object of Dixon’s ire is this statement, which Blanchett made while accepting her Oscar for Best Actress Sunday night:
I’m so very proud that Blue Jasmine stayed in the cinemas for as long as it did. And thank you to Sony Classics, to Michael and Tom for their extraordinary support, for so bravely and intelligently distributing the film—and to the audiences who went to see it. And perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences: they are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.
Blanchett’s proclamation earned cheers in the audience and right-ons on Twitter, but here comes Mr. Dixon for some good old-fashioned mansplaining: “While there’s no question certain audiences will always want to see female-driven movies, the idea that those movies ‘earn money’ is perhaps a statement more designed to inspire hope than reflect actual facts. Sorry for the reality check, Cate!” And for a “reality check,” Dixon presents deliberately distorted and context-free box office figures.
His metric for whether movies earn money is to list the top 30 movies of 2013, and note how many of them have a top-billed female lead. In that top 30, he comes up with four: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frozen, Gravity, and The Heat. “The results are in,” Dixon announces, “and only four of 2013’s Top 30 films headlined an actress, or just about 13%.” Ta-da, argument over, MATH. (Never mind that two of those are the #1 and #3 movie of the year.)
Except the metric is bullshit. The top 30 films of the year aren’t the only ones that “made money” — they’re just the only ones that made a shitload of money. And several didn’t even do that; Dixon only considers box-office gross and not actual profitability, which is slimmer than you might think on some of these giant-budget tentpole pictures. (And do the scores of those that tanked — your White House Downs, your After Earths, your Lone Rangers — mean that movies about men don’t make money?) By focusing solely on blockbusters, Dixon is looking at effect and ignoring cause; there aren’t dozens of female-led blockbusters because Dixon’s equally clueless counterparts inside the movie industry think that people won’t see them, so they don’t make them, so there aren’t any to see, so they keep not making them, and the tail eats itself. But small-scale movies — like, say, Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine — turn a healthy profit on slimmer budgets, and they deserve consideration as well.
At 3:45 this morning, Dixon posted a follow-up/apology granting this point. But in examining profits instead of flat grosses, he still makes the more egregious error of his earlier “reality check”: the notion that whether a film has, by Blanchett’s definition, “women at its center” can only be determined by the often arbitrary choice of top-billed performer.
Going to Dixon’s top 30, we find: Oz the Great and Powerful, a film whose grosses were driven as much by its witch-slanting narrative and the three women who co-starred as James Franco, who is in all sorts of movies that nobody sees; We’re the Millers, a movie as much about Jennifer Aniston as Jason Sudeikis; American Hustle, a film whose impressive $147 million to date was surely driven as much by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence as top-billed Christian Bale; Identity Thief, with a $134 million gross that had much more to do with Melissa McCarthy than Jason Bateman (at least based on a quick comparison of the grosses from their other vehicles); and if the names above the title had anything to do with the giant success of The Conjuring (and it probably didn’t), it’s safe to assume Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor brought in just as many ticket buyers as Patrick Wilson.
So even Dixon’s facts and figures are slanted and skewed — but they don’t tell the whole story anyway. His context-free commentary includes none of the relevant facts about the depressing lack of female representation in front of the camera (less than 30% of speaking roles in blockbusters) and behind it (the male-to-female ratio among studio filmmakers is 15.24:1). Yet you’d think, from that top-30 frame of mind, that there were scores of female-driven blockbuster hopefuls that audiences ignored. This is patently false; the market is there, it’s just not being served.
And yet, in spite all that, women still make up the majority of American moviegoers, so can you imagine the kind of riches to be made if they were actually being told? That, ultimately, was the message Blanchett was trying to convey Sunday night–that the few female-driven films that are made, make money. And she’s right: the world is round, no matter how loudly reactionaries like Dixon keep insisting that it’s flat.