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Where are all of the women?

August 13, 2014

Scarlett Johansson in Lucy.

The summer blockbuster season often lends itself to interesting commentary on the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in film. I was intrigued to explore this subject after reading that Marvel Studios “cannot” produce female-centric action films in the near future due to previously scheduled male-centric pictures. This is a disappointing excuse and as Amanda Hess of Slate also mentions: Marvel’s summer hit Guardians of the Galaxy could have included more female characters and represented the women in the film in a much more complex and empowering manner. For more on this subject, Salon has a great article on its website.

So, why the underrepresentation of women in action flicks? I bet it has something to do with the still widely-held belief that women cannot be kickass action stars. Over the years, they’ve existed in action films as the damsel in distress girlfriend or the leather-clad heroine (think: Catwoman) meant to bring male comic book fantasies to life. Have women even been given the chance to show that they can carry an action flick? Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider seems to be the only one that comes to my mind. The problem is not only that women are not being given these roles. The problem is that women are “asked to prove” that they can be superheroes. Does anyone doubt that a male action hero can carry a film? Apparently not since they keep churning them out at rapid speed. Seriously, how many remakes of Spiderman, Batman, and Superman are they going to make? How about one from the perspective of Lois Lane? Amy Adams’s Lois was fantastic in Man of Steel. I recently viewed Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. Johansson proves herself to be an engaging and satisfying action star, a status she has gained through her work on the male-dominated Avengers films. Even when women are action stars in films, as in Guardians of the Galaxy, the focus sometimes shifts to their sex appeal, sexy outfits, and the ways they use their feminine whiles to fight off attackers and save the day.

It doesn’t help that studios are making excuses or denying that there is even a problem. I was sad to hear True Detective‘s creator Nic Pizzolatto, aggressively deny the criticism that his show does not portray women well or include enough women. His excuse: The show was told from a male point of view… My response:

392ac6b9b3eeef8d4d0136c5f5d5e6bcThis lack of meaty and interesting roles for women extends beyond action films. Women in films still exist with one-dimensional personalities meant to help men discover their true passions or appear as sexual objects for the male viewer. Or sometimes there are only 1 or 2 women in a film. I observed this while watching the previews before Lucy. One example includes Colin Firth’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. It appears that adding women to a film is an afterthought like “Oh, we better sprinkle a couple in there to make ourselves look good! Of course, we include women there’s one in the film (Me theorizing the thought process of big studios).” Never mind how women are portrayed, sometimes 50% of the human race doesn’t even make an appearance in a film besides as the mother who gave birth to the male lead…

I am happy to see that female filmmakers are finding solutions to these problems by creating multi-dimensional characters for themselves. I just watched, Ruby Sparks, an amazing film about a man’s dream girl who comes to life. He slowly realizes that his relationship is meaningless since she is a figment of his imagination and not a real person with dreams and aspirations. Zoe Kazan wrote the screenplay and starred in this film. When reflecting on her character and the term, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she says,

I think sometimes filmmakers have not used their imagination in imbuing their female characters with real life. You know, they’ve let music tastes be a signifier of personality. But I just think the term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and I think that’s always a bad thing. And I think that’s part of what the movie is about, how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to an idea of a person.

Another great film, In A World, stars Lake Bell as a voice coach who tries to break into the male-dominated voiceover industry. Bell wrote the screenplay and starred in the film similar to Rashida Jones in Celeste and Jesse Forever. The women portrayed in these films are interesting and complex. The films also offer compelling commentary on the experiences women navigate everyday. What happens when Bell’s character gets a job just because she is a woman? Or what happens when you’re in a relationship where the person is obsessed with the idea of you? These are real questions I want to watch movies about.

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