Women in film has become a huge talking point for film development in recent years, partially due to the #metoo movement that outed the abusive patriarchy in film seeing women given less power both in representation and finance. A lot of discussion on the internet (from men mostly) questioning whether there truly is a problem in the first place, do the women deserve the harassment they face and most importantly, do we really need these gender swap remakes? The answers to these questions are simply: yes there is a problem, no a woman never deserves harassment and of course we need as much female representation as possible.
It’s not secret that the days of Golden Hollywood, although seemingly flawless and iconic, foresaw the way women in film were treated by their bosses (producers and directors). From the infamous “casting couch” to the manipulative studio contracts, Hollywood presented itself as a mecca of dreams but proved to be a breaking point of mental illness, drug and alcohol misuse and domestic abuse. This period sees the breakdown of many stars including Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis just to name a few. It seemed that solace could only be found at the bottom of a whiskey glass.
So what does this issue have to do with Hollywood today?
Well, to begin with, despite the elimination of studio contracts in the 50s due to the collapse of the Hollywood studio structure, it appears that female filmmaking is still viewed as a niche rather than as an equal offering. The fact that we even discuss a film as “female” or celebrate female creators and strong female characters shouldn’t be something we celebrate in the 21st century. Especially considering that we’re at a century of accessible filmmaking that has distributed across the globe. AFter everything that has happened globally regarding women’s issues such as voting rights, reproductive rights, fighting the wage gap, it’s unsurprising that the fight for the female experience through a woman’s perspective has been equally difficult. After all, film is a brilliant and affordable medium to translate issues to a global audience using visuals to gain awareness for issues. Take last year’s Oscar-winning short documentary Period. End of Sentence. that looks at female poverty in India where women are forced to quit school due to periods as they are unablt to afford sanitary products. In terms of fictional feature films, we have seen a resurgence of female driven comedies with Bridesmaids accredited with starting this trend. Other offerings in recent years have reverted back to teenage years with 2019’s Booksmart and 2017’s Lady Bird among the big fish. it’s great to see original stories created by women being given mainstream releases and have subsequently done well in the awards circuit. As well as comedies, we have also seen female-centred dramas such as Todd Haynes’ beautiful and iconic LGBT love story Carol (you can read my review here) starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, which I would argue is the best love film of the century so far. Now these Indie films do incredibly well, but why hasn’t this translated as well into mainstream films? I’ll try to break this down.
It’s known that the majority of people who will go and see an original story created and performed by women is going to be seen by women. That’s all well and good but considering that men are the majority of the cinematic audience statistically, it’s important to get men to see films created and performed by women too. This is for a number of reasons and since the film industry is a business, the most important issue is money. If more men see the films then more money is given to the filmmakers and then more films created by women can be made which would eventually make the idea of the “female film” as old and traditional as the Golden Age of Hollywood. This brings me to the gender swap remakes. If you looked at the highest grossing films in recent years, chances are that they are filled with sequels, reboots, prequels and remakes. Using this information, it is a smart idea that in order to bring a female perspective to a high-grossing film, you must incorporate strong female roles into these films. However, this hasn’t been without a share of complaints from a small portion of the male audience. Take the Marvel and DC Universes for example. Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of the Marvel Universe but I have never heard such negativity from a male audience regarding it’s iconic female characters before. It seems that every other film is released with no issue, Marvel films particularly tend to sell out every initial screening and exceed in both critic and audience circles so when they decided to do a film dedicated to Captain Marvel, this should have been a celebration for a strong female character to join the achievements of its predecessors; however, this sadly wasn’t the case. A portion of the male audience was outraged by Brie Larson’s interpretation of the role as well as her feminist statements. It’s all well and good when the male superheros want to prove their stereotyped masculinity (which is an old school trope that Marvel appear to be fighting as well by bringing vulnerability into the male characters) but when Captain Marvel doesn’t need a man to save the world and more importantly, doesn’t want a man with her to save the world, this is a major issue. It was a role that should have been celebrated but instead, while Endgame was adored for bringing its emotion to the male characters (Iron Man specifically), Captain Marvel is viewed in a negative light because she veers away from the traditional “eye-candy” trope that Golden Hollywood has been feeding the audience with for years. I hope that as these franchises expand and more female characters are incorporated into their respected universes, the male audience that openly despises the likes of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman may be open to the idea of the strong, independent women without thinking of them as simple love interests or sidekicks rather than the leaders of their own stories. Despite this small male audience who tweet outrageously about the femalecentred films, DC is clearly proud of the overwhelming success of Wonder Woman as they are bringing Patty Jenkins back for the second film (I did actually enjoy Wonder Woman! The first segment featuring the Amazonians is astonishing direction and writing).
I am not writing this article to be negative or bash the male audience because the male audience is important to the plight of female filmmaking as well and it is only a small portion. I think that there has to be an understanding that it is much harder for a woman to get a film made than a man. Once that statement is understood and acknowledged then the discussion of female film becomes a welcome idea and celebrated. But in a world where the Indie films created by women are renowned for their originality, why do we need gender swapped films such as Ghostbusters? Do we actually need them?
As I said at the top of this article… yes, yes we do!
Why do we need them? By remaking films with gender swapped protagonists, it gives the audience a new perspective on a femiliar setting. It’s easy to be angered when a classic like Ghostbusters is given an update with the best female comedians much like the original with men. It’s a brilliant film by itself (it obviously isn’t as good as the original) but I don’t think the intention was to “outdo” the original. I think it was to show that women could be given an ordinary role without the woman part being of any importance. I think that if Ghostbusters was remade with a male cast, there would be the usual complaints of “we don’t need a remake” but the abuse hurled at the stars of the film showed that there is sexist view from this portion of male audience. It seems to not only be that women have “taken” the roles, but that women are put in powerful positions without being the love interest. There is also an argument that representation is important and when given the opportunity to make these remakes, it’s another opportunity to put women in the driving seat which is only a positive.
Some of the films I love such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Frances Ha feature brilliant female characters. Clementine Kruczynski (played fantastically by Kate Winsler) in the former and Greta Gerwig as the quirky titular character in the latter are women who have their flaws and struggles but at the end of the day, are independent and strong. Both films directed by men but show the important of strong female presence in film. Eternal Sunshine’s script won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award suggesting that there is a demand for these female characters. Another film that is a force of nature is 2016’s Turkish offering, Mustang, about five young sisters who are forced into marriage after wrongly being accused of sexual activity with a group of boys in their class at school. Written and directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven in her directorial debut, Mustang is one of the best films I have ever seen. The film is shown through the eyes of the youngest sister, Lale, giving the audience an innocent glimpse into an oppressive world without explicitly saying so. Much like the message of the film, the writing and directing is subtle with a lot of stillness and peace in moments of chaos. Another brilliant female-led offering is 2018’s The Favourite which was hugely snubbed in the Oscars this year and has not one, not two but THREE stellar leads in the form of Olivia Colman as Queen Anne (who deservedly won an Oscar for her performance) and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the women vying for the queen’s attention. It’s a complex triangle of lust, power and manipulation. This answers the question whether women can carry a film with a resounding YES!
At the end of it all, more needs to be done to finance and distribute mainstream films created by and starring women but this isn’t to say that none exist at all and the offerings we have had in recent years particularly show a huge improvement to the films of the Golden Era. Women have proven time and time again that they can create films that are both critical and commercial (when given the chance) successes.
What are your favourite films created by and/or starring women? Let me know in the comments below?