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Women In Film: Art or Politics?

May 10, 2017

A recent study by Martha Mauzen found that of the top 100 films made last year, 29% had a female lead; that’s up by 7% from 2015.

We can practically hear the Hollywood execs clinking their champagne glasses from here. While we’re all for a party, and long may this figure keep rising, it can’t be forgotten that there still remains a serious discrimination against female writers and directors (with reported legal action taking place). Furthermore, the types of films fronted by females should be given more attention. Are there enough films featuring women in original, artistic roles? Or is the recent trend in ‘female-led remakes’ an easy way to meet a quota and fend off sexism claims?

Shakespeare has always been a stronghold when it comes to gender-swapping characters. It is even acknowledged and incorporated into the plot to bring another dimension to the story (the 1921 German adaptation of Hamlet tells the story of a woman disguised as a man in order to reach the throne).

Females in Hollywood’s remake revolution

However, transferring this treatment to commercial Hollywood films is a whole new area. When Hollywood decided to remake cult classic Ghostbusters in 2016, some people questioned the motives (somewhat tragically, it also became the most ‘disliked’ trailer in YouTube history). There is no dramatic plot change, nor does it provide any social or cultural significance. However – rather conveniently – it does provide Hollywood with a trump card, “look, we DO have women fronting major films! We ARE female friendly!”

Unfortunately, despite the stellar cast, Ghostbusters made a $70 million loss. Nevertheless, studios are still going full force in the gender-reverse business with Oceans 8 and Expendables set to be getting the treatment. If these remakes suffer a similar loss, fingers will, again rather conveniently, point to the female cast. But let’s be honest would any Ghostbusters remake have had the impact of the first, despite gender? Probably not. So why is Hollywood still so keen to stick females in remakes?

A Ray of hope

Away from the remakes, there is a positive movement for female-led films with Jackie, Hidden Figures, Girl on the Train and Star Wars: Rogue One gaining critical acclaim. These are culturally important stories showing fascinating women, and they are crucial to the world of cinema. A small hiccup, if we had to find one, is that these films are products of book adaptations, real life stories, and spin-offs. So where are the organic original screenplays?

Arrival, Miss Sloane and 20th Century Women are the most recent, while previous examples include Million Dollar Baby, Black Swan, and Bridesmaids. These films are commendable and prove that women can, and should, be at the forefront of original storytelling. It’s not an easy feat; Black Swan took 9 years to make and struggled to get funding, while Julianne Moore was repeatedly told Alice would not come to fruition until she found a male lead – I mean, Julianne Moore!!!

Where do we go from here?…

There are SO many examples of films that prove original storytelling by, for and featuring women work. But still, these screenplays face an uphill battle from the day of its conception. The lucky ones that do make it onto our screens are examples of using women to drive a story artistically. These films do not exist to hit a gender equality quota. They exist to tell compelling, imaginative stories, to entertain and to broaden our horizons as audiences.

With the exciting increase in female-led stories – and popcorn remakes aplenty – lets now start championing original female storytelling with female filmmakers at the helm (shout out to Reese Witherspoon and her production company Hello Sunshine which produces female driven content). Only then can we eliminate political motives entirely and celebrate authentic artistic progression for the female on screen.

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