Occasional Superheroine had an article up today about the lack of movies which come out in the summer which are "geared towards women". I found Valerie's questions legitimate, to an extent. But I think it oversimplifies the business of the Blockbuster movie and how and why it is made.
Valerie's post actually was spawned by an article in The Times entitled "Come Summer, Is There a Real Woman in the Multiplex?", which reminded me entirely too much of the sort of stuff you would read in RTF's Narrative Strategies class.
What becomes clear after a quick read of the article isn't that there's a lack of movies with a female audience in mind (and I would argue, the huge blockbusters try to be a big tent and include women as well). Rather, it seems that author Manohla Dargis basically doesn't care for the mainstream faire that comes out in the summertime. And has blacked out many movies and arguments which she might find inconvenient to her thesis.
Because the article reminds me so of RTF course quibbling, it relies on the same mish-mash of Gender Studies 101 to condemn the Apatow movies for showing non-He-Men, who discuss their emotions and should therefore be identified as women. An odd condemnation when she's simultaneously condemning summer movies for their machismo. What perfect balance of yin and yang Dargis is seeking in her male stars is as elusive as what she seeks in her female stars and stories.
With the other hand, Dargis complains that the women of "Sex in the City" are also not "real" women. Especially interesting as the debut of "Sex in the City" on HBO was, according to critics and fans alike, heralding a realistic depiction of the urban sophisticate. She has no praise for the Travelling Pants, Momma Mia!, or any other movie she has yet to see, and damnation for those she has seen.
So what, exactly, is Dargis looking for? It's easy to roll your eyes at movie's coming out, and its okay to criticize if you have a point. But her premise of "not enough movies for REAL women" seems a bit... well, if I was a lady, I'd be a bit offended. What movie is Dargis prescribing? If you enjoy the adventures of Indiana Jones, are you a traitor to your sex? What is this perfect movie of complicated female characters that would make he same $200 million opening weekend as Iron Man? Because it seems Dargis is completely dismissive of action movies in general, so I wouldn't bring up the recent spate of B-movies featuring tough-guy ladies fighting zombies, werewolves, vampires... what have you.
Val asks some questions.
1. Has Hollywood decided that women are not a viable audience?
No. But female-centric movies don't open to $200 million. Just as male-centric movies featuring martial arts, etc... don't open at $200 million.
There's a difference between there being no movies for women and the marketing push the Tentpole pictures receive. The sheer number of ads for Speed Racer and Iron man may give a feeling of some disproportionate balance, which may or may not actually exist. But the actual movie is not the point of a big summer pre-packaged blockbuster. "Sex in the City" won't sell millions in action figures at Target. Nor will "Made of Honor". You won't see Patrick Dempsey's face on a Coke cup at Burger King. Or Sarah Jessica Parker dolls in the BK Kids' Club meal. If "Made of Honor" loses money, the machine of the Hollywood Blockbuster won't make sure everyone gets paid. Whether Iron Man makes or loses money at the box office, the license rights alone may make up the deficit.
2. What movies DO women watch? In what format? Theater, DVD, what?
You know, back when I asked What Do Women Want in Superhero Comics, I got slammed pretty hard for asking what women want, as if I was asking a herd of people who all behaved alike. I think the question shouldn't be "women". It should be: how do mothers of 5-10 years olds enjoy entertainment? Do they take their children to see Iron Man? Do they make time for themselves to see movies of their choice? What about bad mothers who don't know they shouldn't take their kid to see "Saw"? What about Grandmothers? And professionals? Are they watching Lost on DVD instead of going to movies? Do they have time to go to the theater? Are they more aware of who the stars are than what movies they're actually in?
But, mostly, its a goofy question. What do guys watch? They don't all watch the same things. Now, comic book nerdy guys... we kind of do all watch the same things. We just enjoy them to varying degrees.
3. Does Hollywood assume that women either do not watch movies in theaters or will go to wherever their significant others will take them to see or that they are so busy mopping floors that they haven't even given the topic much thought?
Well, that's a loaded question. And I won't speak for Hollywood. Or women. But with movies costing $200 million dollars, I'm pretty sure the studios do some research to figure out what is going to be profitable.
But if the last five movies "for women" came out and all made between 50-75 million, how much are you going to spend on the next one you make to ensure a profit? Probably less than $50 million, I'd assume. From that point, I assume people who know more about marketing a movie than I would know how to narrowcast advertising to the presumd audience.
Anecdotally, I do believe women are more likely to see a movie of their partner's choosing than their male partner will really, really want to see "27 Dresses". Other than that, I refuse to comment on this, because it seems like talking about this would lead me into trouble with Jamie. Who went with Jason and me to see "Doomsday", even though we all agreed she would not like it.
4. Is a movie like "Indiana Jones," as mentioned in the article, not a movie of female interest because Indy and his sidekick themselves are not females? Or is this sort of reductionist?
I think its kind of reductionist.
As I mentioned, some movies are just going to overwhelm those niche categories. As an example: Titanic didn't make a billion dollars because of squeeing 13 year old girls who found Leo non-threatening. A lot of people saw that movie. It seems that a franchise like Indiana Jones can also have that cross-over appeal, once its ingrained in popular culture.
5. According to the article, the amount of female movie directors is something like 6%. Is this the movie studios fault for not hiring these women? Are these women not applying for the director track? Are they not applying to the director track because they are not interested, or because they are discouraged from doing so in school?
Uh... the Director track? In school? I went to film school, so I think I have a little bit of experience with this one (and there was no "director's track" at UT RTF. You're all doing everything from camera to feeding your actors). Honestly, my years in film school were sort of the opposite of discouraging women. They seemed a lot more focused on the opposite ideal, to look at narratives from non-traditional points of view and encourage everyone who wanted to participate.
And the hard numbers: our production track was about 40% women, 60% guys. But I would also question whether that has a direct effect on the number of directors as much as I would ask (1) if that figure 6% is accurate, (2) how many women went out to try to get features made, (3) are you counting television, documentary and directors of non-main-stream films, and (4) perhaps a bit of a rough point, but as in any industry... Life often complicates things. There are female CEO's and some female directors, producers and studio execs. But how many women decide to have a family and are unable to keep up the break-neck pace of working in the film industry to get to a point where they are given the opportunity to direct? Let alone decide to pursue something else requiring less time once the kids need parenting?
Looking for some sort of male-dominated conspiracy from film school to the directors chair is giving Hollywood entirely too much credit. There's a lot of money at play here, and decisions are made about how to be profitable. Its not a conspiracy as much as too much caution about unknown commodities.
My point being, in order to try to make a good investment, Hollywood mostly goes with what it knows. If "March of the Penguins" makes money, we get two animated penguin movies and a Bob Saget Penguin spoof within a year or so. If Iron Man made $200 million in an opening weekend, you make Iron Man 2. If Catwoman and Elektra failed to make any money (and, in fact, lost money) you put the brakes on hoping sexiness in a costume is enough to drag folks in. Then you take a long, hard look at your script for Wonder Woman and don't assume its going to rush into theaters because of T&A and a magic lasso. And if you think they're taking too long between pictures... How long between Superman IV and Superman Returns?
And, by the way, a woman is directing the next Punisher movie. So it seems Marvel doesn't believe women are off-limits when it comes to their movies.
One of the greater challenges for comic-to-movie adaptations has to be that most of the time-tested characters and ideas came from a time and place where diversity wasn't as valued as it is today, and where women held a different place in society. Keep in mind, Action Comics #1 premiered about 19 years after the 19th amendment passed. Finding female characters who starred in their own titles in a genre that typically featured male heroic archetypes for decades is going to be a bit slimmer pickings. And with the failure of two high profile characters like Elektra and Catwoman on the big screen (with terrible scripts to blame, really. Yes, I've watched most of Catwoman), its difficult to pick out who could be the female Iron Man.
Not that I think that's what Dargis is looking for. Really, I think what she'd like is to see the Oscar-season movies open in the summer and do 200 million in their first weekend. That's my guess, anyway. I'm not sure which "real" women she wants at the cinema. Are there not silly, ridiculous women in real life? Or are those silly women who will appear in comedies this summer, or the women of Sex in the City just not her cup of tea, in movies about topics which she holds in contempt, or are they just not the kind of person she personally likes to pal around with? "Real" women.
All this said, at last check, I'm not a lady. But I do know a few. And they like all kinds of movies, just how guys like all kinds of movies. CB likes Scorcese, horror, John Waters, and all kinds of stuff. Jamie likes fantasy movies and smart comedies. Nicole watches stuff that's a bit more art-house, and she likes Ocean's 11.
So if you want to know what I think at least Jamie's thinking this summer? I think she'd echo Marion Ravenhood from the first reel of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Indiana Jones. Always knew someday you'd come walking back through my door.
But, again, I'm not going to speak for her.