Women As People in Film (Part III)

This is Part III, which is the penultimate installment in the Quadrilogy.  (Part I, Part II)

Natalie Portman


The questions are (1) why weren’t there more strong female characters and (2) why are there so many more now?

Am I engaging in false hysteria?  Not every movie has a strong lead character.  A lot of movies are about weakness or mediocrity or foolishness.  In fact, the top romantic comedies in the Rotten Tomatoes list I spoke of in the earlier post are often about inadequate men.  So, maybe it’s just the nature of the comedy beast.

I’m inclined to doubt this because the rest of the movies are about quirky men.  They’re odd, but they don’t feel inferior for all of that.  Olive, from Easy A (2010), is the perfect example of what I’m talking about.  She’s odd and isolated because of her intelligence and super wit, which, in the real world, hurt your high school experience (unlike the world in Juno (2007)).  And, like the men in a RomCom, would super love to get with a nice, balanced character as a make-out partner, but events conspire against her/them.

So, why are females so centrally focused on male partnership or male protection in movies?

The Movie Market

Bette Davis

A movie is made by a lot of people, but it first must have its green light lit by “the studio.”  To ignite the green torch, and I’m imagining now (never being a green light or studio executive), some boxes need to be ticked.  (1) Will this make us a lot of money, (2) does this cost not much money, (3) would the revenue we got from the movie exceed those costs, and (4) will this make us a lot of money?  That’s pretty complicated, I know.  Well, actually it is complicated.  To answer questions 1, 3, and 4, they need to engage in demographic, marketing, and astrological research.  The satanic cabal, known otherwise as the MPAA, has some 2010 figures for me to inspect.

Emma Thompson

First off, I’m a bit ticked off that the box office is raking in more cash when attendance figures are actually going down.  Sure, a bunch of that is the horrendously inflated prices of 3D, but it’s also the slow creep of general admittance tickets.  Second, roughly 225 million folks saw roughly 6 movies in 2010.  Over half the tickets sold went to “frequent moviegoers” (about one/month).  How do you people live?

It may surprise you to know that of the frequently going 12-39 age group (45% of the movie-going population), women outnumber men (though slightly).  But  while the overall numbers of moviegoers are slightly female heavy, the ticket sales are exactly even.  Consider this in light of the fact that 2010 saw a net swing of .9 tickets/year in favor of men from 2009.

So, I think we can remove any preconceptions of 18-24 year old boys dominating theaters and the marketplace.  The marketplace is not dominated by anyone or anything.  Movies are not made and marketed for all people of all age groups.  The budget on a movie can be anywhere from $5 million to $200 million and the object is to make more than that in the box office, dvds, etc.  There are plenty of viewers to make that happen.

[By the way, read the quotes on this poster on the right, here.  The third being particularly patronizing.]

The Meaning of the Movie Market

So, we’ve got an equal presence of women watching movies (market) and the studios wanting to make money (motive).  The result I draw is that the movies that are green lit are the movies people want to see.  Or, more accurately, the movies studios think people want to see.

Studio executives aren’t (or can’t be) as stupid as we think they are.  They maximize profits or they get fired.  So it’s in their interest to make the safest economic choices, which is why there’s so much dreck out there.  You get the movies you deserve.  If you see good movies (like The King’s Speech (2010), which grossed about 30 times its budget, or $400mm), then studios will take the lesson.  If you continue to see crap (like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), the fourth one, that made 4 times its budget, or $1 billion), then studios will take the lesson.

So, if movies until (and including) recently have been male-dominated and/or male-obsessed (I’ll call them bad women movies), that fits into something about the market.  A little bit of blaming the victim, it’s true, and I apologize for that, but that is a natural conclusion.  Women are equal players in the movie market, studios make movies for women, there are ‘bad’ women movies, ‘bad’ women movies make money, therefore (presuming men don’t see movies like Bride Wars (2009), as I painfully did) women go to see these movies.

If you keep your perspective, you’ll know that a total boycott of Bride Wars or full court press for Easy A is not required/the answer/a valid sarcastic response to my point.  There are so many movies and so many viewers that the movie market is as close to an economists nirvana as eBay.  You, and I mean you, really just need to see more Easy A‘s  than Bride Wars.  Everything works out in the wash and consumer demand is absolutely reflected in the supply.

In a sentence: the reason why women in bad women movies are bad is because it is what the woman audience wants.  The male audience is not propping up Nicholas Sparks movies.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up my analysis

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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1 Response to Women As People in Film (Part III)

  1. Pingback: Women As People in Film (Part IV) | Prof. Ratigan

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