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Let's Talk About... Women in Action Movies (2019)

I'm an artist, a writer, a director, a film critic and occasionally I cook. Here I will be mainly focusing on film critiquing.

Do men support women in film and cinema? Let's find out together through exploring women in action.

Do men support women in film and cinema? Let's find out together through exploring women in action.

Females in Movies

A recent interview with Elizabeth Banks on the reception of her latest film, a reboot of Charlie’s Angels, started rattling some thoughts in my head. The actress brought up a controversial topic on sexism among the moviegoers and the seemingly lower stance that women have in Hollywood. Resulting in me asking, where exactly are we at right now with women in Hollywood?

Are we improving to see more female empowerment on the big screen or has nothing changed at all? Banks made the claim that the reasons for her reboot’s box office failure was due to the fact that “men don’t go see women do action movies.” Is that true? I’m a man, I didn’t go see it. So, it must be true, according to her claims.

Although I believed my reasons for not seeing the picture were fairly simple: no money and the underwhelming marketing for the movie honestly didn’t sell me on seeing another Charlie’s Angels reboot. Not because it features a significant female cast—I mean it’s Charlie’s Angels so of course it stars women—but because the trailers screamed “generic” to me.

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Maybe Banks Is Right . . .

Then again, I don’t speak for the entire male population. Maybe it’s possible that most men, or even other genders, simply did not want to see Banks’s movie based on the sexist reasons she had suggested. What does that mean for women in big budget action flicks though? Is it possible for a woman, or an ensemble of women, to break through in the big leagues of blockbusters? Or are we so close-minded as a society to never let that happen for a female star? Why don’t we spend a little time to talk about it!

In this article, I’d like to take a look back into a little bit on the success and failures of female leads in the mainstream film industry. What may or may not support the claims of director/actress Elizabeth Banks, what examples may or may not be breaking new ground for women in genres such as action, where the success of the new Charlie’s Angels may have gone wrong, and hopefully come up with a conclusion of where exactly we stand today on the matter.

Ironic Disclaimer

Yes, I realize that I am a man talking about “a woman’s place” in the film industry. I’m not trying to force any agendas, be disrespectful to any gender, or voice any negative opinions on women in general. This topic simply intrigued me in a time that I really craved something to delve into and write about in the great world of moviemaking. To me, when it comes to film, I don’t give a sh*t about what someone’s gender is. Truthfully, the reasons why I watch film is to either be entertained, enlightened, or challenged in one way or another. That’s how I see movies. If at any point, my words come across as rude or ignorant, please forgive me and let us have a calm discussion in the comments below!

I am man... hear me roar?

I am man... hear me roar?

Where Women Started

Let’s be totally honest, women had a very minor and basic function when it came to the dawn of cinema. More or less portraying the damsel in distress or romantic interest for our male protagonist to fall in love with. Hell, one of the earliest famously known female roles is that of the woman tied to a railroad track by the villain for a strong and manly hero to save the day in the nick of time. Far from anything all that prominent or developed as a character. Although, frankly there was no real development for any character on the big screen for the silent era of film. Then again, it was a trope for women that carried over for several decades. Women were the ones that always needed saving, protecting, or falling in love with their sweet prince. Never really capable of handling most of the “heavy lifting” when it came to battling the evildoers.

lets-talk-about-women-in-action-movies-2019

Disney for several years was clearly guilty of that very cliché in many of their classic pictures; Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Aladdin, and so on have more or less fit the female role inside a relatively confined box. Restricted from giving a woman’s character more than roughly being a pretty princess in need of saving. Now don’t get me wrong, they are still brilliant animated features that have gone down in history to warm the hearts of billions. I am in no way questioning the quality of these films to be any less than stellar, but they did feed into a stereotype for women characters in Hollywood to not be provided all that much depth or handling of the action. Does that mean that these movies are sexist? A question I’m not entirely sure how to answer exactly, other than to go with my gut and say “no.” No, I don’t believe that the Disney movies I had listed are necessarily guilty of sexism. In my opinion, I feel that a more deliberately negative message or moral of what the filmmaker’s opinion on the opposite sex’s place is within the writing would explicitly be sexist. In the case of my examples, I don’t believe that these are attempting to force the stereotype of keeping women in a strict role, they so happened to tell stories that didn’t do female characters all that many favors though.

lets-talk-about-women-in-action-movies-2019

What Is a Sexist Movie?

Another difficult question to answer, all I can do is make an educated guess and go from there. From my perspective, a movie that is sexist is one that intentionally feeds into an ill moral of degrading a certain gender or even manipulating that very gender with cynical material disguised as entertainment. That, to me, feels like a sexist movie. Does that mean that practically all action movies of the last fifty years are sexist because they exclusively cast male leads as opposed to females? I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of any sort of male leading action-adventure. For instance, some of the greatest action movies of all time I wouldn’t change a thing about because the casting is damn near perfect just the way they are. Classic action flicks under the belts of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Jason Statham, etc. I would not claim to be sexist on the basis that they aren’t starring Demi Moore, Sigourney Weaver, or Molly Ringwald… Yes, starlet redhead Molly Ringwald from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Who else? However I do agree with the argument that there should definitely be far more female led action flicks to show off women kicking ass too.

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Wow... now THAT is sexist!

Wow... now THAT is sexist!

What movies are degrading to women and what aren’t? Like I had mentioned prior, I don’t think casting a male lead automatically means that the movie is sexist. What I do believe is sexist is when a movie gives a false sense of female empowerment in order to push its own agenda by using that demographic by cynical tactics. Two very dissimilar female led films based on con artists were released in the year of 2019; The Hustle, a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, the other was Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. Both star a nearly full female cast, both attempt to focus on a woman’s strengths within a crime affiliated tale targeting men for cons, and they both prominently feature blossoming friendships that evolve into a spiritual sisterhood. One of which is easily making it onto my personal ‘Best’ list of the year, while the other is at the very bottom of the barrel. Any guesses as to which one was written and directed by mainly men who had no clue how to write a genuinely feminist favoring story, while containing the “woman empowerment” element as a mere shallow layer to cover up a dreadful comedy? Click here for the answer

IN 3-D!!!

IN 3-D!!!

Good vs Evil

Good vs Evil

Seriously, in all the marketing for The Hustle, it mostly relied on giving the impression that this was a movie about women getting revenge on all the men that have wronged them via absurd scams. That is not what The Hustle is truly about in the slightest. It’s about absolutely nothing for approximately the first forty-five minutes of screen time, then eventually becomes a petty rivalry as the two female leads place a bet on who can con a seemingly naïve man to empty his deep pockets first. Hustlers, on the other hand, is determined to unveil this real-life story of a small group of women who truly grow into becoming a family through this con artist scheme targeting rich dudes who deserve to be knocked down a peg or two. Also, what a surprise that the smarter movie is written and directed by women who actually knows how to develop empathetic female characters intelligently.

While both Hustlers and The Hustle made a profit on a budget sum of approximately twenty million dollars, Hustlers was clearly the more successful box office hit with an opening weekend of over thirty-three million and a total worldwide gross of nearly 150 million dollars. Then again, The Hustle didn’t fall too far behind with turning in a profit of almost $100 million worldwide. Does that mean that the male audience is open to seeing full female casts star in crime-comedy/drama? Why do these two “girl power” features strive when apparently Charlie’s Angels faulters at the box office? Are there any female led financial Hollywood successes from this year?

Exploring 2019’s Women in Action

Inside the genre of action, there are obvious selections that no doubt made their mark at the box office this year; Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Spider-Man: Far From Home were never at risk of bombing. Male leading action flicks set within a thoroughly established current franchise (i.e. Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc.), there’s no chance of losing money in these titles quite frankly. What about the titles that aren’t guaranteed to be box office conglomerates? The productions that may have an audience somewhere in some capacity, but are taking a significant risk when casting a woman in a film that doesn’t exactly have the numbers to back them up.

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For instance; despite the Terminator franchise certainly having its fans (me included), the series has been struggling for decades now to get its feet off the ground. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, back in the early 1990s, was arguably the last installment to receive any true praise and mind-blowing commercial success. With the utter disappointment that 2015’s Terminator: Genisys turned out to be for producers, it seems that the filmmakers have made a recent attempt to reboot the Schwarzenegger driven franchise once again under the title of Terminator: Dark Fate. This time, however, refueling with almost a total female cast that included the reprisal of Linda Hamilton in the iconic role of Sarah Conner. Not even two weeks after release, as I write this article, the film has been entirely pulled from theaters after its colossal bomb at the box office.

Linda "Badass" Hamilton is back!

Linda "Badass" Hamilton is back!

Why did Terminator: Dark Fate truly fail to meet financial expectations? Was it really akin to the claims Elizabeth Banks made where no men are actually interested in female led action movies or the fact that Terminator is a dying franchise that has finally run out of steam? We all know that the series hasn’t been exactly winning hearts of fans for a couple decades now. Domestically, Genisys flopped so badly it couldn’t even come close to breaking even in ticket sales. Same goes for Dark Fate for that matter. At this point, I’m fairly positive no matter what the next Terminator entry did it will likely be destined to fail, regardless of any gender specific casting.

What About Marvel?

It’s no secret that early this year, Captain Marvel earned a big score at the box office as it was shockingly close to recouping its own budget within the opening weekend of release. Eventually making over a billion dollars worldwide. Is that not considered a success under the female action picture status? According to Banks, not so much. During her interview, Banks also mentioned the success of comic book movies; such as Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Proclaiming their success to be only achieved through the means that they are catering to a male demographic in the comic book movie genre. How valid is that statement for the comic book genre to strictly belong to a male audience? Personally, I find that to be a rather flimsy excuse.

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Comic books, no doubt, have a large male fanbase. There is also a huge female fanbase for comics as well though. Deep down, I don’t particularly believe that comic books are only for dudes. Hell, one of my best friends is a woman and she can easily whoop my ass in any sort of comic book trivia given to her. So to say that titles like Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman only made money because most males are comic book nerds doesn’t seem all that solid of an excuse. My own mother doesn’t know the first thing about comic books, but she has a blast with Marvel and DC film properties. Does the male demographic under the comic book fandom help? Of course. Not to the extent that Banks is trying to argue though. At least I don’t believe so.

lets-talk-about-women-in-action-movies-2019

What Do Women Think?

In case anyone is unaware… I’m a dude. I know, what a twist, seeing how I am so beautiful. Do not be fooled by my irresistibly feminine charms, I am in fact male of the male gender that is male… Anyways, so I thought to myself, “What do the women in my life think about this topic? Do they see a problem where I don’t or do they feel comfortable in the representation currently being handled in Hollywood?” So I comprised a list of questions pertaining to the subject at hand. Here is what a few lovely ladies had to say about the matter!

How do you feel about women starring in action flicks? Is it important to you seeing more female characters handling themselves in the action?

This is simply adorable to me.

This is simply adorable to me.

Do you feel that Hollywood is representing the female gender properly in film today? Why or why not?

Beautiful and can kill you.

Beautiful and can kill you.

How do you feel about women starring in comedies?

A step backwards?

A step backwards?

Do you wish that there were more female action leads today? Why or why not?

I wish there were better ones, women are tough too.

— Ms. Kaylon

I would like to see more female action leads, but I don't want to have a woman tossed into a role just to say that there are more and I should be happy with what I got.

— Ms. Sarah

Michelle Rodriguez is easily one of my favorite female action stars.

Michelle Rodriguez is easily one of my favorite female action stars.

Who is your favorite actress and why?